Going Back to Six? Mizrahi Developments, Design Plans and Environmental Clean UP

Here’s an update from Kitchissipi Ward candidate Jeff Leiper on the matter of Mizrahi Developments seeking a zoning exemption to allow them to build a 12-storey tower on “brownfield” land in Wellington West:

On May 6, Councillor Katherine Hobbs will bring to the City’s finance committee her motion to pay 100% of the cleanup costs for Toronto developer Mizrahi’s proposed Island Park/Richmond building (report attached below). The developer already has the Councillor’s enthusiastic support to exceed the height limit on the property that was recently established in the West Wellington Community Design Plan. Now, she’s asking Ottawa taxpayers to sweeten the pot for no particularly good reason.

Looking past the (perhaps valid) electioneering, Mr. Leiper highlights a potentially distrubing development. The properties upon which Mizrahi is looking to build are contaminated. Under the current brownfields policy, the city will pay 50% of cost of the clean up (and Mizrahi will get an exemption to exceed the Community Design Plan limit of six storeys, allowing them to build up to nine storeys).

Mr. Leiper notes that Ms. Hobbes’s motion does not stipulate that Mizrahi will have to adhere to the CDP. This would appear to be a giant give-away; the city would pay for all the clean up, and Mizrahi would build an undesirably tall building (according to the CDP).

Thankfully, when asked, Ms. Hobbes clarified:

This doesn’t make it a good idea–and it’s not a good precedent to set, changing zoning laws during the application process–but it might turn out to be a reasonable compromise.

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Alternate Headline: City No Longer Subsidizing Lifestyle Choices

Under the headline, Proposed bylaw would add thousands of dollars to cost of new homes, The Citizen’s Joanne Chianello notes that city looking at increasing development charges (DCs) for new home builds:

On Monday, the city released a draft of the updated bylaw under which the DC for a single detached home inside the Greenbelt jumps almost 25 per cent to $21,959. In the suburbs, where it’s generally considered more expensive to extend municipal infrastructure services, the DCs for a single detached will be $32,875 — a $7,500 increase.

The headline and text are correct. This move will add to the costs of new homes. However, as much as this can be framed as a burden placed on new development, it is more accurate to think of this as a correction to current policy. New developments in Ottawa contribute immensely to urban sprawl. Suburban and exurban development demands spending on new infrastructure and places demands on current infrastructure. Considering that habit of avoiding true mix-use development, we wind up making a bunch of bedroom communities which require people to hop in the car or on the bus in order to go many (most?) places. The reason for added development charges is to account for these added costs.

Further, the externalities created by these developments aren’t limited simply to added road costs. First of all, the roads use up public space, turning green space into asphalt. The vast majority of our public space is paved over for automobiles. This is an added demand created by development.

Increased transportation in the form of cars and buses (and, eventually, the LRT) results in added pollution. By living a commuter lifestyle, people are degrading a common resource. In addition, more traffic means more congestion (except for the LRT–though it will indirectly create more traffic). Increased congestion means greater delays–meaning that residents who aren’t living such a lifestyle still must deal with the added traffic burden.

When someone makes choices that have the potential to negatively affect others, it is only natural for policy-makers to try to make sure that those costs are internalized rather than socialized. One of the ways this can be done is by attempting to role those costs into the actual price of the good or service. That’s what the city is doing here. There are a bunch of costs that come with sprawl, and those costs should, first and foremost, fall upon those creating the demand for sprawl. (If it also happens to lower the demand for sprawl, well, that’s not a bad thing either.)

9 > 12

There’s an interesting story about Mizrahi Developments in The Citizen. And by interesting, I mean irritating. Mizrahi, looking to develop properties at 1445 and 1451 Wellington Street West, had submitted a development plan that was rejected. The plan called for a 12-storey tower for the location at Wellington Street West and Island Park Drive. The plan hit a snag, however, since it was designed in total defiance of a nine-storey zoning limit.

Wellington Street West falls under the Wellington West Community Design Plan. The CDP states that Wellington Street West should have a height limit of six-storeys for all buildings. This is what is called for for an “historic main street”. If you question the wisdom of this, a quick stroll down the street will be illuminating. The street and neighbourhood isn’t a forest of skyscrapers. Low-rise buildings abound, and a certain character and charm lives there.

And let’s not forget that four- to six-storey buildings might just be the most effective way to achieve the city’s much-sought after intensification.

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Vote Tobi?

There’s a new candidate for Rideau-Rockcliffe ward, Tobi Nussbaum, who has offered intriguing view into his outlook regarding municipal affairs. A former diplomat, Nussbaum recently published an op-ed at iPolitics about democracy and the continued trend of urbanization:

Here in Canada, however, cities have not taken sufficient advantage of their growing clout and capacity to collectively solve problems. Although the mayors of the two dozen or so largest Canadian cities meet regularly under the umbrella of the Big City Mayors’ Caucus, their stated objective — “to discuss shared issues and to reinforce Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ policy and advocacy agenda set by the National Board of Directors” — does not inspire.

The Big City Mayors’ Caucus should initiate a pan-Canada municipal challenge to establish and meet goals to solve shared urban problems. The choice of problems could be crowd-sourced by Canada’s city dwellers. The challenge should engage the public and result in friendly competition to achieve the objectives. The goals should be clear and easily communicated — bold but realistic.

I’m not prepared to endorse Nussbaum, necessarily, but it is interesting to hear his voice enter the municipal debate. Whether or not his particular policy proposals would benefit the city, his arguments can certainly help us set a beneficial course. He does not seem to be your run-of-the-mill candidate.

Developing the Domtar Lands

In commemoration of Earth Day, Windmill Development Group has revealed a proposal to develop the Domtar lands (the Ottawa River islands located adjacent to Lebreton Flats). It’s an ambitious project for a relatively small, enclosed area. It also presents unique challenges, requiring the cooperation of both cities, Ottawa and Gatineau, as well as the NCC. In addition, the land is of importance to local First Nations people, opening up other possible issues. Regardless, the development looks promising and Windmill appears to be taking the concerns of all stakeholders seriously.

domtar-bikepath

Currently dubbed, “The Isles” (though a naming contest is underway ), the project contains key promises that, if adhered to, should make for a lovely little community in the centre of the Ottawa River:

  • An ambitious sustainability plan using the One Planet Community framework
  • Development of a series of new plazas and parks
  • Mixed-use properties including retail amenities, restaurants, commercial and
  • residential
  • Preservation of key heritage buildings for cultural, commercial and retail
  • uses
  • Public access to the previously fenced-off Chaudière Falls
  • Stunning new public viewpoints of our national symbols

“Our rezoning application delivers on the eight design principles we shared with the
public and interested parties late last year,” says Windmill partner Rodney Wilts.
“We plan to bring new life and energy to this once bustling heart of industry, and to
do it through historically and environmentally sensitive redevelopment.”

The description in the news release is a short but precise distillation of Ottawa’s current issues relating to development, taking into account heritage concerns, environmental issues and the need to build traffic infrastructure that does not imperil pedestrians or cyclists:

The redeveloped lands will feature a mix of uses in a compact form integrating existing heritage resources where possible and emphasizing sustainable and active transportation through a network of shared streets that prioritize pedestrians and cyclists over automobiles.

It is, in fact, the exact approach that should have been taken with the Lansdowne redevelopment (even if the particulars would necessarily be context-specific).

The Sun’s Jon Willing presents an interesting response from City Hall:

No doubt, Peter Hume is correct… to a degree. This will be a prominent development of a heritage area with just about no room, literally, for error. If poorly implemented, the use of the Domtar lands will be lost for most Ottawans.
Of course, they are of little use, right now. The islands are a monument to industrial decay. It is, in fact, a pleasant walk to travel from Lebreton Flats across the bridge to the old logging site. I’ve walked it multiple times. But as lovely as it may be, there is absolutely nothing of interest there. We can worry about screwing up the development, creating a little neighbourhood that would be underused and under-visited, but that wouldn’t be much of a change from the status quo.

The site promises to bring people to a central locale where they can enjoy the waterfront (a criminally underused aspect of Ottawa). Also, it is a reminder of what Ottawa has lost in the area just west of downtown. The development would help to bring people back to Lebreton Flats, a neighbourhood that was callously destroyed generations ago. The giant blemish that is Lebreton Flats (ignoring a spattering of in-progress condos, a war museum and a bunch of roads scarring the land) is a shame that the city has mostly forgotten. It is a tale of government placing their own vanity ahead of the lives of citizens. Perhaps this development would kick-start the revitalization of this neglected area.

Councillor Eli El-Chantiry Questions Prosecution of Cop Guilty of Discreditable Conduct

West Carleton-March Councillor Eli El-Chantiry has asked a really pertinent question, why would we bother to prosecute a police officer who assaulted a citizen?

“The taxpayer of the city is on the hook for approximately a million — so did the SIU have a case?” he asked Wednesday. “The question should be sent to them — are they dealing with those cases on the merits of the evidence or are they dealing with it based on public pressure, they read the paper and they see public outrage about something and they acted?”

This is in relation to the Steve Desjourdy case. In case you don’t remember, Desjourdy was in charge of the cell block when an Ottawa resident was arrested without cause, assaulted by cops (as she resisted the patently-illegal detainment) and was stripped. It was Desjourdy who stripped the woman, cutting off her shirt and bra. Keep in mind, this wasn’t a strip search, this was… well… apparently nothing more than punishment for this woman daring to resist her unlawful detainment.

In total, three officers were charged, but it is Desjourdy who has received most of the criticism.

The abuse handed down by police in the cell block scuttled one legal case, which triggered an investigation, led to a lawsuit (which the police settled) and resulted in Desjourdy being found guilty of discreditable conduct by a disciplinary committee.

The committee, it seemed, didn’t like the fact that Desjourdy decided to cut the clothes off a woman. (You see, in pretty much any scenario, if you strip a woman (or a man!)  against her will, it’s sexual assault. Luckily for Desjourdy, the courts looked the other way in this instance.)

So, here we have a man caught on tape committing a crime. A judge has already called out the offending behaviour. An internal review as well as a disciplinary hearing have determined that the behaviour was indefensible, and the city has already given up defending itself in a lawsuit.

And our fair councillor, chair of the police services board, wonders why we might pursue criminal charges.

Perhaps it’s time for a period of introspection for Mr. El-Chantiry.

Density and Diminishing Returns

For quite a few years now, the city has been focused on intensification–increasing density in our urban and suburban communities. New developments often have minimum height and occupancy requirements. This is especially true for development adjacent to the new LRT stops. The city wants to create high density hubs to reinforce the purpose of the LRT. Generally speaking, this is a sound strategy.

If we were to eschew intensification, we would see greater sprawl; that’s the concern. People would have more space–which might be beneficial to many–but such development would increase the externalities that the rest of us must bear. There are environmental concerns, impacts on traffic and–in a more philosophical vein–questions about the very nature of property ownership.

As a result of this focus on intensification, we have seen much more building up, rather than building out. Go through our downtown core, or Hintonburgh, or Westboro, or the Glebe, or Little Italy, and you will see more and more highrises. More buildings of double digit storeys dot our urban landscape as we keep stacking more and more people on top of each other.

There is a cost to this, of course. As we go up, fewer of us will get to see the sky. Fewer homes and businesses will have sunshine coming through windows. As lovely as urban architecture can be, there will be a different sort of beauty lost. And, if a recent study out of Berlin is to be believed, we may not even be realizing our intensification dream.

The Berlin Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment has released the following graphic, showing the results of building height on density:

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According to the chart, the proper development strategy to optimize density is to construct buildings of five- or six-storeys. This is in direct contradiction to our higher is better (denser) mindset, and would suggest that current trends towards towering condo development would give us less density and less sky. If this is true, it is wonderful news. Few people prefer glass and steel to the sun and sky. A six-storey building is still quite tall, but it is not the monolith a 24-storey building is.

There are a few caveats that must expressed, though. This is but one study, and we cannot assume that it is the final say on urban intensification. Further, the study originates from Berlin and the results may not map directly onto Canadian cities, in general, or Ottawa, in particular. Off the top of my head, different building codes and different traffic patterns could alter the results. Finally, few people would suggest that every building on every city block should be five- or six-storeys high. Not only would such development strategies lend themselves to monotony, but it would ignore the tone of individual neighbourhoods.

Nonetheless, this study should not be dismissed out of hand. We are making sacrifices for intensification. These sacrifices (assuming development is done wisely) should lead to stronger communities with fewer externalities burdening the greater city. Intensification is the proper philosophy for the city to adopt, but we must discern what plans will actually lead to intensification. We cannot just assume that higher is denser.

Though such an assumption might be quite dense.

[H/T: Doug Saunders]

Department of Bad Timing

Starting today and continuing to May 14, city residents are invited to provide their thoughts on a proposed bike path connection* between the segregated bike lane on Laurier and the multi-use pathway along Albert Street. It would seem to require some sidewalk biking, and would put cyclists on the wrong side of Slater. Also, you can’t actually ride your bike all the way. You have to walk across the Slater/Bronson intersection. The route goes thusly:

ewb_flyer_map

So that’s what we’re invited to talk about today, funneling cyclists through the Slater/Bronson intersection. Then this happened:

That’s probably not how the city wanted to kick off this discussion.

[H/T: Cassandra Fulgham]

*To be clear, this isn’t really a bike path nor is it a connection, but I digress.

Quote of the Day

Extraordinary governmental financial incentives have been required to achieve this degree of monotony sterility and vulgarity. Decades of preaching, writing and exhorting by experts have gone into convincing us and our legislators that mush like this must be good for us, as long as it comes bedded with grass.

–Jane Jacobs on the evitability suburban life and urban decay, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

“Hudak’s vision is a divide-and-conquer approach to our cities”

Writing in The Ottawa Citizen, I argue that the provincial Progressive Conservative Party is trying to play suburbia vs. city centres as a cynical ploy to gain power. It’s following the (successful) “Ford Nation” gambit. It’s great for sucking up to (some) voters, but it’s horrible for actual governing:

Unfortunately, the Tory plan is aimed primarily at supposed “prosperity” rather than community; in fact, the PC white papers carry the heading, Paths to Prosperity. Leader Tim Hudak’s introductory message is focused on enterprise and wealth, not livability. MPP Bill Holyday’s introductory message focuses on infrastructure for automobiles and commuters, not cyclists, pedestrians or residents. It is a message tailored to those who will live outside of urban centres but seek to travel into the city for work (primarily) and leisure (occasionally).

Despite claims of eschewing the typical urban vs. suburban split, their policies are predicated on just such a divide. Regarding Toronto, the Tories write: “Toronto needs jobs, and better roads and transit so people can get to those jobs. The downtown core needs more subway capacity to relieve infrastructure built for the 1950s.” This is not in order to create a better city for the residents within Toronto. It is because the city “needs to manage its growth so that our suburbs are not treated as afterthoughts.”

We shouldn’t fall for it. If the Tories have a robust vision that can make stronger urban, suburban, exurban and rural communities, it’d behoove them to actually make them known.

Read the whole thing.