The Bayview-Carling CDP has been going on for six years now. Or is it seven? It lurches forward just enough to permit some significant upzonings, then subsides back into limbo.
The latest attempt by the city to resolve its indecision at the Carling-Preston end of the study zone saw them import their favourite big gun Toronto planner George Dark, and divide the study zone into 3 smaller study zones (the Bayview end, the Gladstone middle, and the Carling end).
Gerrymandering, as mentioned in the title of this story, is the political art of redrawing boundaries so as to achieve a predetermined politcal end.
The original boundaries included the residential block bounded by Beech, Railway, Young and Champagne. The mention of Champagne should remind readers that this has been a hot speculative area with numerous developers getting huge upzonings and subsequent tall tower approvals.
One of the first things George Dark did at his fabled neighbourhood design charette (or charade, depending on your level of cynicism)* was to announce loudly and with much gusto that the aforementioned block was just fine as it was, and didn’t need change. To most community reps at the session, this sounded like good news. Imagine, leaving a motley collection of smallish houses in place as is. It put many of us in a good mood to get the session started, and showed that Mr Dark wasn’t just a tool of big developers and their pet politicians.
He then went on to
trash redesign the rest of the neighbourhoods. Particularly upsetting was his eagerness to remove the remaining low rise residential areas along the east side of the OTrain cut and redevelop those short streets into highrises. Michelle Taggart was at the meetings defending the wisdom of rezoning Norman to permit her 18 storey condo tower. In the eventual plan proposed by Dark/City Planning he cut this down to 9 stories, which required the construction of additional streets (the “mews”) and cutting the OTrain corridor multi-user path into short segments.
When the City held its unveiling of its proposed zoning and height limits to the PAC (a meeting attended by numerous members of the public) a few weeks ago, it opened up its presentation with an area map. And this is where the gerrymander comes in. Because the maps used for the first six years of the CDP process, and thus presumably honouring the the mandate given to planning by Council, had now been redrawn to exclude the Beech/Railway/Young block. That block was no longer in the study. It was not up for discussion. Out of bounds. Move on folks, nothing to see here.
I don’t think bureaucracies do anything without a reason. Here are two possible “whys” for redrawing the map.
Scenario 1: The excluded blocks (in Hobbs’s ward) look a lot like the residential blocks on the east side (in Holmes’s ward) of the tracks. If the Hobbs block is included in the map, it raises the possibility that other low rise areas along the OTrain can remain low rise. It is very difficult to argue how the Hobbs block differs from the Holmes block. If anything, it has better road access to Preston and Carling and the Queensway, and similar good pedestrian access to transit and shopping. So if it is good planning to keep the Hobbs block low rise, isn’t it good planning to keep the Holmes block low rise?
Scenario 2 is the reverse argument. If the Holmes block is great for redevelopment, given its proximity to the transit, the mainstreet, etc then isn’t the Hobbs block equally attractive to redevelopment? And hey, they already have a cute “mews” street already in place along the Otrain greenspace. So when looking at the city’s big display maps of the neighbourhood and given an endless supply of Styrofoam high rises to plonk down anywhere, there isn’t any good reason I have heard (and I have asked) why Michelle Taggart’s condo towers wouldn’t be just as appropriate on Railway Street as on Norman Street.
So I think the City has redrawn the boundaries of the CDP for good reasons. Not only does it avoid the nasty difficult comparisons raised above, it avoids addressing just why the Hobbs block was actually removed at all.
I hope to hear these issues addressed at the City’s CDP public meeting being held this Tuesday at 7pm at Tom Brown Arena. It should be some pretty interesting figure skating. What study maps will be included this time?
Above: the Hobbs block is on the lower right, unchanged. The Holmes blocks are on the east side of the tracks (left) and show a long row of 9 storey buildings and the new street along the OTrain cut. Source: City of Ottawa planning model for the area.
But wait, there’s more.
When the City divided the Bayview-Carling CDP into three segments, it drew the boundary at the Queensway. And no one is looking (yet) at the Gladstone study area immediately to the north. No doubt the consultants are lining up.
Recall that the Gladstone study area will also have its own transit station (exact date yet to be determined) on the OTrain. The station will start under Gladstone and extend south towards the Queensway. And towards the Hobbs block. Almost to the very edge of it.
This puts the Hobbs block within the catchment zone of not one, but two rapid transit stations. (Railway Street sort of peters out as it approaches the Queensway, but there is a public right of way under the Queensway which the CDP calls to be paved and landscaped).
Why on earth would we want to prevent redevelopment within spitting distance of a transit station?
*for a report on the Dark side, see https://www.westsideaction.ca/charettes-or-is-it-charades-on-the-west-side/