Brigil’s plan for former Greyhound bus station land gets mixed review from biz leader

Brigil development new angle
Brigil has filed an application to build three towers ranging from 26 to 40 storeys on Catherine Street between Kent and Lyon streets.

The Gatineau firm that wants to build more than 1,000 residential units on the site of the former Greyhound bus terminal says it has received “positive” feedback about the plan – but a downtown business advocate worries the project’s retail component could struggle on a street where parking is at a premium.

“We got to really connect with the community and have a good sense of what mattered for them,” Jessy Desjardins, Brigil’s vice-president of development, told OBJ on Thursday. 

Brigil has filed an application to build three towers ranging from 26 to 40 storeys at the 2.8-acre property on Catherine Street between Kent and Lyon streets. The developer bought the land in 2021 after the bus station shut down in the wake of the pandemic and demolished the building last year.

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The proposal calls for towers of 26, 36 and 40 storeys, with two buildings facing Catherine Street and one fronting on Lyon Street. The project also includes townhouses and a six-storey residential building along Arlington Avenue as well as a 0.25-acre public park on the northeast corner of Arlington Avenue and Kent Street.

A total of about 1,030 residential units will be built in a mix of studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. In addition, the proposal includes more than 20,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space that will be located mainly in a pair of six-storey podiums facing Catherine Street.

Christine Leadman, executive director of the Bank Street Business Improvement Area, said she has mixed feelings about the proposal.

While acknowledging that the addition of more than 1,000 new residents to south Centretown would be a boon to her members, Leadman said she’s not convinced the former bus terminal site is well-suited for restaurants and other high-traffic businesses.  

“Retail is suffering, and I just don’t know how well it’s going to do on a street like Catherine with really limited parking,” she said.

Brigil development on Catherine
Brigil has unveiled its plan to build three highrises on the site of the former Greyhound bus terminal.

Desjardins said he doesn’t think parking and congestion will be major issues because the retailers will be drawing most of their customers from the immediate area.

“We’re not looking to make a big retail destination with thousands and thousands of people going there,” he explained. “It’s not a car-oriented development.”

Brigil conducted four workshops with local residents, including former Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney and members of the Centretown Community Association, in 2021 and 2022 to gauge support for the plan.

Desjardins said the company took input from those sessions into account as it crafted its final proposal.

For example, he said that while Brigil initially floated the idea of building office space fronting on Arlington Avenue, there were concerns that light from the buildings would disturb nearby residents at night. 

The current plan no longer includes an office component, and Desjardins said any future office space would be located on the Catherine Street side of the property. He said residents made it clear they wanted a “more community-oriented” project that focused on residential, retail and green space. 

“I think that’s what we delivered, and we’re very excited about the final proposal,” Desjardins added. “It’s definitely a project that we are very motivated by.”

The development will be constructed in two phases, with the park and the 26-storey highrise to be built first.

The 286 suites in that building will be rental apartments, but Desjardins said Brigil is “not 100 per cent sure” if the other towers will be devoted to rental housing, condominiums or a blend of both.

“We will kind of evaluate as the (project) goes on,” he said.

The company hasn’t finalized how many units will be earmarked for affordable housing but is currently aiming for a target of 10 per cent, Desjardins noted. 

He said Brigil is looking to emulate a concept popular in countries such as Denmark that deems units to be affordable if residents spend less than 50 per cent of their income on housing and transportation combined.

“We think that people will have the chance to really live a fulfilling lifestyle without the need of a car,” he said.

Nearby recreation facilities ‘already at capacity’

Brigil’s application says the development will include restaurants and retail outlets. Desjardins said “flexible space” could be used to host markets and indoor events, adding the developer plans to survey residents and nearby businesses about what they’d like to see.

“We’re very keen on creating a neighbourhood that is run by the local business community,” he said. “I think there’s a great opportunity for anybody … whether it’s a restaurant, a local retail shop, coffee shops or even some art studios. We’re very open in terms of what type of retail businesses that we can attract there.”

Still, Leadman questioned how “people-friendly” the project will be, saying she would prefer to see more trees and public lawns sprinkled throughout the site. 

Nearby recreation facilities such as the McNabb arena, park and community centre and Jack Purcell Community Centre are “already at capacity,” she added, and companies like Brigil need to ensure they make green space a priority.

“When we’re looking at trying to revitalize the core, these developments that come in can be part of that,” said Leadman, who sits on a task force that is studying ways to reanimate Ottawa’s downtown. “There isn’t very much soft landscaping around this property.” 

The former city councillor also noted the three residential towers exceed the current 25-storey height limit set out in Ottawa’s Official Plan and worries they will create a “wind-tunnel” effect. 

“There are wind issues anyway going down Catherine Street,” she said. “It’s only going to be exacerbated when you put in more towers like this.”

In addition, Leadman said she’d like to see a significant affordable housing component and more suites aimed at families. Currently, five per cent, or about 50, of the 1,000-plus apartments are expected to be three-bedroom units.

“No one wants to live in a shoebox,” she said. “If we want more people living in the core and you want to build for real intensification, you have to build for families as well.”

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