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.


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.

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