Where is the proposed development?
A developer has purchased all of the properties in the block just north of Somerset Square, bounded by Wellington, Garland, Armstrong and Hilda. This includes the former sites of the law offices, auto repair shop, Suzy-Q Donuts and the residential buildings along the dead-end stretch of Wellington above Somerset Square and all the residential buildings on Armstrong.
What is proposed?
The proposed development would be a 6-storey podium converting essentially all of the block and with a 23-storey tower on the half of the block closest to Hilda. It would be mixed residential and commercial, with commercial at the lower level and residential above. You can find the proposal on the City’s web site here:https://devapps.ottawa.ca/en/search?s=activeOnly&t=wellington&a=all&w=all&i=0&b=0,0,0,0
What is currently allowed?
This site has mixed zoning. The portion fronting on Wellington and Somerset Square is zoned “traditional main street” and allows 6 storeys except at the corner of Garland, where 9 storeys are permitted as a “gateway” location. The properties along Armstrong allow up to 4 storeys.
Development in this area is governed by two recent “Community Design Plans” (CDPs). The traditional main street portion is part of the Wellington West CDP, while the part along Armstrong is part of the Scott Street CDP. A great deal of work by the community went into ensuring that these plans reflected what the majority of the people living here wanted. The heights that are permitted are the result of those planning studies.
Why is the HCA opposing this?
The 23-storey tower is a high-rise building, since by definition in Ottawa high-rise starts at 10 storeys. The general policy is that Traditional Main Streets like Wellington West and Somerset are mid-rise or lower. In particular, the Wellington West CDP set our main street’s heigh at no more than 6 storeys except for a few specific “gateway” sites where up to 9 storeys is permitted. This is all mid-rise.
The first reason the HCA is opposing this is that is out of scale with the neighbourhood.
The second reason is that it would be a terrible precedent, allowing high-rise development on our main street which should be mid-rise at highest.
Another key issue is the tower encroaching on the Armstrong lots. This is a bit technical, but the Scott Street CDP defined a “Neighbourhood Line” inside of which only low-rise development (up to 3- or 4-storey apartment buildings) is allowed. It says that the line can’t be crossed even if lots are consolidated together. All of the Armstrong properties are inside this Neighbourhood Line. If it is allowed to be breached here, then the precedent is set to ignore it everywhere.
The third reason the HCA is opposing this development is that it would set the precedent through our whole community that the low-rise areas can be changed to mid- or high-rise if developers buy up and consolidate properties.
What will the HCA do?
The HCA usually meets with developers and tries to influence their proposals for the better. Often this works, and we end up not opposing. Sometimes, this does not work, and we submit comments on development proposals and appears at planning committee of City Council. Rarely do we take it any further. However, in this case, we believe the precedents this would set and the disruptive effect it would have on the character of the main street are too large to allow.
Therefore, in this case, the HCA will be fundraising to mount a legal challenge against this proposal if it is recommended for approval by the City. We are in the process of retaining a lawyer. We have considerable funds already and will use our ability to actively fundraise to augment these.
Where we are right now is that we are waiting to hear from the City Planning Department whether they will recommend approval of this development or not. That recommendation will go to Planning Committee of City Council. If the Planning Department recommends approval, we will actively lobby Planning Committee to turn it down. If they don’t, we will then file an appeal and begin fundraising to cover some of the costs.
Stay tuned to find out what happens.
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