Please see below our comments as submitted to the city regarding a recently proposed development for 979 Wellington Street on Somerset Square.
The Hintonburg Community Association opposes this proposal for a 13-storey development on the block containing 979 Wellington St. West and bounded by Wellington West, Garland, Armstrong and Hilda Streets.
Height in the Wellington Street West Secondary Plan area
The height set by the Wellington West Secondary Plan is 6 storeys on all of this site within the area covered by the Wellington Street West Secondary Plan, except for the property at 979 Wellington, where Official Plan and Zoning By-law amendments in 2018 permitted a rezoning to 9 storeys. Nine storeys is the maximum height permitted in general in the entire Secondary Plan area, and then only above 6 storeys at specific gateway sites that are identified by address for possible increased heights through rezoning.
The Official Plan defines mid-rise buildings as up to 9 storeys and high-rise buildings as 10 or more. Regarding building heights in Traditional Mainstreets (sec 126.96.36.199), the OP states: “This Plan supports mid-rise building heights on Traditional Mainstreets, but secondary plans may identify circumstances where different building heights may be permitted. In the absence of a secondary plan, the Zoning By-law may establish as-of-right building heights, lower than those permitted above, based upon site conditions, existing character and compatibility. Building heights greater than those specified in this Section will only be permitted through a Secondary Plan.”A secondary plan is in effect for the portion of this site in the Traditional Mainstreet area that specified this area as having a 6-storey height limit, or 9 storeys at “gateway” locations only.
Therefore, it is our contention that, since a building that exceeds the maximum height for a mid-rise building can only be permitted on this site through a Secondary Plan, therefore it should not be permitted based on a planning study limited to one proposed development after two relatively recent studies have already addressed this site in a much broader context. Instead, a decision to newly permit high-rise buildings on the Traditional Mainstreet should only be done after a comprehensive study and extensive public consultation that addresses the whole area, not just a limited report by the planning consultant for this applicant.
The planning rationale provided by the applicant relies in part on the assertion that the Somerset Square policy area of the Wellington West Secondary Plan (defined on schedule B of the Plan) is a “gateway location” (p. 7 of Revised Planning Rationale) and thus can be rezoned to higher heights as a matter of policy. We believe this to be an inaccurate interpretation of the Secondary Plan, which instead defines specific gateway locations (individual properties) where such rezonings may take place. In the Somerset Square area, these gateway sites are at the intersection of Bayswater and Somerset and Bayswater and Wellington West. There is no indication in the Secondary Plan (nor was there in the Community Design Plan that gave rise to this Secondary Plan) that any other portion of the Somerset Square policy area is defined as a gateway for the purposes of allowing increased height (other than the parcel at 979 Wellington that was deemed a gateway by OP amendment, based on a study of its visibility from Somerset, which does not apply to the remainder of the site of this proposed development).
Regarding the gateways on the corners with Bayswater, the applicant’s Planning Rationale claims that “it can be expected that, given the applicable policy framework, land consolidation will take place and will include the adjacent properties” and “it would be reasonable to anticipate that with gateway policies, a high-rise building will be developed at this location” (p. 7) However, there is no provision for expanding the gateway locations in the Plan. Furthermore, as discussed above, there was no anticipation in the CDP nor in the Secondary Plan that these gateway locations would be increased in height past the 9 storeys specified in the Plan and certainly did not envision high-rise buildings. Indeed, the 9-storey limit even for gateways was purposely chosen because it was the maximum height for mid-rise buildings. Therefore, relying in the Planning Rationale on a fictitious future high-rise context at the gateway sites is not justified.
Therefore, it is our position that the subject site, beyond the single lot at 979 Wellington, was not envisioned as a gateway in the Secondary Plan and furthermore, that even if it were a gateway, there is a very clear policy against even gateways exceeding the mid-rise limit.
Step-back provisions from Wellington West
The “Wellington Street Subzone” (TM11) permits the same uses as the parent Traditional Mainstreet zone. However, certain performance standards have been modified to recognize the distinct character of this neighbourhood – a maximum front yard setback that is greater than the parent zone at 3.0 metres compared to 2.0 metres and a maximum building height of 20 metres with a building stepback at the third storey or above 12.0 metres, as compared to above 15 metres for the parent zone.
The Planning Rationale claims that “the mid-rise (i.e. nine storey) podium along the Wellington Street West frontage respects the character along the Traditional Mainstreet as it transitions east to the future Corso Italia transit station.”
The Wellington Street West Secondary Plan and the implementing zoning by-law do not contemplate such a transition within the Secondary Plan area but mandate a continuation of the TM 11 zone on properties to the east of this site up to Bayview Road and the boundary with the Mixed-Use Centre, within which high-rises are permitted. Any transition to the higher heights to the east will be provided by the opportunity to develop 9-storey “gateway” buildings as identified in the Secondary Plan.
Therefore, it is our position that the by-law requirement for a setback of 2.0 m above the 3rdstorey/12.0 m must be enforced. Similarly, the requested reduction of the required corner yard side yard setback from 3.0 m to 2.0 m on Hilda Street and to 1.8 m on Garland Street must be refused.
The Scott Street Secondary Plan is a recent amendment to the OP that was adopted in 2015. It has as one of its main goals (section 3.0, Goals and Principles of the Plan) that it includes “the introduction of a Neighbourhood Line to provide clear direction where significant intensification will occur and established neighbourhoods will evolve over time with small-scale binfill and intensification” (preamble to section 3.0). The creation of the neighbourhood line that encloses the established low-rise neighbourhood was a major policy direction of this Plan, whose first stated goal (sec. 3.1.1-2) is to:
“1. Reinforce and respect the character of existing neighbourhoods
1. Establish a clear neighbourhood boundary
2. Maintain the core of each established neighbourhood by maintaining the current zoning while encouraging low-scale infill and intensification on under-utilized sites within neighbourhoods.”
The Plan very clearly addresses situations exactly like the present proposal, where a development could only occur by moving the neighbourhood line (section 188.8.131.52). Here, the Plan states that “[t]he Neighbourhood Lines follow the existing lot fabric. Any future lot consolidation or subdivision of land will not change the location of the Neighbourhood Lines.”
This indicates that the intent of the Plan was only to permit the alteration of the locations of the Neighbourhood Lines for compelling planning reasons, not simply because a number of adjacent lots were purchased by a single owner and consolidated.
Section 4.5 does provide for modification of the Neighbourhood Line by amendment of this Plan. However, we contend that the rationale for this must be exceptional, and not simply either the desire of a developer to develop a given consolidated property. Neither is the OP direction for intensification sufficient in the eyes of this Plan. The Plan states (section 2.2) that “The introduction of the Neighbourhood Line provides the clear distinction between these low-rise areas of communities and the other areas within the Plan that are anticipated to undergo significant change. The areas that are designated Mixed Use Centre, Secondary Mainstreet and Apartment Neighbourhood are able to meet the goals of the Official Plan to accommodate the necessary intensification and growth over the planning period without encroaching beyond the Neighbourhood Line and entering into the low-rise areas.”
Rather than addressing any planning rationale, the applicant’s planning rationale simply says (section 4.5) that “As per the policies, the neighbourhood line cannot be changed without an Official Plan Amendment. As the site has been consolidated, it is more appropriate that the entire site be included within the Wellington Street West Secondary Plan Study Area, which addresses development along the Traditional Mainstreet.” No planning rationale is given other than the consolidation of the site.
Therefore, it is our position that the Scott Street Secondary Plan clearly and definitively provides that the Neighbourhood Line shall not be moved simply because of lot consolidation and further states that the existing areas outside the Line are sufficient to accommodate necessary intensification. The applicant has provided no rationale for moving the Neighbourhood Line beyond their wish to consolidate lots. Therefore, we believe that the Neighbourhood Line must not be moved simply to accommodate the desire to construct a high-rise building where one was not envisioned by either the Scott Street or Wellington West Secondary Plans.
The maintenance of the Neighbourhood Line would accommodate the planned transition between the height on Wellington Street and the low-rise residential neighbourhood as required by the zoning by-law:
(3) no part of a building on a lot with a rear lot line abutting an R1, R2, R3 or R4 Zone may project above a 45 degree angular plane measured at a height of 15 metres from a point 7.5 metres from the rear lot line, projecting upwards towards the front lot line (see illustration below).(By-law 2012-349).
Instead, the Planning Rationale claims that the 13-storey height conforms to the transition requirements in theUrban Design Guidelines for High-rise Buildings, where the Planning Rationale states:
“The use of a 45-degree angular plane is a tool provided within the Urban Design Guidelines for High-rise Buildings to understand how a proposed development provides transition to adjacent low-rise neighbourhoods and development. As shown in Figure 19, the proposed development achieves appropriate height transition when considering both the existing zoning of the site to the north, which permits a height of 18m, as well as the existing height of the Heritage Resource on the site, which is approximately 11 m” (Figure 19 on page 15).
Figure 19: 45-degree angular plane at existing height and height permitted by zoning
However, according to the Urban Design Guidelines, the revised proposal should be considered as a ‘bar building’ and the applicant has not chosen the appropriate lot lines for this calculation, as shown in Diagram 2-5.
Diagram 2-5: A conceptual illustration of a possible application of an angular plane when a bar building is located across the street from a stable low-rise residential area.
The Zoning by-law amendment for 979 Wellington (TM 11 ) established the appropriate transition for this 9-storey building to the established low-rise neighbourhood and sets a reasonable precedent for establishing the angular plane for the rest of the block. These angular planes are illustrated below in green. Line A corresponds to the angular plane established for 979 Wellington when rezoned for 9 storeys, while line B corresponds to the Urban Design Guidelines.
Therefore, it is our position that the correct angular plane to be used to achieve appropriate height transition to the adjacent low-rise neighbourhood should preferably be that required by By-law 2012-349 which establishes the angular plane from the neighbourhood line, or at the least should be drawn from the property line of the Armstrong house at ground level (B), or from the rear lot line of the proposed consolidated lot of the subject property at 14.5 m (A) as in the TM 11 zone.
Pass-through from Wellington to Armstrong
The applicant has proposed a pass-through from the (proposed) closed portion of Wellington St. West to Armstrong St. through their proposed building. They propose that this mid-block pedestrian connection will be a benefit to the public both by providing a view of Armstrong House from Somerset Square and a connection for the public between Wellington West and Armstrong. While this pass-through may be a desirable design element, we are concerned that it may be used to justify the massing of the built form, increased height, and lack of a step-back and articulation on the façade facing Somerset Square. It is important to consider that the block between Hilda and Garland is one of the shortest in the area. The frontage of the (consolidated) subject lot on Wellington West is 57.8m (188 ft) as stated by the applicant. Using GeoOttawa, it can be calculated that the midpoints of Hilda and Garland are separated by approximately 69m (226 ft). Therefore, there is extremely little utility for any member of the public not living in or visiting the proposed building to ever use this “midblock pedestrian connection.” In contrast, the next block to the west, which the West Wellington Community Design plan targets for one mid-block pedestrian connection, is 288m (945 ft) from Garland to Merton—more than 4-fold longer than the subject block here.
Therefore, while the HCA does not oppose the proposed mid-block pedestrian connection, we want to emphasize that it cannot be considered a public benefit or basis for the proposed development to be approved. This corridor would be used almost exclusively by residents of the proposed development.
Somerset Square Park
The applicants have proposed closing the dead-end portion of Wellington West that fronts the proposed development and runs between Somerset Square and their front lot line. Further, they have presented preliminary drawings that demonstrate a proposal to turn this into largely greenspace and remove much of the current hardscaping in this urban park.
The proposed addition of greenspace to the northern end of Somerset Square is likely to be a positive change. However, this must be accomplished in such a way that there is a clear physical demarcation between the frontage to be used primarily by residents and businesses of the proposed development and Somerset Square. We assume that it is likely that the at-grade businesses on the Wellington side of the proposed building will include a restaurant either immediately or in the future, and that a restaurant would wish to have a patio in front. Therefore, any land that could potentially be used for a patio including any city-owned land that may be the subject of a patio permit application, must be clearly separate from the park land of Somerset Square. For example, the area in front of the building could be partly hardscaped (with some landscaping and trees provided), then a sidewalk, then the park. While we recognize that this would largely be a matter for site plan control, any discussions that are part of determining public benefits via Section 37 (or its successor) for the purposes of the rezoning application must account for the need to clearly define the public park space of Somerset Square as not part of the commercial or exclusive amenity space for this building. This separation needs to be visual and physical and preserve Somerset Square for public use.
The HCA would strongly oppose any Section 37 agreement that does not include provisions that clearly separate Somerset Square from outdoor space to be used by tenants, including commercial tenants, of the proposed building. The conceptual drawings have consistently portrayed Somerset Square as essentially a front lawn of the new development, which is not acceptable.