Claridge proposes 55-storey-tower, grocery store for East LeBreton Flats

Claridge Homes says it wants to turn a barren plot of land near the Canadian War Museum into a 1,600-unit, five-tower complex aimed at mixed-income households.

The proposed LeBreton Flats development, unveiled at an open house on Monday, would include one 55-storey tower alongside three 25-floor buildings as well as a 30-storey structure. The property already features several residential buildings, including a 15-storey structure east of Lett Street. Claridge Homes will need to apply for a zoning amendment in order to construct towers at its proposed height.

Whether the units will be condominiums or rentals is not yet clear, but planners say that mixed-tenure housing is likely.

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Included in the design is a podium connecting the two tallest towers with an area set aside for retail space and services. Claridge Homes intends to include a grocery store in this space but has yet to secure a tenant.

Danny Brown, a planner with Toronto-based Urban Strategies hired by Claridge to create the proposal, says the proposed height and density of the towers is necessary to operate a grocer in the complex.

“The density of the 55-storey tower … is kind of the threshold of people you need to make a large-format grocery store viable,” he says.

Mr. Brown calls the inclusion of a grocer in the proposal a “no-brainer” to add value to the community.

“It’s something people living near LeBreton have been asking for.”

Residents apprehensive, but optimistic

Claridge purchased the 4.4-hectare property from the National Capital Commission for $8 million more than a decade ago after being the only developer to submit a bid.

At the time, critics said many builders were turned off by the NCC’s strict development conditions, such as energy efficiency standards, affordable housing components and a bland colour scheme.

While Claridge’s first buildings on the site were panned by some residents as being too ordinary for such a prominent site, Neil Malhotra – the developer’s vice-president – told OBJ in 2012 that future phases would likely change the minds of many people.

On Monday, the looming shadow of a 55-storey tower gave some residents at the open house pause, but the grocery store seemed to win a few minds.

Andrea Ryan, a nearby resident, called the tower “imposing,” but wasn’t ready to dismiss the project on account of height alone. The idea of a grocery store nearby helps to balance the scales, as does the fact that it will likely take many years for any shovels to break ground.

Mike Johansen, another area resident, agrees that a grocery store is a much-needed asset in the neighbourhood. He says that while the area is highly accessible by bus and incoming LRT, getting groceries via transit is still awkward for most households.

Coun. Jeff Leiper, who represents the neighbouring Kitchissippi Ward, says there’s a lot to like in the proposal, such as the open spaces and available amenities, but the project needs to be focused on accessibility and transit going forward.

He says Albert and Booth streets are “awful” for pedestrians, and would like to see a more complete streets strategy going forward. He warns that this proposal, alongside the development at 900 Albert Street and the National Capital Commission’s major LeBreton Flats overhaul, will stress these streets like never before.

“These sites will only be successful if they’re focused on transportation,” Mr. Leiper says.

Ramon Ross, who lives above the escarpment overlooking the proposed development, is concerned about the precedent set by the creeping heights of developments in the city. However, like Ms. Ryan, he isn’t yet getting upset about a project that is still many years from completion.

“I’m interested in what is going to practically be built in the short term,” Mr. Ross says. “It looks interesting. You’ve got to build something there.”

Uncertainty ahead

Mr. Brown says that the specifics in this initial proposal are subject to a great deal of change, and that with a great degree of uncertainty surrounding the development, that may be a good thing.

For one, several incoming developments surrounding the East Flats will affect the kinds of services that may be implemented.

Across the road, west of Booth Street, is the site of Rendez Vous LeBreton’s development. Several proposed commercial elements were approved by the NCC, but it remains to be seen how many of those proposals will actually be built.

“Whether or not that comes to fruition and how that build-out happens over the next 10 to 15 years might have significant impact on what kinds of uses are attractive for our side of Booth Street,” Mr. Brown says.

Claridge Homes’ proposal also includes plans for both affordable and seniors’ housing. The proportion of space provided for these uses in the development will significantly affect the cost of the development, which Mr. Brown couldn’t speculate at this time.

The timeline for development remains hazy as well. Following this open house, depending on the overall public response, the development team could submit their application to the city within a few weeks or a few months. Mr. Brown estimates the approval process will take a year after that and, if everything moves as smoothly as possible, the first tower may be up in four years at the earliest.

“There’s just a lot of question marks,” he says.

Mr. Brown says that the podium and two tallest towers, with intended grocery store, are likely to be constructed in the first phase of development.

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