Gatineau’s Katasa Group proposes nine-storey residential rental project in Ottawa’s Chinatown


A Gatineau-based developer is diving into the red-hot Ottawa rental market with a plan for a nine-storey apartment building in the heart of Chinatown.

Katasa Group, which owns and operates a number of seniors’ homes, long-term care facilities and apartments on the Quebec side of the river, wants to construct a mixed-use building featuring 112 apartment units at the corner of Somerset and LeBreton streets.

The development would also include 5,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor, with underground parking for 89 vehicles.

“We just liked the location in general when we looked at it,” said project manager Tanya Chowieri, adding the neighbourhood near the proposed redevelopment of LeBreton Flats is poised to become “the new downtown.”

It would be the first rental property in Ottawa for Katasa, which also said it plans to develop a number of retirement homes and student residences on the Ontario side.

Ms. Chowieri said the one- and two-bedroom units will rent at “mid-range” prices. The proposed design includes a rooftop terrace with a barbecue and lounge chairs as well as a gym and party room on the main floor.

Katasa bought the property – currently a surface parking lot – two years ago from Phoenix Homes, which had planned to build a nine-storey mixed-use structure with 75 condo units. Ms. Chowieri said the new owners never considered erecting condos on the site.

“We wanted to do apartments in that area because we (felt) it was a bit underdeveloped,” she said. “The only rentals around there are in houses.”

The builder originally proposed a black-and-white colour scheme for the new development, but changed the design to a mix of white and red brick after consulting with the local community association and BIA. In addition, Chinese cultural symbols are proposed for the public right-of-way along with an interpretive sign.

“We’re really trying to keep the feel of the community around the building and inside as well,” Ms. Chowieri said.

The developer hopes to begin construction next year pending council approval and expects the project to take about 18 months. The property is zoned for buildings of up to nine storeys but Katasa is asking for an amendment to allow setbacks that reflect the new building’s design.

The Quebec builder is entering the Ottawa market at a time when demand for rental apartments is soaring. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reported last month that the city’s vacancy rate dropped from three per cent in 2016 to just 1.7 per cent this year as more people chose to rent rather than own their dwellings.

According to CMHC data, 2017 saw 1,065 new purpose-built rental units started – a 65.6 per cent increase over 2016 – while condo starts dropped to 487 from a high of 2,412 in 2014. Those numbers don’t reflect major development projects that switched from condos to rentals over the past few years.