HCA’s Comments on Proposed Zoning Changes to Hintonburg

As promised, please find below  the Hintonburg Community Association’s comments that were submitted to the city.

You may refer to the proposals by   clicking here.

The HCA recognizes the need for more affordable housing, intensification of development in the urban areas especially near transit, and a range of unit types including rental units.

However, we are not convinced that the proposals in Discussion Paper #3 will significantly further these goals while only permitting development that is compatible with existing communities.

In part, this is because there is not enough detail in a discussion paper to allow a full understanding of what specific new zoning bylaw provisions will be proposed. It is also because we are not confident that what would actually be built will resemble the “best-case scenarios” that were modeled for the technical study and for the discussion paper by a talented architect. Indeed, the recent examples of low-rise apartment buildings that have been approved by the Planning Department or applied for in Hintonburg (through rezoning applications) do not give us any confidence, as they are of uniformly poor design and have failed at any attempt at compatibility.

Finally, while beyond the scope of this specific report, we are concerned by the disconnect between measures like the present one to increase intensification in the urban core and initiatives that would support such intensification. We note particular examples such as the ongoing discussion of closing facilities like Tom Brown arena, lack of plans for increased public recreational and green spaces, and failure to address traffic, cycling/pedestrian, and parking issues.

Our overall support or opposition for the proposed zoning changes, therefore, will be contingent on whether such overall issues, and the more specific issues discussed below, are adequately addressed in the report to be submitted to Planning Committee.

General comments:

1) The largest concern is that whatever protections are afforded to ensure compatibility with existing R4 communities will be eliminated by the Committee of Adjustment when developers seek variances. We cannot accept any zoning bylaw amendment (and accompanying Council policy) that is not formulated in such a way that such variances would fail one of the four tests that govern Committee of Adjustment decisions. In particular, it would be unacceptable to make possible variances that reduce setbacks, green space, and most importantly, lot size. With respect to the latter, the entire exercise was built on modeling specific lot widths and areas. As it is, the designs that were modeled do not really fit easily, requiring external stairs and elimination of amenity and landscaping requirements. The provisions of the proposed bylaw must be formulated in such a way as to make these standards an integral and fundamental aspect of the zoning.

2) It is not clear whether the streetscape character analysis requirements will apply to these types of developments. We believe that they should (with the exception of front yard parking, which should remain prohibited). Some of the proposed provisions may not have been thought through well enough. For example, permitting bay windows to project may not be desirable if the front yard setback is small or zero.

3) There has not been adequate consideration of the effect of rear yard balconies on the privacy of neighbours. If provided, they should be required to be recessed or screened at the sides.

4) Overall, we remain unconvinced that well-designed and compatible 8-unit apartment buildings can generally fit on 10 m wide lots. Even if a skilled architect can model those on idealized lots, real-world conditions are likely to make these impossible. These would include Hydro wires needing a setback in the front façade or non-rectangular lots, for example. That so many concessions have had to be made even in the idealized case studies (e.g., eliminating required amenity spaces, minimum landscaping, side yard setback reductions, external stairs) argues that many poorly designed and impractical buildings may result.

5) We are also not convinced that collapsing the large number of R4 subzones in to only three can adequately address compatibility in diverse neighborhoods. The planning process for the new Official Plan seems to focus on “Ottawa as a city of neighbourhoods,” yet here one size apparently must fit all. This should be reconsidered.

Below, we comment on the issues specific with the proposed zoning changes, which we hope can positively influence the report that is submitted to Planning Committee. These specific comments on Discussion Paper #3 follow the numbering in the Paper:


We support the retention of an 11m height limit in the junior R4 zone. However, we have had a recent example of a submitted rezoning proposal where the applicant crammed 4 storeys (plus a basement with additional units) into the 11m height (achieved using very low ceilings in the units and very poor interior layouts, e.g., exits to the exterior though washrooms). We note that the Scott St. Secondary Plan covering much of our area specifically mandates 3 storeys as a limit. The low-rise apartment buildings to be permitted must be limited not only to 11m but also specifically to 3 storeys above the basement (i.e., 3.5 storeys in total).

1d) We support harmonizing lot size and yard standards between three-unit dwellings and low-rise apartments. We have long been advocating for closing this loophole.

2a) We generally support the landscaping provisions. However, “soft landscaping” must be clearly defined. The final policies and bylaw provisions must ensure that the majority of open space is actually landscaped green space including trees. A maximum lot coverage for accessory buildings must also be mandated.

2b) We support this provision that requires consolidation of open areas into a large space. The language should also encourage large trees wherever possible, not just small trees or shrubs. Since street trees are increasingly being constrained in height and spread (e.g., because of lack of space or Hydro wires), rear yards are often the only opportunity for full-sized trees in much of the urban area.

2c) We strongly support the requirement for balconies on the front facades.

3a) We support the requirement for at least one active entrance on the front façade. This is vital for making these types of developments an integral part of the streetscape.

3b,c) The requirement for a minimum of 25% window area and lower windowsills in the front façade is very important and we support it strongly.

3d) We are very much in favour of the provisions requiring articulation of the front façade.

3e) We support the provision permitting projection of bay windows, except that it should not be permitted in cases where the front yard setback is small. It is unclear if the front yard setback will be a fixed distance or will instead be calculated as the average of adjacent properties as in the infill zoning. If the latter, there could be cases where there is very little front yard setback, in which case projections should not be permitted.

4a) We support the prohibition of parking on lots with low rise apartment buildings. The barriers that the paper calls for must not, however, displace significant amounts of greenspace. Trees should be used preferentially whenever possible.

5a) We are opposed to the complete elimination of any increased side yard setback beyond 21m from there front lot line. While a 6 m setback on each side is not possible with smaller lots, there nonetheless needs to be some protection for adjacent rear yards in residential zones. An appropriate increase in side yard setback for each lot width beyond a certain distance from the front should be implemented.

5b) We do not support the complete elimination of the 30% landscaping requirement. We do not accept the justification that this is no longer necessary given the setbacks and prohibition on parking. While 30% may not be practical and may interfere with usable space, there nonetheless must be a minimum amount of actual green space required on such small lots that are developed as low rise apartments.

5c) We oppose the permitting of external rear stairs that project into the required rear yard. That an 8-unit apartment building can only be constructed on the lots being considered here if the required second egress is external is a clear indication that the lot is too small for the development.

5d) We do not believe that site plan control is sufficient to regulate the placement of air conditioning units, as there are far too many existing examples of buildings that went through site plan control and nonetheless produce excessive noise for neighbors. There is no reason that the zoning cannot require that air conditioning units be sited on the roof and screened for noise.

5e) We also do not believe that site plan control is adequate to prevent the common problems we have noted with garbage storage in multiunit buildings. It should be required by the zoning that garbage storage either be internal or in the rear yard and enclosed.

5f) We very strongly oppose the proposal that rooftop terraces be prohibited in Sandy Hill but allowed elsewhere. First, there is no reason to believe that terraces that have already proven to be nuisances in Sandy Hill will somehow not cause problems in the same type of building elsewhere. Second, it would allow the ground-level amenity space to be reduced or eliminated, with concomitant loss of green space. If adequate amenity space cannot be provided at grade, this argues that the building as designed is too large for the lot. Rooftop terraces should be prohibited in low rise apartments in all R4 zones.

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