The city planners have claws

Mastercraft Starwood* had made a proposal for a landmark building downtown. By going the landmark route, they would have the opportunity to build up to 27 storeys. For that privilege, they would have to present something extraordinary. City planners say they failed… extraordinarily:

“In effect, the proposed development with two residential towers of 27 storeys extending to the street edges and adjacent property to the east will draw attention to itself not as a striking piece of architecture that in itself might be considered a piece or art, but rather as an anomaly within the central character area,” planner Douglas James writes in the review.


(Okay, maybe that’s not really worthy of a “meow”, but what do you really expect from planners?)

That the design failed is not much of a surprise. From the picture it’s a nice-enough looking building, but it really isn’t special (the massive branding doesn’t help either, I’d say). Part of the fault lies with the whole landmark policy which should entice extraordinary designs by giving developers much freer rein.

Somerset Ward candidate Thomas McVeigh articulates the problem with the current policy, in relation to this proposal:

The proposal doesn’t even meet the requirements set out by the watered down proposal. The required open space is 2% short of what is required. It’s a quibble, but really, when we’re asking for extraordinary design, for the developer not to even bother meeting that requirement shows that they don’t really see this as an opportunity to excel, instead it’s just a loophole to half-heartedly get the checklist crossed off.

So what does McVeigh propose:

If we are going to ask for our development community to come up with extraordinary designs, for them to give up 40% of the property to the city, and for them to really impress us, we’re going to have to give them an opportunity to make enough money on the deal to make it worthwhile. I’d like to let them make enough money that I can further shake them down for some community owned housing so that these building aren’t just vertical gated communities.

Letting developers build even higher (27 storeys isn’t really that high for downtown Ottawa) would be the way to entice innovative design and more public space. I think McVeigh is right that we need to re-visit the policy, loosen the height restrictions and actually get some extraordinary buildings downtown.

*That really sounds like a made-up name.

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