There is a development application for the vacant lot / parking lot at the corner of Somerset (in Chinatown) and LeBreton Street, opposite the Dalhousie Community Centre and beside St Luke’s Church and its associated social housing building:
On initial inspection, I think there’s a lot to like about it.
The proponent, DCR Phoenix, who also built the mixed use building at Rochester and Somerset, and who are proposing the twin tower office building at Bayview Station, are asking for the usual reduced setbacks and increased height to build a nine storey building (nine when viewed from Somerset; it will be ten floors when viewed from LeBreton, due to the lower elevation on LeBreton). The lot size here is 138′ on Somerset, 115′ on LeBreton. The lot slopes down 9′ from east to west, allowing them to put a street-level space on the LeBreton Street side which is one storey below the Somerset storefronts. The current height limit is 5 floors or 16m (traditional mainstreets are normally six floors, like the Clarke building next door) ; they are asking for rezoning to permit 32m, as measured from Somerset Street.
They are proposing a ground floor grocery store (Asian) of about 12,000 sq ft (a typical Farm Boy might be 20,000 sq ft), and on the LeBreton side, one storey lower, a restaurant. The grocery store frontage can also be redivided into 3 separate smaller stores facing Somerset. Beside the existing Searson Clarke social housing will be the entrance to eight floors of rental apartments above. It has been many years since anyone in the private sector has proposed a rental apartment building. They are proposing 75 apartments, with 35 parking spaces. There would also be 52 commercial parking spaces. All parking is on three underground levels, accessed off LeBreton. The commercial parking garage would be valet operated, which should increase safety and allows the developer to use tandem parking spaces.
The building exterior is brick on the lower half, and an unspecified but different material for the upper floors. Visually, we are supposed to see and be aware of the lower brick structure with the upper floors receeding out of awareness. The building will have rounded corners on the LeBreton intersection corner.
The use of different materials on the various parts of the building are designed to minimize the height of the building visually. The developer suggests pedestrians and neighbours will see the streetscape in this way:
In addition to using different exterior cladding and design elements to emphasize the lower floors and make the upper ones recede the whole structure has a series of set backs on all four sides.
I am particularly interested in the four-side setback, because it is so different from the (often fake) podium-with-(supposedly)-slim-tower-on-top preferred by so many developers. Frankly, I love the New York style of skyscrapers and zoning that was in place from the early 1900’s to the mid-century. That planning model gave us ‘wedding cake’ buildings, with a series of step backs that let light and air to the street level, separated the upper floors of buildings from each other, preserved views, and made towers thin and elegant, pointing to the sky. Alas, it was amended to permit those blocky glass towers that rise straight up from the street, often placed on windswept “pedestrian plazas” which, over time, tend to get built-into the building as they are so useless as outdoor spaces (in Ottawa, think of Place de Ville).
Now this building is no NYC wedding cake. But there are several setbacks, on all four sides, which will allow the west-facing apartments at Searson Clarke to breathe. The setbacks vary from 3 feet to 14 feet. It’s a good first step to reintroducing mid-rise building shapes that aren’t just a big block.
The apartments will be rentals. And they are not the micro-units so beloved of some condo developers. Looking at the floor plan, I see one and two bedroom apartments with over a thousand square feet of space:
The proposal calls for green roof planters along the second floor façade with plants draping down over the front of the building. They don’t propose irrigating these planters, though, which doesn’t bode well if I judge by the care and attention other Asian property owners extend to plant material (yes, a generalization and not a rule… but I would prefer if these planters had a simple watering system.)
The building also proposes “reflective windows” at ground floor. If they are anything like the ones we see at the CBC building on Sparks, or the new condos on Richmond Road … no thanks. Particularly the Barry Hobin condo on Richmond by Thiberge Homes has windows so dark they look back-painted in black paint, and it is impossible to see into the cafe behind it to even see if it is open. Street levels should be transparent, not reflective.
More positively, the propose some streetside seating (hopefully Chinatown-style benches) and a bus shelter integrated into the building facade! Their bike parking is proposed to be outdoors, with numerous windows from the lobby suggesting it will be in view and thus safe. However, the outdoor space is immediately adjacent the problem-plagued public garage under the Clarke building, which everyone except the most unwary avoids like the plague due to crime, vandalism, drug dealing, defecation, etc. I think this outdoor bike parking, however convenient to the residents’ main entrance, needs a plexiglass roof and full enclosure on the sides.
The complete proposal can be read at Ottawa.ca/devapps, this link may work: