Remember SimCity, a computer game that was all the rage a few hundred years ago? It’s still around. I recall that gamers could take the base maps for SimCity and create them as a specific city,ie Ottawa. Then one could run out scenarios to see consequences. City Councillors voted to hold the urban boundary, increase density, and simultaneously zoned the majority of the urban area as “out of bounds” for increased density. The result would have been predictable in thirty minutes of playing SimCity as high rises would sprout up along the transit corridors and those few areas zoned high rise, as well as various zoning-busting “exceptions”. Councillors cannot pretend to be surprised at the pressures they themselves put in place.
One of the concerns I have about the 35 storey condo proposed at Preston and Sidney, near Dow’s Lake, is that we are invited to view the project in a present and backward looking context. That is, we see a neighborhood plan that shows the existing structures plus the few already-approved ones “for context”:
But, the StarwoodMastercraft building simply won’t be the only building built at the south end of Preston. The CIBC won’t stay as a drive-through bank … nor will Dow Motors stay as a low rise car dealership. And there is the vacant now-remediated Esso lot at the corner of Preston and Carling. All these property owners will be thinking along the same lines: build a condo. And they won’t be thinking of “build a cute five to eight storey condo”.
So, courtesy of Photoshop, here’s a scenario, a fantasy depiction of the same area some years out into the future. Dow Motors gets the Starwood treatment, with the 125 Hickory project repeated on that site; CIBC gets a tall condo; the Esso site gets a tower, and the vacant Mr Gas site behind it gets a lower-rise:
Keep in mind that I did not extend the condo belt further north down Preston Street, nor show another tower on the vacant parcel beside the Arnon two office buildings already along Carling at Rochester, nor the development of the huge parcel of land they own just south of the Sakto/Adobe/Xerox complex at 333 Preston. And it is rather curious I restricted buildings to readily redevelopable lots … there is no reason to limit condos to those lots, someone could assemble four small houses and drop in a condo there too.
Look too at the south (left) side of Carling, on both sides of the Otrain corridor. It’s all green grass. But it is not zoned parkland. It is in the Official Plan as a high-density intensification mixed-use zone, ie lots more highrises.
I don’t want to give the impression that a bunch of condos is bad. I want intensification and a urban environment. But we need to plan for it, to ensure we get a livable neighborhood and vibrant main street. We don’t want a wind-swept alienated street canyon sandwiched between seven-storey parking garages.
I personally feel Starwood missed the boat here. If they had bought out the Dow Motors site, proposed a townhouse or commercial podium (Shoppers Drug Mart, of course; maybe a Farm Boy too) with a 35 storey tower above, and maybe two or three lower ones stepping down as you move north, I think I would be cheering for it.