Purely speculation, of course

A sales office trailer showed up this week on Preston at Sydney Street, just a half block north of Carling Avenue. The photo above is taken from beside the CIBC, at the foot of the Little Italy Arch.

The trailer belongs to Mastercraft Starwood, the condo builder. Readers may recall that they are building a glass box condo on Parkdale opposite Tunney’s Pasture, and on Lisgar by the former plastics store (theirs are the big adverts that show a lady sitting on a …). They also bought the Aquerello site on Champagne Avenue south, beside the dog shelter. It had been rumoured they bought the shelter, but there is no record of that.

On the Champagne site they took the previously-approved 11 storey Aquerello design, added more suites,  and “re-arranged” the units into two much taller, slimmer towers. There have been numerous posts here on the subject, use the search button at the top if you are interested, search terms such as Hickory/Champagne/Starwood.  After some battles, they got the site approved late last fall for  20 and 16 storey towers on a townhouse podium. They are also contributing some funds towards a ped bridge over the O-Train at Hickory which will improve access to the transit station and to the commercial strip along Preston.

Has Starwood  bought this Preston site from the previous developer? The site was rezoned a few years ago from low rise to 18 stories, for a very thin “pencil” building that had only two largish-sized suites per floor (step from elevator right into your suite, every suite had three views). The building was also permitted to be right up close to the Preston sidewalk so that units had a view of the park and Dow’s Lake along the street, thus preserving views should other highrises appear (the Esso site, recently decontaminated, at the corner; the CIBC site; the Dow Honda huge site).

IF Starwood bought this site, I wonder if they will keep the pencil thin building at 18 stories? If they try what they tried on Champagne, they will go for a larger building, perhaps double the size, ie 36 stories.

Right now the tallest building in Ottawa is Place de Ville Tower C, built in the early 70’s. (Right out of university I had a corner office in that building, 28th floor, north and west view, and it is truly a stunning view for a career-starter. Life after that was all downwards.) However, Claridge is proposing a 28 storey condo on the Barbarella site on the other side of Lyon. Claridge is also building a pair of 28 storey towers by Place Bell, and has applied to build a 28 storey tower on Nepean on a  120′  x  100′   lot.

the thin tower to the left is further "thinned" to eye by having two different facades to the right and left side; it is on a 120x100' lot; off to the right are two towers plus the Sobey's Claridge is building on the block immediately south of Place Bell

Lest you think tall towers are not possible on small lots, just look at the eighteen-storey tower Claridge already built on the Lyon side of Minto Place, which is on a ~60′ deep lot x ~125′  with no surface amenity space. Very tall buildings on very small lots are already here, and more are coming down the pipe, very very fast.

the building in the centre, by Claridge, is 18 floors on a small lot about 60x125'; he is proposing a similar tower in the foreground beside Barabarella's, except it would be 28 stories high

If Starwood was to market this (theoretical, 36 storey) building to empty nesters and affluent couples (DINKS – double income, no kids) they would construct largish suites. Minto did this for the Metropole building, which is upscale, large units, for affluent buyers (current resale prices are 500k to 1.6million dollars). Theirs is an example of a tall building on a large lot. The surroundings give a sense of gravitas, of formal approach to the tower, as shown below:

However, the previous owner of the Preston site had no luck with an upscale building (presuming he actually tried to market it, which I saw no signs of…) and the safest bet for mass-market builders is to built lots of one bedroom and one bedroom + den suites. Although, as an aside, I have noticed increasing numbers of early buyers in downtown condos are now acquiring the adjacent suite and combining them into larger suites, which means the occupants are happy with downtown condo living and intend to stay. The builder is concerned with the initial sale, not the future resales, and thus the safest route is many small suites.

Note that the Metropole is the second tallest building in Ottawa, fifteen feet shorter than Place de Ville. Claridge has shown no signs of beating the local height sweepstakes, maybe Starwood would find that attractive.

A quick look at the internet for the lastest designs of tall thin condos elsewhere in the world shows many are simple towers (good, known economics) with decorative elements attached (to add interest, novelty). There is the Marilyn Monroe tower in Mississauga,

marilyn monroe towers in mississauga are not on small lots

or the Aqua in Chicago. The Aqua is basically a simple square core tower with curvy balconies added around the perimeter.  To complicate things, the pattern changes as the balconies go up.

Aqua building, in Chicago

I think there is lots of room for debate on how to integrate new buildings into existing neighborhoods. To my mind, height alone is not a disqualifier. The trick is to make the building function well in the neighborhood. There will always be people ticked off at any sort of change. Look, for example, at those who squawk at enlarging existing homes in 1960’s neighborhoods, or listen to the outrage when a developer proposes a small townhouse group inserted into a neighborhood (ruination!). The NIMBY volume goes up when its a five or six storey condo, and crescendos when the project is large or involves several buildings (eg Lansdowne, Our Lady of the Condos site, or indeed, any site near Westboro). How loud will the howling get when more citizens see the number of small lot tall towers coming to downtown Ottawa in the next few years, and realize the “contagion” will spread outward to other neighborhoods?

How can one integrate a 35 storey, small-lot high-rise into an existing neighborhood,  like Preston? What will the City’s Dept of Planning  Reaction and Development do?

18 thoughts on “Purely speculation, of course

  1. The Aqua building in Chicago is apparently a real energy pig, with huge cold transfer through the balcony slabs. This usually ends up creating condensation/mould problems on adjacent interior surfaces.

  2. I hope Starwood has purchased the Preston location, as I find that last block pretty grim…I would be really pleased to see some ground level retail, or a visually intriguing building! But I’m not getting my hopes up yet 🙂

    I noticed that a house on Preston (closer to Beech/Young) sold recently – I wonder if it will be converted to retail…

    Somewhat related, I was reading that Mr Peloso is sitting on a good number of the unused/underused lots on Preston… that’s too bad.

  3. Seems a bit of a drastic thing to drop towers of this size into neighbourhoods like those. Granted that the intensification goal is a good thing, and we want to contain the sprawl – see the South March Highlands argument in progress as an example of that problem – but maybe a rethink’s in order…?

    (Granted also that I don’t currently live in any of the affected neighbourhoods…)

  4. To my mind, height alone is not a disqualifier.

    Height is almost totally irrelevant, except to Club Nimby. What really matters, is how the building looks and works at street level. There are plenty of short buildings that effectively kill the blocks that they are on.

    1. Height is anything but totally irrelevant if you’ve got solar panels/water heaters and your neighbour to the south plans to put up something that blocks the sun.

      One of these days we’re going to see a case over height go to the OMB and possibly beyond relating to solar panels. Some insensitive height-obsessed idiot developer is going to try to put up some mega-development far exceeding the height limit next to a modern urban hippie with his solar panels and we’re all going to have an entertaining time watching the rubber-stamping city staff, weary city councillors and the developer-friendly OMB talk themselves into circles about it.

      1. @David

        I believe that was the case with the new condo building going up on Gladstone…. It’s definitely no good for the person with solar, but also tricky to deny a development application on that basis alone…

      2. With this FIT programme underway, someone who places solar panels in a location on their property in such a way that it would not be obstructed by others respecting the zoning then in place at the time* would have a good case in civil court against any neighbour who exceeded the zoning and any municipality that allowed it through a rezoning.

        The last thing the Province is going to want is to have a whole pile of these cases clogging up the civil courts. They’re going to have to order municipalities to incorporate accommodating policy and they’re going to have to order the OMB to incorporate that into their decisions.

        It could well take a decade or more before this comes to a head, but sooner or later it’s going to happen. The perfect storm of conditions exists in gentrifying inner city neighbourhoods for it to occur: environmentally-minded activist modern hippie-types who are often among the first “resettlers” in gentrifying neighbourhoods who want to max out their environmental credentials and later arriving developers trying to cash in on the boom who want to maximize their profits by putting up as big a thing as they can get away with and who have little regard for anyone else whose already there. It really is only a matter of time. The irony of it being over clashing economic returns to the enjoyment of property just adds to the fun because the solar panel owners are now going to be in a position to make the same sort of arguments that developers typically like to make.

        *To be clear, if someone places panels on the ground and a neighbour comes along and builds something within the allowed zoning that casts a shadow over the panels, in those circumstances I don’t think a reasonable case would exist. I’m specifically not talking about cases where neighbours are respecting existing zoning causing overshadowing. But the panel installer placed them on their roof or other location such that they would never be obstructed by neighbours building within the height limit and setbacks and the municipality then allows a rezoning to a height that does obstruct the sun, then in those circumstances a case would exist because material harm could be demonstrated.

  5. I can’t see the solar panel issue turning into endless lawsuits. It is too bad but I think a similar fight has been fought many times and lost…regarding shade from tall buildings casting shadows on backyards and vegetable gardens. The gardens lost.

    “Land ownership does not include a right to unobstructed sunlight” this is true, as is the saying that you “don’t own the view”. Tall buildings are a necessary thing if we don’t want endless sprawl. As for “modern hippie-types who are often among the first “resettlers” in gentrifying neighbourhoods” they should be aware before moving in anywhere what the neighbourhood can and can’t be zoned for and to expect the unexpected with our city.

    1. More important than allowing tall buildings, though, the halt to sprawl can only come by, well, halting sprawl. Is there any particular reason we are still building those dreadful and impossible-to-adapt squirrely suburban residential street layouts, other than to reassure the soccer moms that their “community” will never, ever, be anything but squirrely, suburban, and residential?

      Why can’t we start building physically laid-out forms that can respond to changing economic and other pressures over time, just like we did up until the end of WWII?

      1. WJM:

        In fairness, I think we are doing a better job at this. There are very few cul-de-sac and windy street type subdivisions being approved and built these days. Most development is following somewhat of a grid pattern.

        If you look at recently developed areas in Barrhaven, for example, I don’t think you can call the layout “squirrely” (http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=nepean,+on&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=32.885543,51.679688&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Nepean,+Ottawa+Division,+Ontario,+Canada&ll=45.268937,-75.709941&spn=0.007128,0.012617&t=h&z=16).

        Unfortunately, what we don’t see in modern suburban development is mainstreet-type development. We see larger format stores. But that is driven by market realities.

      2. In that map you link to, there are very few four-way interesections, the layout deliberately avoids cutting out to Prince of Wales Drive (Drive, of course) and Woodroffe, and there are still too many “Crescents” that start and end off the same one-street-up-the-driving-hierarchy street.

        Topologically, and especially from the point of view of a pedestrian, this layout is identical to the squirreliest parts of Orleans or Kanata.

      3. We see larger format stores. But that is driven by market realities.

        Yes, but is there any reason that the public authorities keep allowing these big-box format stores to be sited away from the street, insulated in warm and happy blankets of parking lots (hi, Vanier Loblaws, and everything built in the suburbs in the past twenty years), or, worse still, the inward-facing “huddle” like that abomination that is the farcically-styled “transit-oriented” College Square on the corner of Baseline and Woodroffe?

        Big boxes don’t have to be as big-boxy as we let them be. They can be built on forms and in ways that can adapt over time if the economic pressure changes. As it stands, the only way College Square (Kanata Centrum, Trainyards, the whole bloody lot are utterly interchangeable) will ever grow up, is if some future deep-pocketed and far-sighted developer buys up the whole lot and flattens them with extreme prejudice. We have frozen idiotic thinking, in residential, retail, and institutional land uses, into the built landscape, essentially forever or until the sun dies, whichever comes first.

  6. I don’ think that big box malls are here forever. The buildings are quite cheap to put up … just big empty spaces. The Walmart at Trainyards could be converted to offices, to a warehouse, or other use, very easily. And it could quite easily be dismantled and replaced by something else, like a mixed use more urban development. Our big box “malls” are current marketplace winners here and abroad (I saw exactly same layouts in France) and are a function of auto-focussed transportation. And here is my question: has anyone seen a big box mall that works better? that focusses on a main-street shopping experience? I visited a “new town” mix-use place in NJ that looked great and would win a townplanning prize, but was obviously underoccupied and underpopulated. Ditto Reston, VA. The only big stuff that also has a vibrant street life is that bane of all urbanists: Las Vegas.

    1. Big-box stores can be built in ways that support their car-driven customer base, while at the same time being convenient and comfortable places to access by food or by transit, and laid out in ways that will make the neighbourhoods susceptible to incremental change over time.

      Right now, the developers have the choice to make their car-oriented projects useful for other modes of transport, and susceptible to change.

      They choose not to.

      They shouldn’t have the choice.

      Prime example is the god-awful Kanata Centrum. It could have been laid out with the same stores, same floor space, same number of parking spots… but with a nod to the fact that there’s supposedly a major transit station immediately adjacent. Nothing, not one thing, would be different as far as the retailers or their car customers are concerned, but it would have made a world of difference to access by transit and pedestrians, and to people staging through the transit station. It would have been so easy to provide food and convenience services, within a 90-second walk of the station, that would render long transfer times something other than wasted time.

      Big-box developments can be more than just car-oriented wastelands. We, as an economy and municipality, keep chosing not to force them to be. It’s pathetic and wasteful and frustrating as hell. Why are we now on our seventh decade of building Ottawa this crappy way?

    2. In Yuma Az, the winter before the economic crash, we found ourselves in a shopping mall that was mainstreet in feel (Disneyland in feel actually). Also, in Salt Lake City we had a similar experience, but the Yuma one was closest to a mainstreet feel, and it was very new. I won’t be back to Yuma…not my favorite place, but it is a good example of a mingling of big box stores and smaller shops. Climate is an all-important factor. I could add Tucson to the list.

  7. To comment on lingo around differences of opinion about what signifies intelligent intensification, I would like to say that the language used in many blogs, posts says to me we won’t be getting our minds together anytime soon. Too much putting down other people’s viewpoints with just careless (slagging) phrases that will not help. These phrases come up suddenly in the middle of otherwise cogent ideas, and are quite a turnoff. My hopes would be that we could try to understand other points of view. Maybe I’m just getting old and tired. Which reminds me of my mom who worked in Tower C in the seventies for the “DOT” as a Clerk 3. Maybe I get my interest in how we develop our city neighbourhoods since she was from Lebreton Flats, (me too until age 4) and often talked about it’s demise. I didn’t mind, since we moved to the fabulous country for a few years before landing in one of Ottawa’s earlier suburbs, Blossom Park in the mid-fifties. PS height matters.

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