A bold plan to reshape Ottawa’s skyline with a trio of mixed-use towers near the Bayview transit station has been given the green light.
Ottawa council agreed Wednesday to allow a group of developers to build the massive mixed-use complex near the intersection of the Trillium and Confederation LRT lines – despite objections from some councillors that the proposal violates community planning guidelines.
The final vote was 16-5 in favour of the proposal from Trinity Development Group, InterRent Real Estate Investment Trust and PBC Real Estate Advisors to build three highrises – of 65, 56 and 27 storeys – at 900 Albert St. The 65- and 56-storey towers would be Ottawa’s tallest buildings.
Calling the proposed development a “significant vote of confidence” for the area near LeBreton Flats, Mayor Jim Watson said the planned mix of commercial and office space along with more than 1,200 residential apartment units will help revitalize the prime 3.6-acre piece of real estate just west of downtown.
“This was a contaminated site that would have been a vacant lot in perpetuity with a city sewer running through it,” said Watson, noting city staff predict the development will generate up to 1.6 million additional transit trips each year.
“For transit-oriented development, you can’t pick a better site. We need this kind of density at transit stations.”
But not everyone around the table agreed with the mayor’s assessment. Councillors David Chernushenko, Mathieu Fleury, Jeff Leiper, Catherine McKenney and Tobi Nussbaum voted against the proposal.
Some councillors argued the development flies in the face of the neighbourhood’s secondary plan, a planning blueprint created after consultation with city staff, property owners and residents that calls for a maximum height of 30 storeys on the property. Watson and city staffers said the city’s official plan allows for buildings taller than that within 200 metres of transit stations in mixed-use centres, a standard the 900 Albert St. proposal meets.
But critics said approving buildings that violate a planning document created in conjunction with the community will shake the public’s faith in City Hall’s ability to regulate developers.
“We are failing our residents on this.”
“I think we are doing a grave disservice to the planning process,” said Nussbaum. “We are failing our residents on this.”
McKenney, whose ward includes the proposed development, slammed the proposed design’s south side, saying four loading bays planned for that section will cut the tenants of the new buildings off from the rest of the surrounding residential streets.
“We are never going to live on the ground in this development,” she said. “We will not meet our neighbours. We’re not going to hang out in a loading zone.”
Leiper said the proposal was “disappointing” because it sacrifices vibrant community amenities such as parks and public areas for retail and commercial space.
“This is an island in a couple of robust neighbourhoods, Hintonburg and Dalhousie,” said the councillor for Kitchissippi ward, which is right next to the development. “It turns its back on them. We had the opportunity with this to do better.”
McKenney did secure a motion that says the developers are “encouraged” to make 25 per cent of the units affordable housing. While the Bayview secondary plan states that future developments “shall” include affordable housing, city staff said builders can’t be compelled to follow that stipulation. At Coun. Keith Egli’s suggestion, the amendment also included a provision that said the city could go back to the developers and request affordable units “should such be legally possible” in the future.
McKenney also proposed a number of other motions that council approved. They include a request for the city and the developers to work together to ensure the south side of the development is better integrated into the surrounding neighbourhood and a plan to put the $450,000 the developers were going to contribute to a footbridge toward community parks and gardens instead.
East Flats a go
Also Wednesday, council approved a pair of other major development projects in the LeBreton Flats area.
Claridge Homes got the go-ahead to build five mixed-use towers ranging from 25 to 45 storeys on the eastern edge of LeBreton Flats, despite concerns from some nearby residents that the buildings are too tall for the area.
Dubbed East Flats, the project would feature more than 1.5 million square feet of residential space along with nearly 230,000 square feet of commercial space on Booth and Lett streets, northeast of the Pimisi LRT station that is currently being built on Booth Street.
The plan calls for a variety of apartment sizes, affordable housing and a child-care facility, as well as a range of commercial uses, including restaurants and a grocery store. Once fully built, the development would include about 1,600 residential units.
Claridge has already constructed several residential condo and apartment towers on the eastern edge of LeBreton Flats on land it purchased from the National Capital Commission in 2005. The new project is expected to take up to 15 years to build.
Council also approved rezoning for the proposed new downtown branch of the Ottawa Public Library at LeBreton Flats on city-owned land at 557 Wellington St. near Booth Street. The joint project with Library and Archives Canada, which is expected to have a total price tag of about $175 million, is slated to open in 2024.
The new zoning will allow for a maximum height of 12 storeys on the library site and up to 25 storeys on two parcels of land closer to Booth Street and the Pimisi LRT station.
Broccolini wins deferment on Amazon warehouse fees
Meanwhile, council also agreed to let the builder of Amazon’s proposed new distribution centre defer about $8 million in municipal development charges until construction is complete without incurring any interest.
Watson said the move will help ensure the project’s viability, adding Broccolini is slated to spend more than $8.4 million extending services such as water, gas and electricity to the area – services that could aid in spurring additional development. The interest on the deferred development charges would have come to about $800,000, a tradeoff that’s well worth it, the mayor said.
“This is a $200-million investment and is coming at absolutely no cost to the city or its taxpayers,” Watson said. “This is a good deal for taxpayers.”
Broccolini says Amazon is expected to create 600 local jobs at a massive new 1.02-million-square-foot distribution centre – the largest facility of its kind ever constructed in the National Capital Region – when it opens in the second half of 2019.
Leiper, McKenney and Nussbaum dissented, arguing the move could set a bad precedent for future development projects.