Builder confident three-tower Baseline Road project will go ahead despite shadow concerns

Theberge Baseline Road project
Developer Joey Theberge has filed a proposal to build three highrises at the site of site of the Fisher Heights Plaza strip mall, just south of the Central Experimental Farm.

An Ottawa developer says he remains optimistic his plan to build a series of highrises along Baseline Road will get the green light, despite a new report that recommends pausing part of the project due to concerns about shadows on the nearby Central Experimental Farm.

Theberge Homes has filed a proposal with the city to build two 24-storey highrises and a 32-storey tower at 780 Baseline Rd., on the site of a strip mall that contains the original Lone Star Texas Grill. 

The development would contain a total of 1,089 residential units and nearly 31,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space split among the three buildings. 

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The builder plans to construct the project in three phases, starting with a 24-storey highrise containing 320 rental units on what is now a surface parking lot south of the existing mall fronting onto Fisher Avenue. The second and third phases would see 24- and 32-storey towers built along Baseline Road, just south of the experimental farm.

A city staff report to the planning and housing committee recommends going ahead with the first tower, but is calling for the rest of the development to be put on hold until more studies are done to determine whether shadows cast by the highrises could adversely affect research at the federally operated farm.

The site’s proximity to the farm, a national historic site, automatically triggered a heritage impact assessment under the Ontario Heritage Act. Theberge Homes president Joey Theberge told OBJ in August that after initial consultations with city staff and the public last year, the original proposal’s design was altered to limit the shadows that would be cast on the farm’s fields and address nearby residents’ concerns about the scope of the project.

But an updated assessment issued last month said the revamped proposal could still have a “significant impact” on the experimental farm, citing comments from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada that the farm’s ability to conduct research could be “irrevocably compromised” by new development.

“Staff are not recommending approval of the two mixed-use towers at heights of 24- and 32-storeys in Phase 2 until a more complete assessment of impacts on the heritage attributes of the Central Experimental Farm is available,” the report says.

Theberge said Thursday he was surprised that city staff recommended pausing the second and third phases of the project. 

He told OBJ his firm commissioned studies that showed the buildings would cast shadows over a portion of the farm for only 20 minutes during growing season and about four hours – from roughly 8 a.m. to noon – during the winter.

“We’re not happy with the city’s position,” he said. “Although it’s not a rejection, it’s almost like procrastination.”

Although the amount of time the farm would be shadowed is still within city guidelines, the report concluded its author was “not qualified to dispute the AAFC’s scientific findings and suggested that mitigation measures be explored.”

Theberge said he’s not sure exactly what kind of studies his firm will be expected to conduct and plans to press city staff on the matter when the proposal comes before the planning and housing committee next Wednesday.

“It’ll be a very interesting meeting next week,” he added.

Still, Theberge said he’s hopeful the entire project will eventually get council’s go-ahead.

He said he has a “very good relationship” with city planning staff and Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Sean Devine, whose ward includes the proposed development, and has made changes to the project aimed at addressing their concerns, including adjusting the height and shape of the buildings to minimize shadowing impacts on the farm.

“I’m very confident the plans will be approved as they are at some point,” Theberge said.

In comments attached to the staff report, Devine said he’s encouraged by Theberge’s willingness to alter the proposal in response to residents’ feedback. 

At the same time, however, Devine said there is “clear evidence” that building highrises on the southern periphery of the experimental farm “will severely impact the research being done at this important facility.”

Devine said he’s confident a “reasonable compromise” can be reached to reduce the height of the towers while maintaining sufficient density at the site.

“I am satisfied that all parties are now working in good faith to address those concerns, and that they have initiated a process to attempt to address them,” he said.

Theberge said he’s open to further changes, but wants to get the go-ahead for the whole proposal before embarking on any more redesigns.

“Just because you have the zoning, it doesn’t mean you have to build exactly what’s zoned,” he said. “There are a lot of alternative options. We want to get our commitment of zoning first before we start spending on redesigning and looking at other options.

“We’re willing to look at all density options for this site after zoning is complete. We have lots of time to look at phase two and three. Phase one is our priority.”

It’s not the first time this year that a development proposal for a site near the Experimental Farm has run into controversy.

In September, council approved a proposal from Taggart Realty Management that will see two residential towers built at 1081 Carling Ave., just north of the farm, despite Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s concerns that shadows cast by the buildings would affect a significant portion of the farm lands, rendering them unusable for research purposes.

Ottawa developer warns against ‘blanket policies’ for developments around Central Experimental Farm

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