Letter to the Editor: Westboro is changing

Dear Editor,

The character of the Westboro is changing fast…  and is going to change faster.

The lot beside our home was recently sold, and we were not surprised to hear it was to be redeveloped. We were not surprised when the City of Ottawa envelope arrived in our mailbox, informing us of an application for minor variances. But we were surprised (though perhaps we shouldn’t have been) by the proposal itself – subdivision of the lot to build two apartment buildings. Six apartments (or 8) where there was one single family home. The application requires “minor” variances to reduce both the minimum allowed width and area of the lot.

Constance Downes and Max Finkelstein at their Westboro home. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

We are not opposed to new developments. In fact, we are generally supportive of City policies for infill and intensification. However, we are shocked by this level of intensification and the incongruity of the proposal to the character of the street, which is a mix of older and newer single-family homes.

We were taken aback that the City considers an application for an approximately 25% reduction in the allowable minimum area to be “minor.” There can be valid reasons to grant minor variances (e.g. where it adds community value by improving traffic flow or addresses safety concern). However, in this situation, there appear to be no valid grounds. Granting these minor variances would not add  any community value. It is clearly for the maximization of profit and tax revenue by squeezing two apartment buildings into an area that is clearly defined under the City bylaw as being too small.

Time to do a bit of snooping around the neighbourhood. We are not alone. It’s not just “in our back yard.” On Roosevelt Avenue, there is an identical proposal just two blocks away by the same developer, same apartment building plans, same minor variances requested to enable the construction of another two side-by-side monolithic buildings on one lot. Granting five “minor” variances cannot be considered, by any reasonable measure, to be “minor.” Again, another two blocks away on Ravenhill, we find four recently-built apartment buildings, and two more being built right now, on what were previously three single-family lots, completely changing the look and feel of the street. In this case, the approved three-unit apartment blocks mysteriously grew to be four units after construction.

So on Edison, where we once had one neighbour, we will have six (or eight). Where we once had the shade of century-old maple trees we will now have none. Where once gardens and lawns provided beauty and a permeable surface for run-off, we will have concrete. Where there were once one or two cars with sufficient driveway there could now be six or more, with only two parking spaces provided. Where will the other cars be parked? We all know the answer – on the street. Churchill Alternative School, which our son attended, is at the north end of the block. The twice-daily drop-off and pick-up of students in school buses and cars already creates a chaotic situation that has required complex parking and traffic restrictions. The addition of more cars to this mix could make it a dangerous situation.

As the city continues to grant these “minor” variances, the precedent is being set thus allowing it to happen over and over and over again throughout our neighbourhood and others. One doesn’t have to search far to find similar situations in the Glebe, Old Ottawa South… the list goes on.

We repeat, we are not against reasonable intensification nor are our neighbours to whom we’ve spoken. However, the City has no plan or vision for Westboro’s future, official or otherwise. There is no definition of “intensification” or how it will be applied. Are there any limits to it? There appears to be none. There is no definition of what constitutes a “minor” variance and no consideration of the cumulative effects of these “minor” variances. How many can one request?

Is there an unwritten vision by the City that Westboro will ultimately become a community of solid apartment buildings? We know none of this. The City, our politicians and the Committee of Adjustment is failing the residential community. To have the future of Westboro written on a case-by-case basis simply for the pursuit of maximum short-term profits is a mistake. The City’s lack of long-term community planning is a mistake that its citizens will look back upon with regret.

So say goodbye to our cozy, tree-lined Westboro haven. It will soon be gone forever. Unless we, the residents, act. If you are concerned, there are three things you can do right now:

  • Come to the developer’s community meeting on Tuesday, September 25 at 7 p.m., Churchill Seniors Centre (345 Richmond Rd).
  • Write a letter and/or attend the City’s Committee of Adjustment hearing on Wednesday, October 3, at 1 p.m. at Ben Franklin Place, The Chamber, Main Floor, 101 Centrepointe Dr.
  • Write a letter to Councillor Jeff Leiper (Jeff.Leiper@ottawa.ca) and to Joel Harden, MPP (JHarden@ndp.on.ca).

For more information on this proposed infill development and our community’s hopes to work with the developer to find a more suitable solution that maintains the unique character of Westboro, please contact savewestboro@icloud.com.

Max Finkelstein and Constance Downes
487 Edison Ave.

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