Suburban Heritage

One bit of silliness that arose from development proposal for 1131 Teron Road:

[Kanata North Councilor Marianne Wilkinson] wants the Beaverbrook community to be formally declared a heritage district and the city to maintain the original “garden city” vision of the area.

First, Kanata is not a Garden City; it turned out a Garden Suburb, so it didn’t even adhere to its original vision.

Second, it is beyond ridiculous to suggest that a 50-year-old suburb deserves heritage status. It strips the word of all meaning.

Legacy Stakeholders

A proposed development in Kanata has hit a bit of a snag. The proposal for 1131 Teron Road calls for some rather tall buildings, and these buildings may not completely jibe with the overall vision of the neighbourhood. The city, treading carefully, has decided a little more reflection would be wise:

A decision on a proposed nine-storey building in Kanata was deferred Tuesday at planning committee for two weeks to give the community’s venerable founder Bill Teron time to design something nearby residents might like better.

Two quick thoughts:

1. Concerns of residents are important, but not paramount. Anecdotally, it seems that council is getting more interested in community consultations for development plans. This is a good trend. Residents of a neighbourhood are stakeholders in the project, even if they don’t own the land or won’t have their property directly affected by the development. A development that could have a radically negative impact on the life of the community should be undertaken with caution. Continue reading

Making a Decision and Sticking to it: the Essence of Uncertainty

So the sad tale of the Mizrahi development in Wellington West continues*. The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) are getting pissy with the city. They don’t like the Ottawa’s official plan, nor the planning decisions that emanate from it, and they’re threatening to take the city to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB)*.

First, they don’t like that the plan isn’t the same as previous policies. Arguing, I would imagine, that democratically-elected representatives should not have the power to represent the interests of constituents:

The group said that the plan, adopted at the end of November, doesn’t give developers enough flexibility when it comes to the height and appearance of buildings.
“If you study the official plan, you’ll see that it’s quite different from the last couple,” said Dean Karakasis, executive director of BOMA Ottawa. “It’s very prescriptive.”

Well, that’s pretty understandable. The city is beginning to take planning and development seriously, enacting Community Design Plans (CDPs) and refraining from rubber-stamping any requests from developers to break them.

The argument is merit-less, but at least it is coherent. What is less coherent is the following claim:

“This won’t create certainty – this will create confusion,” he said.

According to Mr. Karakasis, the recent debate over a condo development on Wellington Street West that was rejected by the city’s planning committee despite widespread community support is a good example of how “sometimes you try and provide certainty, but it goes against what people want.”

First of all, there is little evidence that there widespread community support. The Wellington West Community Association was against it. Many residents wrote to their councilor arguing against it. What there was was a small number of people who attended a work day meeting of the planning committee who spoke in favour of it (and not all were members of the neighbourhood). Some of the speakers were only in favour of the proposal because they were worried the property would never be developed (Mizrahi now claims to be able to build an economically-feasible nine-storey building).

The CDP was developed through an extensive process that gave residents ample opportunity to contribute. It is far more reasonable to claim that there was widespread support for the CDP.

But since Mr. Karakasis claims the Wellington West saga demonstrates the uncertainty facing developers, let’s remember what actually went on:

  • Two years ago, the city instituted a CDP for Wellington West.
  • A year ago, Mizrahi bought the property on Island Park Drive knowing what was in the CDP (if they didn’t know, it makes the whole argument mute–they weren’t confused; they were oblivious).
  • Mizrahi made a proposal for a 12-storey tower.
  • The city rejected it, as it did not adhere to the nine-storey limit established by the CDP.
  • Mizrahi made a second proposal… for a 12-storey twoer
  • The city rejected it, as it did not adhere to the nine-storey limit established by the CDP.

Say what you will about the city’s decision, there was never really any confusion about their policy.

*I never want to write about this issue again.

**If this complaint goes through to the OMB, it will just be further evidence that the OMB needs to be abolished. Council is elected and Council is responsible and answerable to the residents. The OMB is not. It’s gross that they get to trample on democracy.

City Hall Art

There’s been a bit of row at City Hall, recently, as a somewhat controversial artist has a display at the city’s Karsh-Masson Gallery:

The “Invisible” exhibit has been at the Karsh-Masson Gallery on City Hall’s ground floor since May 9, when Toronto-based artist Rehab Nazzal was on hand for the opening. “She collects and compiles traces of Palestine, her homeland, and its military occupation by Israel,” says the exhibit brochure.

The [Ottawa Jewish Federation], however, says it has been disturbed by a display it says “glorifies Palestinian terrorists.”

Responding to one specific criticism, Nazzal says the inclusion of Dalal Mughrabi — a Palestinian behind an attack that killed more than 30 Israelis, according to reports — is because she is part of the collective memory of the Palestinian people.

The federation is encouraged the city is reviewing the gallery’s art selection, president and CEO Andrea Freedman said in a statement, which added changes should “ensure that such outrageous messages advanced under the guise of art are not allowed.”

The mayor, in a moment of municipal diplomacy, met with the Israeli ambassador and had “a good dialogue”. Regardless of whatever was said, the display is not coming down. As deputy city manager Steve Kanellakos says:

Who gives me the right, or anybody the right, to pull an artist’s work if it’s not breaching some law of the land?

Art, by its nature, is going to be controversial, depending on your point of view.

What a wonderful sentiment expressed by a government administrator. It is wonderful that the city has an art gallery available to all City Hall visitors, and though there must be a level of discernment when choosing exhibits, the city should be careful to avoid censoring controversial viewpoints.

The city should never seek to offend, but nor should it eschew all controversy. Sometimes, great art offends. Sometimes, being offended will stir an important lesson for each of us.

Urban/Rural Synchronicity?

I stumbled across the South March coalition yesterday. They’re a movement dedicated to saving the South March Highlands. It’s an interesting movement, but about an issue of which I know very little. I don’t travel out that way much*, and I won’t claim to know if what they’re doing is wise or not.

That being said, it seems like worthwhile advocacy. There is always pressure to increase development further and further out. It’s not about evil developers trying to destroy pristine nature. It’s about people looking for places to live. It’s good that we have an advocacy group that is pushing back against this pressure. Even if we should be sprawling out further, we need people keeping that impulse in check, making sure we sprawl properly.

But that’s not really what I’m interested in, right now. The group got me thinking about how the mechanisms of urbanism and rural conservation might intertwine. Continue reading

We Should Narrow Bank Street

The other day, Capital Ward Councilor David Chernushenko explained the city’s reasoning for not putting bike lanes on the Bank Street Bridge. Since I was in the process of writing this when I saw a link to that post, I refrained from looking at it, lest this post turn into nothing more than a fisking exercise. I will, however, read it later. 

Bank Street, as it runs through urban neighbourhoods, should be adopt the Complete Streets model. It should be two lanes with a segregated (preferably raised) bike lane and expanded sidewalks. Such a shift would manageable and would merely reflect the current realities of life on the street. For the purpose of this post, I will focus on the section of Bank from the Queensway south to Lansdowne Park, but will touch on the other sections.

There are a number of reasons to adopt this measure:

It’s mostly about pedestrians

When we debate implementing a Complete Streets model, the discussion tends to turn into a car vs. bike battle, but the pedestrians on Bank Street deserve better than the status. The Glebe (and Old Ottawa South) has the charm of an urban village. It is just that charm that the city is leveraging for the Lansdowne re-development (which they dub an “urban village). But this dynamic is predicated on the walkability of the neighbourhood. The Glebe has a significant walking culture. Sidewalks are regularly packed with shoppers, patrons and neighbours. And that’s the problem, they’re packed.

The sidewalks throughout the Glebe are ridiculously narrow. There is no space between the sidewalk and storefronts. The sidewalks are cluttered with bike racks, store signage, light posts, hydro poles, street signs and parking meters. We see families, couples, people with walkers or strollers, clusters of teens, and other random groups of people using the sidewalks. There often is not enough room for all people (especially when strollers, walkers or wheelchairs are introduced), and this problem is compounded when you include window shoppers. It becomes comically bad when you start adding in cyclists (yes, they should not be on the sidewalk—children aside—but they’re there because of the hazards of the street itself; city planners shouldn’t wish this away; they should understand what’s going on build infrastructure to reflect the actual needs of residents and users).

It’s quite wonderful that the Glebe has maintained this wonderful walking culture despite city infrastructure that actively discourages it. Continue reading

Sad Developer is Sad

The sad* tale of Mizrahi vs. the Wellington West Community Design Plan has reached the commiseration phase.
Mizrahi, who sought to build a 12-storey tower in a community with a height restriction of nine storeys (well, actually it’s six, but there’s a special exemption for contaminated land increasing it to nine), are now sad/resentful/hurt because they claim they had no idea the community association would oppose their over-sized development. In fact, they were sure the community association would approve it:

In an October 2013 letter to Mizrahi, the community association said development should conform to the community’s newly-minted CDP. They reiterated that view in January, citing a “strong preference” that Mizrahi’s proposal stay within the CDP’s prescribed height limits. But the October letter also said the community association would not oppose the development prior to the application if Mizrahi adhered to a list of requests and concerns.

Mizrahi said he fulfilled those commitments and met with the association to confirm their non-opposition two weeks before planning committee, before submitting a revised application to the city.

“They stood firm on their position that they were not going to oppose, and they stood by their letter,” he said. “Based on those representations, we went ahead and we moved forward.”

The community association president doesn’t agree with this interpretation, and though it is quite possible that there was some honest mis-communication between the two (or duplicitous backstabbing by the nefarious community association), I’m disinclined to believe Mizrahi’s tale.

First, the timeline just doesn’t fit. Mizrahi has made two proposals to the city, both featuring a 12-storey tower and both rejected. They are not clear as to when they sought the community associations approval (and the story does not state when they purchased the land). It sounds like they worked with the community association in October, after their initial rejection. They also state that they have been working on the project for a year…but they claim they would not have bought the land had they known the community association would object to the height.

So how does that work? They get the land a year ago. They get rejected. Then they talk to the community association? And now they claim that it was upon that communication that they decided to buy the land? Either the situation isn’t being reported properly, or Mizrahi is just flailing around. I’ll guess the latter.

Regardless of their understanding of the community association’s position, Mizrahi still decided to push ahead (twice!) with a plan they knew full-well contravened the CDP. They had to have known that they were gambling on council agreeing to violate the CDP. It doesn’t matter what the community association wants; they’re not an authoritative body and they don’t have the power, alone, to override the CDP.

Mizrahi, after threatening to take their ball to the OMB, is now suggesting they will build a CDP-compliant nine-storey mix-use commercial/retail building. This plan puts the lie to their argument that it was not economically feasible to develop anything shorter than 12 storeys on the property.

I’m really not sure why they should have any credibility at all.

*It’s not really sad… it’s really just pathetic.

Did OC Transpo admit that their drives run red lights?

The answer, it appears, is yes.

Last month, a video popped up on Youtube showing various OC Transpo buses running red lights:

John Manconi, the General Manager of Transit Services, reviewed the video and has attempted to get to the bottom of things:

Manconi tried to contact the person who took the video to learn more, but he hasn’t heard back. He even dispatched staff to monitor the intersection but they didn’t find any blatant cases of buses blowing red lights.

The use of the word “blatant” is telling. It appears to be an admission that, yes, buses do run through red lights, and, really, there was no way they could credibly claim otherwise. Anyone who spends much time downtown or around other high-traffic areas will have witnessed multiple instances of buses running reds–either when they fail to stop for yellow or red lights, or when they decide to accelerate from a stop when a light has turned yellow.

It is also clear that the city and OC Transpo don’t consider this law-breaking to be a big deal.

Love blooms in Dundonald Park

Susan Kerr, a member of Friends of Dundonald Park, was looking for a wedding present for two of her friends, Jacques Lemieux and Alex Forman. She came up with a novel and lovely idea:

In honour of her friends’ marriage Kerr decided to start the Equal Marriage Garden, giving Ottawa’s same-sex couples a chance to have their unions commemorated with a plaque, a plant, or both. On May 13 the first plaque was unveiled, honouring Lemieux and Forman’s August 16 wedding date.

“We will never have a baby but that will be our baby,” Lemieux says. “I think it’s really nice just to put a stamp to it and recognize equal marriages, and I hope that it flourishes in the park,” adds Forman.

Community gardens may go unnoticed at times, but they are a wonderful way to link members of the community to the physical neighbourhood. We should support these initiatives as much as possible.

Get It In Writing

Residents near Stonebridge Golf Course are not happy. They’re really not happy. Having paid a premium to have a lovely large house overlooking a golf course, they don’t want to have any other single-family homes fall in their sight lines. The developer, it seems, promised–promised–that no other development would occur. To the surprise of no one else, a real estate developer was less than totally honest:

Jay McLean, who lives at 553 Sandgate Ridge, near the course’s fifth hole, wanted his current home so much that he slept outside for two nights when Monarch sold the lot he now lives on.

“It’s a great community and we played a premium for our view and our privacy,” he said, adding the lot premiums for residents on Sandgate ranged from $75 to $100,000.

Last December Monarch submitted an application to build 11 single family homes across from his property. The new homes would be 43 metres away from his backyard – less than half the minimum distance of 85 metres elsewhere on the golf course, McLean said.

When the residents moved, Monarch assured them there wouldn’t be any more homes built on the plot of lands with the municipal address of 3700 Jockvale Rd, McLean said. but there’s nothing in the purchase and sale agreement to back up that claim.

Now, no one likes to be lied to. And many of us developed feelings of ownership over things we really have little claim, so I can understand why current residents are less than happy about the planned development, and I understand why they would want to fight it, but regardless of promises and wishes, there is rarely a guarantee that one can move into an area and then, zap, freeze everything perfectly in time. Development happens. Cities grow. People move and build. Life happens.

If you really want to stop all this–and I have about zero sympathy for those who do, because they put an unreasonable burden on the rest of us–you should really get it in writing. You see, all these “promises” that were made weren’t actually in any sort of contractual agreement. It’s quite clear why the residents have no real claim here.

And, as just about anyone could have guessed, the development was approved.