Winter has gone, the summer solstice has passed and construction season is in full bloom all across Ottawa. Developers are snapping up properties everywhere.
Three close neighbours have sold in the last 60 days. I fully expect one will be torn down for two semi’s, like the last several older homes to sell. The other two are part of a parcel of land that is being consolidated, consisting of the entire end of the city block along Byron Place between Churchill and Highcroft.
The developer has already announced his intentions to build a six storey mixed-use commercial building with condos on the upper floors. That’s three full storeys taller than anything else in our neighbourhood.
This is also the crest of the land just south of Richmond and Churchill and it will be the new view for everyone for several streets around.
And then there is the mess at Kenwood. Demolition permits were issued a year ago and now we have a rubble-filled vacant lot from Churchill to Highcroft. The developer was all hot and heavy about getting right into construction a year ago…
Now I can see there are benefits to redeveloping an older neighbourhood. Some of the oldest buildings are showing their age and many are quite small (perfect for a young family, as it happens…) but this new building promises to bring many new tenants to the upper floors and new businesses to the bottom floors. Many of us will not miss the now vacant used car dealer, along with the spilled oil seeping into the groundwater. The sagging wooden garages beside the car lot won’t be missed. A lack of maintenance by the current owners has made the old brick house on Churchill a bit of an eyesore but it is in the style of the older homes in Westboro and for that reason, some will miss this piece of “Laurentianview” history.
On the other hand, the old doctor’s house on the corner of Byron Place and Highcroft, with his long ago closed practice attached, will be missed by anyone who remembers those days. It is another character piece. Both homes on Byron Place have young families and the dead end street makes this a safer place as the kids learn to ride their bicycles and skateboard. The recently erected metal sculpture on the corner of Churchill and Byron is not supposed to be touched by this construction, but a builder’s promise shares much with crocodile tears… The grass strip which is part of the Byron Linear Park where the sculpture sits will be paved over as the developer is showing in his sketches for only eight surface parking spots for a building that size.
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The developer is not suggesting any solution to the chronic shortage of parking south of Richmond Road, which his proposed building will exacerbate. The ground floor businesses will add new demand as customers dash in for a quick whatever and leave their cars parked wherever they can find a spot. My driveway is already often blocked by employees and customers of the restaurants and stores on Richmond, which demonstrates how tight things are already.
The electrical system buzzes and hums under the current load. The water system is already a century old along Highcroft, Byron Place, and Byron Avenue. The sewer system will need to be improved. Wet basements are already a problem for some on Highcroft and this construction will disrupt the groundwater further. A tiny stretch of the ancient sidewalk was patched earlier this year – we were promised new sidewalks in the mid-1980’s and we are still waiting… maybe the city will finally find some money to do what was promised.
The side streets are already the scene of cars cutting the Churchill-Byron light and racing up and down Highcroft, especially during rush hour which has become a nightmare after the traffic patterns on Richmond and Churchhill were redesigned to calm traffic. We got the angry drivers who didn’t want to be calmed… And this is in spite of the fact that Highcroft is actually a one-way residential street northbound at Byron since the mid-80’s. The traffic noise can be quite intense, especially during late afternoons. A couple of years ago, one of the children made a point of writing down the license plates of all the cars (and trucks) that broke the law and complained to the police. We got one half day of a police car sitting and watching.
I would rather not play the “environment” card, but we will be losing the family of crows that will be displaced when the tall trees are cut down. We will lose the growing family of rabbits that share our lawns and yards year round. We will lose the squirrels and the chipmunks that drive my dog nuts. Highcroft will be inundated with many more cars, air quality will be reduced, dust will increase, and the kids who shoot hoops and play street hockey will be displaced. As my neighbour Diane is quick to point out, the bat population – which did an amazing job of keeping the bugs under control – have already been driven out by recent development.
Lastly, the size of this building will block the view and sunlight for quite a few neighbours. I myself will lose my sun every afternoon by 3 p.m. and I rely on the heat of the sun on the west side of my home in the winter months. The solar panels I have ordered for the roof of my garage will be useless once that building goes up.
Please let our Councillors know how redevelopment affects you and your family’s environment, not to mention your safety and peace and quiet.
Former member of the City of Ottawa Environmental Committee
Lecturer in Technology, Society Environment at Carleton University
Resident of Westboro since 1983
One bright day in May, more than a decade ago, my husband and I crossed the threshold of our new home. I carried our cute dog, and my husband carried me. We soon enjoyed discovering all the hidden treasures of Westboro. At dusk, we could see the bats start their “work day”. The air was clean and sweet. At night, we could open the window and hear the crickets and occasionally a cute raccoon baby will peek through the second-floor window, swinging from the young maple tree.
Westboro was the slowest, dreamiest place in Ottawa. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, life dragged like molasses. Everything was slow, epic slow. We walked the dog in the middle of Byron, not worrying that we might get hit, walked to the pharmacy and parking was never a problem. At noon one could go and have brunch, discussing the weather with the people coming out from the Sunday mess.
Those days are now long gone, due to overdevelopment, that is the result (let’s be honest) of human greed. The desire to squeeze more profit, more taxes, more everything from Westboro is resulting in more than a little discomfort for the people on Highcroft.
The bringing of the tall buildings marked the end of the era of natural beauty in Westboro. The bats are gone, the big trees are slowly disappearing, cast in concrete, with no space for their root systems. Some of these trees were around way before there were houses, or streets.
The electrical grid on the street is at its capacity. The transformer buzzes on hot summer nights, and lights start to flicker. I can only imagine what will happen when we add multiple units to an already overloaded grid.
Air is polluted, no matter how much you dust, everything in the house is covered with fine industrial dust that passes to the electronic filter we own and ends up in our eyes and food. I, unlike the greedy developers, like my food dust-free. I can grind my own teeth, don’t need fine sand to do that.
I seriously doubt that the water system on the street was designed to accept that many new units. We already have low pressure during the summer, how adding more stress to it will help the wellbeing of the residents?
Last year, when the demolition of the old corner houses started, the trucks did not follow the rule that the street is closed on one end. It is not like one of the neighbors was trying to reach their house, and was driving the opposite direction. There were cars and trucks that were flying full speed back and forth. The people on the street do not expect cars coming from that end full speed. It is just a matter of time before an innocent child is hit by a trespassing vehicle.
What about the noise? I work long hours, sometimes during the night. But there is no peace and silence anymore. Cars rushing during the night, construction starting before 7 a.m., to put more hours in the day.
And then comes the crime. Since the big development projects started in the area, many houses have got broken into. People pretending to be contractors, window washers, window installers, come and ask questions and snoop around the properties. My home was one of the houses violated a few years ago. And as close as this week, another home on the street was broken into.
Highcroft is a nice street, with even nicer residents. But the latest approvals from the adjustment committees and whoever oversees the new developments puts our health and residence at risk. There is only that much a family can take in terms of noise, dirt, ruined infrastructure and skyrocketing property taxes. We, for one, do not like feeling pushed to find a new place to live, just because somebody else needs bigger profits.
Highcroft Avenue resident
Categories: Letters to the editor