Ottawa builder proposes residential highrises at site of original Lone Star Texas Grill

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 wants to build three highrises with nearly 1,100 residential units on what is now the site of a strip mall that contains the original Lone Star Texas Grill.

Joey Theberge, the owner of Theberge Homes, has filed a proposal with the city that would see a pair of 24-storey highrises and a 32-storey tower constructed at 780 Baseline Rd. on the corner of Fisher Avenue, just south of the Central Experimental Farm.

The property is currently occupied by Fisher Heights Plaza, a strip mall best-known for being home to the iconic Ottawa-based Lone Star chain’s first Tex-Mex restaurant. Theberge bought the 36,000-square-foot retail complex, whose other tenants include Gabriel Pizza, National Bank of Canada and Subway, two years ago for $16.5 million.

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The L-shaped lot, which covers nearly four acres, also contains a pair of single-detached homes. Theberge said the property has room for significant mixed-use development and would have a direct connection to a new station on a proposed bus rapid transit line along Baseline Road.

“That plaza has been a pinnacle in Ottawa for as long as I can remember,” said Theberge, noting that his first job was working for a tenant in the mall. “I had a passion for that plaza … and I just think it’s a good (location) for intensification in that area.”

The latest proposal is a revised version of an application Theberge filed more than a year ago. The developer’s original plan called for the smaller towers to be slightly taller at 25 storeys, while the third tower had a proposed height of 29 storeys. 

Current zoning bylaws limit buildings at the property to 18 metres, or about six storeys.

Theberge said after initial consultations with city staff and the public last year, the design was altered to limit the shadows that would be cast on Experimental Farm property and address nearby residents’ concerns about the scope of the project. 

“We’re just working with the residents, trying to make sure we’re hitting some of the guidelines the city likes to see,” he said. “It’s just a better, more functional site right now.”

The developer said he’s confident the revised proposal will win council’s approval.

“We’re working on city support to get the extra height, because it is a transit-oriented site.”

Theberge said the project is expected to be completed in three phases. A 24-storey tower containing 320 rental units is the first structure slated to be built on what is now a surface parking lot south of the existing mall.

Most of the units in the first highrise would be split between one- and two-bedroom suites, with a total of about two dozen studio and three-bedroom apartments rounding out the development. A proposed underground garage would contain 370 parking spaces to complement the plaza’s 138 existing spots.

Dedicated parkland

The building would also feature nearly 6,000 square feet of outdoor amenity space, along with indoor communal space as well as a rooftop terrace and amenity space. A small park totalling about a third of an acre is also expected to be part of the project’s initial phase.

Theberge said he hopes to start construction on the first tower next summer pending the required zoning approvals. 

He estimated it will take about two years to complete the first phase. Theberge said construction on the second highrise would likely start soon afterward, with the strip mall being demolished to make way for the new development. 

The third building would follow a few years later.

“The game plan would be three years after the first one starts, you start the next tower,” he said.

While the first tower will be dedicated to rental apartments, Theberge said market demand will determine whether the next phases will be rentals or condos.

“If they were being built today, then they would be rentals,” he said. “We’ll see in three, four years, when the next tower comes up, if there’s a condo market. But as of right now, we’re just sticking with rentals. In that area in particular, there is a need for some new … rentals.”

The buildings are likely to include amenities such as gyms, theatres and work stations, and all the highrises will also feature commercial space on the ground floor, Theberge added.

“A lot of retailers that we have in (the strip mall) currently have expressed interest in staying in the buildings,” he said.

It’s one more project on what’s already a jam-packed docket for Theberge. The list of rental developments already in his company’s pipeline includes a 280-unit project farther west at 2140 Baseline Rd., a 304-suite building in Kanata and a five-tower proposal in Orléans.

But he’s particularly bullish on redeveloping Fisher Heights Plaza, arguing the project could be just the impetus the city requires to push ahead with the proposed Baseline bus rapid transit corridor.

“We think the BRT is something that’s needed,” Theberge said. “But in order to get the BRT funded, you have to have a reason for it. If you build it, they will come. It’s an old saying, but you need to build something in order for (transit) to be funded.

“I don’t think we’re going to see it in our lifetime, but we’re trying to move to a carless society. In order to do that, you need to have stuff near the (transit) stations.”

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