Preston BIA dumps on Soho Italia idea

The Preston Street BIA apparently has this to say about the Starwood-Mastercraft proposed 35 storey condo tower on a black podium/parking garage, at the south end of Preston Street:

 “The Preston Street BIA Board of Directors met last Friday, to define their position on the proposed rezoning of 490 Preston Street. The motion below was unanimously accepted by the Board of Directors.
Whereas a developer is proposing to build a 35 storey building at 490 Preston Street,
And whereas the 35 storeys exceeds the recent rezoning that allowed a four storey podium at Preston Street, and an 18 storey tower at the back of the site,
And whereas the Preston Street BIA is committed to protecting the cottage like nature of the street,
And whereas the Traditional Mainstreet Zoning for Preston Street restricts building heights to 4 storeys at street level, in order to create a pedestrian-friendly streetscape, and whereas this zoning was agreed to by the residents’ and business associations,
And whereas the approval of this increased height will set a precedent for Preston Street, and provide economy of scale for other developers to tear down the smaller buildings along the street, and build tall structures further north along Preston Street,
And whereas the property owners and residents of this neighbourhood have undergone 3 years of construction, in order to enjoy the benefits of the pedestrian-friendly streetscape,
Be is so resolved that the Preston Street BIA objects to the proposed expansion of the zoning, and  encourages the planning department to hold this and all future proposed developments to the TM zoning.”

Looks pretty unambiguous to me. They don’t like it, they don’t want it.

This, BTW, is what the OMB approved for the site in a previous zoning-busting decision. It’s a lot smaller than Soho Italia.

15 thoughts on “Preston BIA dumps on Soho Italia idea

  1. I always remark on the “cottage-like atmosphere” of the street when I step out of Starbucks and see the Number 2 OC Transpo bus roar by. Really? We’ve gone from a ‘village” in Westboro to “cottage country” on Preston Street? What next, the Vanier Villa? Describe it that way all you want, but the cold light of reality will prove to all who visit the street that the BIA’s rose-coloured glasses are just that. I could call my car a Cadillac-like Chevrolet, but it’s still a Chevrolet. Who’s fooling anyone?

    Not doing something because it could set a precedent means never doing anything. If we had that mentality in the 1800’s there would still be a downtown filled exclusively with 2-storey buildings, and as a result the business district and the surrounding 1 million residents would be spread out from Renfrew to Cornwall in order to accommodate the population at such a low density. Of course that wouldn’t happen, because no city could afford to grow that way.

    “Pedestrian-friendly streetscape” is another interesting term. True story: I was walking in midtown Manhattan and walked right past the Empire State Building (which I was looking for), because it’s entrance and podium was so similar to everything around it. It wasn’t until I saw the lettering over the door that I realized I was there. 102 stories tall! And guess what, the other buildings around it (which were not the Ottawa ideal – ie. the same height to the exact inch) still existed. They hadn’t disappeared in a puff of smoke as soon as the building surpassed their current height.

    BS complaints like this paints a picture to the rest of modern Canada of a repressed little town of 1 million people who are so unwavering and inflexible (like the flagpole planted in our rears) that they make a point of not going anywhere near anything tall. In fact, such buildings are so pedestrian-unfriendly (do they rise out of the sidewalk so that pedestrians have to step into traffic to get around them?) that we run in terror from such monstrosities.

    Someone made the argument recently (regarding Soho Italia) that “who’s going to want to come to a city with a tall building in it?” Answer: Lots of people! But not to Ottawa. We want to make sure no one gets the wrong idea and mistakenly likens us to Vancouver or Montreal, the cities where fun and imagination are squashed. Take a look at our downtown skyline – we could lay a board across the building tops and still play an accurate game of pool on it. See, we’re not slaves to regulation!

    Where does respect for zoning end and a serious mental issue begin? To hear some people talk about a tall building (by that i mean anything taller than the existing crop of same-height buildings) in this city, you’d think we were all Freudian headcases with severe penis envy, running around trying to get anything that juts out of the ground in a provocative manner cut down to an acceptable, non-offensive height. In fact, all things should be the same height so that no one is alarmed and overwhelmed (emasculated???) by something different. The same thing applies to the provocative train tunnel downtown. Hell, maybe the Beaver Pond forest, too. (Funny, that entire community could have been housed in Soho Italia – get bent, forest!)

    This city, which I’ve lived in all my life and would like to love (but can’t, due to the deafening, hysterical crescendo of rigid, self-serving NIMBYism), is its own worst enemy. Maybe the Preston Street BIA can stop all development on their street – no wait, keep everyone in Ottawa (except for those populating the lakefront cottages) out of their neighbourhood. The business owners will love that! Thanks for looking out for our best interests, BIA! Maybe a grocery chain was actually basing their decision to come to the neighbourhood on whether the tower got built. It would be damn funny if they pulled out because it was cancelled.

    Ottawa – the city where vision and ambition (and variety, excitement, stimulation,,,etc, etc) comes to die under a lead blanket of regulations, resident fearmongering, whining and entitlement.

    1. BS complaints like this paints a picture to the rest of modern Canada

      Au contraire; fortunately for Ottawa’s sake, no one in the rest of Canada has paid any attention in decades.

      I think the last time was the CBC exposé where Bob McKeown (possibly) stood near the Pretoria Bridge and pointed out which piece of pavement belonged to the City, which to the old RMOC, which to the NCC, which to Parks Canada, and which to the Province of Ontario.

    2. Preston Street is not Midtown, Ottawa is not Manhattan, and the Empire State building was not built in a mixed residential/commercial district with next to one and two storey buildings. Unless Ottawa begins to grow its neighbourhoods organically, new construction will always look out of place.

      How about this for a rule: “New buildings can’t be 50% larger or smaller than buildings on the same block”?

  2. Good on you BIA!!

    I wonder if S-Man has been to Paris. Apart from the Montparnesse tower and a few odds and sods like the Eiffel, not much tops seven, eight floors. Plenty of street life in most parts of the city when I was there last and, just guessing of course, most of downtown houses a population far exceeding anywhere in Ottawa.

    Justin, that sounds like the poor City lads getting all muddled about what-are-we-gonna-do-with-Bronson-now-that-the-locals-are-on-to-us…

  3. Honestly, I moved to Ottawa a few years ago and Ive always said how it would be cool if they started to update this city a little. Nothing crazy, but trying to force the city to stay under a height restriction is silly.

    I’ve been reading a bunch of stuff on and it seems like they really are trying to do something FOR the area.

    I don’t know

  4. Ah yes, again we come to Paris – a city centuries older than Ottawa with a downtown to match. Can you imagine the response to filling our streets with a flat wall of 6,7 or 8 storey buildings? Yeah, that won’t created a windy, sun-blocking canyon. You really think people would fall over themselves in their haste to approve of such an easy-to-love proposal? Let’s see how that flies in Ottawa. The community would be screaming to have the height reduced to three storeys. And such a vision would mean demolishing the two storey houses already in place to make way for said walls. We don’t have a blank slate to work with. We have existing lots scattered throughout the city. If you can find a way to house the population but without building anything tall, and without demolishing neighbourhoods to accommodate these Parisian buildings, I’d love to hear it. Then when you fail to do so, tell me how you’re an environmentalist, too.

    I’d also love to hear how more regulations allows a community to grow ‘organically’. This city was once allowed to grow organically. Not anymore. There weren’t community associations in 1920 demanding that certain 4 or 6 storey buildings on Metcalfe or O’Connor or wherever not be build due to their proximity to something smaller. No, the associations that existed were more concerned with solving social issues that effected people other than them. They had vision that extended beyond their own lives and their desperate need to preserve their own ‘quality of life’..oh, and their right to no traffic and a view downtown.

    Yes, yes, I know – I must be getting paid by a developer to have an opinion that differs from yours, which is infallible. Come on, you know you want to emulate your fellow CBC posters and say it.

    1. Sure there are lots of hysterical Ottawans around who love to oppose things. There are also plenty of hysterical Ottawans who love to shrilly attack those supposed NIMBYs. It all contributes to a tremendously unenlightening debate. That is the beauty of websites such as this one that deal largely in facts and reasonable arguments(which can be debated without exaggeration or name calling).

      The objection that I have to the idea of a 35-storey building in this location is, I admit, a bit simple-minded. My question is: Why? What outstanding contribution to the neighbourhood would a 35-storey building make that an 18-storey building would not? Certainly the currently-zoned height would bring plenty of new people into the neighbourhood. There are bunch of other buildings proposed for the area of a roughly similar height and overall there should be nice cluster of density around the O-Train station in 5 or so years. Why do we need 35 storeys? And if we don’t then why should we bend the currently agreed rules to accomodate it?

  5. Why am I not surprised that the BIA is against this!! Their supposed to improve the street but again they decide to go against growth! Wait let’s shrink the street and loose all the parking!! Cottage feel!! Were are we in Wakefield?! This is supposed to be Preston, main street, near downtown, little Italy! Let’s think about the business’s that will gain from a population. The street may finally grow. The bia wants retail, well bring people you bring retail and a real main street with more to offer!! p.s. By the way the Sakto building is a real big cottage!!

  6. Yikes – careful with those exclamation points, they could put an eye out! (insert Seinfeld reference here…)
    I agree with David’s assertion that 18 stories would bring a goodly amount of residents to the area. No question, it would. However, the super-slim tower originally proposed for 500 Preston had about 2 units per floor, so not much density there. Looked nice, though. Should have been built at Lebreton!
    Over the next several years there will be a lot of development on the other side of the O-Train line – a 12 storey building, a 16 and 20 storey building, and whatever gets built on the lot at Champagne/Carling. Likely it will be 16 to 20 stories, too.

    The problem that exists in my mind is when you have another building, on the Soho Italia site, that is also 18 stories. It will be a little bit of downtown, only a kilometre or so removed. In other words, a group of buildings all relatively the same height. This seems to bother very few people, but it does bother me. The artsy side of me asks: shouldn’t one of these buildings be perceptively taller than the others, just for visual stimulation and variety? Just one building to break things up.

    I also have to ask: If you are standing/walking past an 18 storey plus building, do you notice what’s going on up near the top floor? People don’t walk down the sidewalk with their heads craned up, looking into the sky. How would a 25-30 storey building be more distracting than an 18 storey building to someone standing at the base of the tower? The nature of perspective means the tower occupies less of your field of view the further away it is from you, and that included the upward direction. To someone at street level, the bulk of the mass is at the bottom of the tower.

    As well: The architecture of this building counts on height in order to make the wavy balcony pattern thing work. There would be no dicernable pattern on a significantly shorter building, just a confusing jumble. The architect would have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a design that worked on an 18 storey building. Given that Mastercraft Starwood’s existing designs in Ottawa are little more than glassy, vertical rectangles, you could expect more of the same instead of something different. That said, the wavy balcony thing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m sure many would be glad if Mastercraft went back to the drawing board.

    That’s my argument in a nutshell. I also don’t think a BIA should be an architecture review agency. If a Shoppers Drug Mart were moving in, then they should be concerned. The height of a residential building is not a business or heritage issue, so I really don’t think this should be their concern. Stick with business, and what’s good for business. 400 people moving into the neighbourhood and having visual indicator of prosperity and growth to the rest of Ottawa seems like a good thing for business.

    1. Transit-oriented development theory would suggest the largest buildings in the area should be clustered around the O-Train station. The urban design notion of a creating a highly visible gateway to Little Italy (especially as seen from Dow’s Lake) would suggest a pair of tall buildings either side of Preston at Carling (i.e. where the archway is).

      Neither would call for the tallest building in the area to be one block back from the gateway at a site that isn’t immediately next to the O-Train station. The real urban design challenge in the area is how to balance off height around the O-Train station and height at the gateway in a way that doesn’t end up looking ridiculous as seen from Dow’s Lake. Do you go for three buildings of uniform height (i.e. west of the O-Train, between O-Train and Preston, and east of Preston), do you make the middle one higher than the other two, do you make five buildings (three between the O-Train and Preston) with the middle one shorter than the rest so you end up with what looks like a pair of gateways? This is the kind of discussion that should be taking place.

      The current SoHo Italia proposal is an unhelpful bit of added complication to this existing planning and design challenge. There’s no compelling reason for that site to have a building of that height, short of someone coming forth and arguing for 50+ storey buildings on Carling at Preston and the O-Train so that those sites can maintain their relative prominence. Add to this that the SoHo Italia is to have a few storeys of parking above street level and the entire project begins to look ever more ridiculous.

      Here’s my suggestion of how everyone can get out of this:

      The developers should go ahead and build a decent building as per the zoning. It’s high enough as is and it will fit into a context of higher buildings on Carling as it would be part of a “stepping down” from those future higher buildings to the 4-6 storeys that even Lahey thinks should characterize Preston. Respect the zoning for once. Build up some trust and goodwill rather animosity (I realize this is a difficult concept to master for Ottawa developers who are used to running off to the OMB). In the street level retail, ensure that one of the frontages is suitable for the CIBC branch, if not permanently, at least temporarily. After that, a joint effort can be made between the current developer and the owners of the CIBC property and the former gas bar opposite on building a pair of buildings at the true gateway. All the better if the Honda dealership can be rolled into it as well.

      One thing that surprises me in all this is that the proposal’s supporters – including the proponents themselves – seem to be living in some world where only this tower will be going up and how fantastic it will be to have some kind of super-duper landmark in Little Italy. Lahey has been arguing that the tower would be highly visible from Dow’s Lake (of course the reverse is the actual motivator…), but that’s only true so long as the CIBC and gas bar sites don’t get developed to similar heights, which, given they are the true gateway locations, they quite possibly would. I have yet to see a supporter of this proposal admit that this project is just the start and that it is inappropriate to consider it only on what is there today (and already proposed/underway) rather than on what will likely be around it, and what effect this project would have on what would come in the future. Local precedent is routinely used to justify further exceptions, after all, so this is just upping the ante for future exceptions. It all seems rather short sighted. It also means that the architecture of this building is less important in the long run – since it will be screened regardless of its height – than its urban design features nearer to street level.

      P.S. There are two ‘David’s here, and both of us also seem to have similar views on many things… but our icons are different.

      1. It’s true. I didn’t realize I was using the same screen name as someone else. Interesting comments, BTW.

        S-Man, I agree roughly with the other David. It would be better to put the taller “feature” building a little further from the Little Italy archway and Preston St. I’d suggest the Dow Honda site, which would be big enough for something very interesting architecturally to be done that would nicely blend this “feature” building into the neighbourhood.

  7. One last thing on this topic. The other SoHo buildings around Ottawa seem like they will be good additions to the city. I have nothing against the developers or their work. I just don’t buy into the premise of this particular project.

  8. Fair enough, I agree that the Dow site and CIBC site lumped together would be ‘where it’s at’. I believe on another post I put forth my vision for that property – towering white stone was part of it, well, the podium at least. Banks can be incorporated into the podiums of residential towers in a flash (Claridge Plaza on Rideau being the latest example), but I wonder how attached Dow is to that property of theirs?

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