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Increased development in “desirable neighbourhood” leaves residents concerned, fuming

Story and photos By Anita Grace

Living in one of the “hottest” neighbourhoods can be both a blessing and a curse. Westboro is hailed as a prime destination for shopping and fine dining. Hintonburg is the latest “it” neighbourhood, a vibrant community with craft breweries and other trendy locales.

“This is a desirable neighbourhood,” said Mayor Jim Watson at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Mizrahi tower at 1451 Wellington last month. “People want to live here.”

This spring, Statistics Canada reported that Ottawa is the third fastest growing urban area in Canada (Peterborough claimed first place), and Royal LePage gave the capital the dubious honour of having the fourth most expensive housing market in the country. Based on data from the Ottawa Real Estate Board, the real estate search engine homicity.com rated Westboro and Hintonburg among the top “up and coming” neighbourhoods in the city.

Sam Mizrahi, owner of Mizrahi Developments, with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson in the background, speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new 12-storey building on Wellington.

Sam Mizrahi, owner of Mizrahi Developments, with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson in the background, speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new 12-storey building on Wellington.

The Mizrahi tower was given “landmark status” for a design that echoes other iconic structures in the National Capital Region. This designation allowed the Toronto-based company to erect a 12-storey building on a street zoned for six.

“We created that emotional investment as a gateway” said Sam Mizrahi, owner of Mizrahi Developments, citing what he called the tower’s “wow factor”.

While the design of 1451 Wellington went through multiple revisions and consultations before receiving its special status and permission to exceed height limits, many residents are concerned the pace of growth is simply too much, with many seemingly bypassing existing rules.

Louise Atkins, a resident of Kitchissippi, stands in front of a snowy street in her neighbourhood.

When it comes to development, Louise Atkins is concerned about affordability, pointing out that the condo towers popping up by transit hubs are too pricey for people on low and fixed incomes. “Here we have billions of dollars of investment with the LRT,” she said. “It doesn’t seem right that the people who will benefit most from the huge public infrastructure are people who are very affluent.”

“Planning for the whole area is lagging so far behind what is happening on the ground,” said Champlain Park resident Louise Atkins.

This is not for lack of effort on the part of local residents and community associations.

“Residents are highly engaged on virtually all of our development files,” said Kitchissippi Ward Councillor Jeff Leiper.

He added that this engagement can sometimes improve proposed buildings, but can also lead to policy changes. As an example, the Westboro Infill Study was commissioned by the City to look into the impacts of replacing single homes with multi-unit buildings. Respondents had raised concerns around aesthetics, parking, waste management and the loss of mature trees.

Concerns over rules

During the Westboro Community Association’s annual general meeting, held in November, those in attendance spent the majority of the evening talking about the increased development in the area, especially with respect to the multi-storey buildings now going up on Scott Street and the removal of older homes to make room for duplexes, triplexes and event quadruplexes.

Many residents expressed concerns during the AGM that developers are circumventing rules and the City isn’t enforcing the bylaws it has in place.

“Most of these sites (on Scott Street) will have an impact on the residential fabric to the south,” said Gary Ludington, Chair of Westboro Community Association, noting it will look like a “wall” from the southern side. “Not something to look forward to.”

Scott Street is zoned for six-storeys, but approval has already been given for a 25-storey tower at McRae (the former site of Trailhead), a 20-storey high-rise at Clifton and a nine-storey building next-door, as well as two towers (24 and 25 stories) at Parkdale. Additionally, in October, the City received an application to construct a 23-storey mixed-use building at Churchill and Scott, with access from Winona Avenue. An application is expected soon for the adjacent lot. A proposed 20-25 high-rise by the Granite Curling Club of West Ottawa would bring the number of towers along Scott to eight, facing off against the 32-storey Metropole to the north.

Greg Mathieu, Chair of the Granite Club’s redevelopment committee, stands in front of a curling rink full of curlers.

Greg Mathieu, Chair of the Granite Club’s redevelopment committee, is encouraged that the community values the local club, and said one of the objectives of redevelopment is to minimize impact on the neighbours.

The Curling Club, established in 1953 and located near the Westboro transit station on Scott Street, hosted an open house at the end of October to present their redevelopment plans to the community. Approximately 100 people, among them curlers, neighbours and city staff, came to discuss the three proposed development options.

The existing facility is aging and property taxes have tripled, putting a strain on the non-profit organization and its members. The club has been in consultation with developers and city planners to find a sustainable way forward.

Greg Mathieu, chair of the club’s redevelopment committee, said the proposed building will be a year-round facility accessible to the community for children’s camps and activities, as well as for local events. The cost of the redevelopment would be off-set by the construction of the 20-25 storey building on the Scott Street side of the property. The club hopes to build the new curling facility on part of what is now Lion’s Park.

The Granite is proposing a land swap for part of the park, offering a larger parcel of land than it will receive. But at the open house, some neighbours expressed concern that the re-alignment of the space would make it less attractive and useful as a recreational and play area.

“I’m not sure the new park could be used as well as the current big green space,” agreed Leiper.

Still, after the meeting, Mathieu said he was encouraged by the general sense that the community values the club as a neighbourhood recreational facility. He said the next step is to have discussions with the City Parks Department to see if the land swap is possible, and if the utility of what the club is proposing can match that of the existing park.

Light rail is changing the rules

“The big game changer in this part of the world is the LRT,” said Barry Hobin, an architect working on the Granite’s redevelopment project. To encourage intensification around transit hubs, the city is over-ruling zoning agreements and allowing increased height and density.

That’s only going to increase interest in living in the Ward.

“We love this neighbourhood,” said Naheed Israeli and Sylvain DeTonnancour, who are among those who have pre-purchased units in the luxury Mizrahi tower, which is 70% pre-sold. They will be moving from their current home in Wellington West to the tower once it is ready in 2022. Israeli said that she had been impressed with its design and the way in which the developer engaged with the community.

Leiper noted that anyone interested in development can participate in the free Planning Primers (half-day courses) offered by the City.

*A correction was made to clarify who rated Westboro and Hintonburg among the top “up and coming”.

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