Westboro and Westboro Beach neighbours are all up in arms about a proposed condo (ie apartment) development along the Transitway just west of Churchill. The site is currently manufacturing, a leftover from the days when the Transitway was a railway line and there was industry along it.
The briefs opposing the development plan bring out the usual boogeymen: too much traffic, too high, killer shadows, deleterious change, etc. Being high end, about the only argument not brought out is crime. (Fortunately, an earlier suggestion to route the new condo access away from the older neighborhood by routing through the front lawn of the less-affluent apartment neighbours, directly over to Scott, seems to have died off).
I read the Westboro Beach commentary (note: I used to live on Kirchoffer, adjacent the site, and frequently travel along the bike paths there) and the Swiss immigrant complaint. Both strike me as full of alarmist language and conspicuous spin that ends up “turning me off” their arguments rather than persuading me.
In the drawing above, the intersection of Churchill and Scott is in the very top right corner, mostly off the pic. Roosevelt is in the bottom left, and shows the ped bridge over the Transitway. The redish-pink apartment building on the right exists today. I think it is a coop or other affordable housing development.
The proponent has shown two clones of the existing building on the new site, to show what is permitted under the current zoning. I don’t think this was a scare tactic, as some charge, but it does make it perfectly clear what the current zoning permits. It is always difficult for people to imagine just what is proposed; in this case there is an existing reasonably attractive building to cut and paste, to look at its height, assess its shadow, etc. Of course, its exterior and shape details could be more modern than the clone shows.
The yellow outline shows the developers proposal for two towers. They contain the same volume of residential units. Most importantly, sight lines are opened up between the buildings, to the benefit of residents all around and especially on the street in the centre which maintains as vista northwestward. There is also about 70% open space rather than 40%, but whether this is a useful benefit very much depends on the quality and sensitivity of the landscaping and relationship to the building. Another barren plaza helps no one.
I don’t think the developers proposal is an affront to planning or democracy. The City plans call for intensification along the Transitway. The question at hand is what form it should take. The City’s previous preference was for short, blocky buildings with side yards. After having these rules in place for years, the result was a lot of low, blocky buildings with useless side yards. Boring, and not a great environment (granted, it took more than height bylaws to do this; the city had a number of other contributing rules, such as forbidding store fronts from facing the street, they had to be inside the apartment buildings and termed “tuck shops”, etc).
When the City re-evaluated the Escarpment district (old Ottawa Tech lands on Albert/Slater, and the northeastern part of LeBreton Flats) the hired planner suggested switching to the more-trendy tall-slim-buildings-on-a-podium variant. I didn’t think he had much chance, given Councillor Holmes diehard opposition to height and love for the old zoning scheme. But the sketches of both persuaded most participants, and the city, to switch to the tower/podium zoning model. Now it’s all the rage amongst urbanists.
I am well aware that planners can make anything look good. And the Escarpment plan — like all plans — is full of planner’s porn ( for eg, lovely rows of trees along the streets, never interrupted for driveways, garages, turn lanes, taxi stands, or bus shelters…)… you know, the ideal urban glamour we lust for but never quite get in real life.
The more I read about planning, and the more I see up close what developers propose, the more I am convinced that the key to good design lies at the first at the ground level, and secondarily at the first five floors. Above that, it doesn’t matter how tall the building is, it is essentially out of sight. I challenge anyone to glance at buildings in the distance and distinguish between 15, 18, or 24, or even 30 stories.
The developer in the Roosevelt case did provide reasonable, detailed sketches of his preferred development and less detailed sketches of the current zoning, but cloning the existing building was a clever and honest way to demonstrate height and mass. It would have been even better for him to have provided a more detailed work about for the lower height zoning. For example, why not sketch out an all-low-rise version, made up of townhouses and maybe one low rise apartment building, keeping the approved building volume, which might necessitate a few lot line setback adjustments. They could have pushed hard, maybe proposing 4 storey townhouses all along the back yards of the adjacent houses, with all their window walls facing the existing back yards? Alternative forms will come with their own pricetags.
The developer of course selected to show his preferred option in the best light. He is, after all, selling the concept to the planners, politicians, and residents. This isn’t some dastardly trick: he isn’t obliged to come up with 2, 3, or 10 possible developments. If the resident associations want to see something else, hire a architecture student proficient with Sketchup and for a few hundred dollars get her to block out an alternative layout, and outline the developer’s proposal in the same level of detail, so all of them are comparable. If they want to control the development, then buy the land and develop it.
The alarmist tone taken by the resident associations are their right too, and it is sometimes easier to fight the bogeyman than to choose between real alternatives. I would much rather have joined a conversation among the residents, developer, planners, and councillor to discuss the merits of the major approaches, the consequences of each, and less rhetoric about unattainable-but-emotional crutches in the line of no-more-development, no-more-infills, why-can’t-they-build-affordable-starter-home-bungalows-instead.
When its all said and done, and the builder starts to presell whatever it is they get to build, I’m willing to bet a number of the sales will be to the very people who currently live within a few blocks of the site and currently oppose it. They’ll assess their older homes’ maintenance demands, size, and value, and decide on a condo for their retirement years or as an “investment” for their grown kids. It is, after all, a great location for a condo home, quiet, with river views, nearby shopping, transit … now where is my wallet? No, wait, I remember now that wicked all-winter northwind blowing off the Ottawa River — brrr.
You can see more pics and drawings at the planning rationale submission: