Highest High Rise


Starwood Mastercraft was an Ottawa builder decades ago, got more active in Toronto, and is now back in Ottawa building condos on Parkdale (north of Scott), Lisgar (old Canus plastics site), Champagne at Hickory (a few feet west of the O-Train, near the dog shelter). They also bought the site at Preston and Sydney and are proposing a condo tower there.

As predicted, they are asking for a 35 storey condo tower, which would be the tallest in Ottawa. Taller than Tower C, Place de Ville; taller than the Metropole on Lanark/Scott. Like the rush of downtown applications by Claridge for 28 storey condos on tiny lots, the Starwood tower takes up the whole small lot.

The Aqua tower in Chicago, on which the Starwood is modelled, actually has a green base.

After last week’s speculation on the Starwood lot, they now read this blog. So… if they send along their elevations and a bird’s-eye view of the neighborhood, I’ll share it and we can all get a peek. It would be a neighborly thing to do.

When they were getting the rezoning at Hickory (one big block north of Carling) the City planners were careful to explain that the neighborhood plans called for a decreasing height from Carling as you go north into the built-up neighborhood. The local Civic Hospital Neighborhood Assoc argued this meant the units should be lower than the existing 7 storey building at Carling, or lower than the Arnon-proposed 16 storey commercial building at Carling — although the Arnon building might have more floors if goes residential via Charlesfort Developments. Starwood pointed to the approved-but-not-built 18 storey Preston and Sydney site as evidence there was an incline in height as one moved north from Carling.

I guess I wasn’t the only one who thought that once the 18 stories was approved at Hickory, the rule-of-the-incline might invite those south of the Hickory site to ask for more height. Starwood apparently shared that thought  too, and snapped up another lot south of Hickory (ie the Sydney site) and passed on the acquisition of the dog shelter site (which according to rule-of-the-incline would have to be lower rise than the first Starwood towers at Hickory as it was north of them…).

The Hickory project proposed by Starwood is for two towers on a podium of townhouses, with landscaped roof decks, landscaped perimeter grounds, and two community benefits: a paved bike path along the west side of the O-train cut AND a financial contribution towards the cost of a ped bridge over the O-Train at Hickory. You can find that story on previous posts, too. I kinda like that plan, and said so.

Now the normal approval process for a new development is for the proponent to trot off to City Hall with his preliminary plans and have a talkie with the planning department, to review things like zoning, setbacks, lot coverage, official plans and other bothersome details. This is certainly the procedure the city claims businesses are to follow, when I took their Introduction to Planning courses last year.

Once the developer gets the feedback from professionals who know what is allowed, and no doubt get some hints about what might be changed to encourage intensification, then I would expect him to consult with the wider community.

Although Christine Leadman, late Councilor for Kitchissipi, loudly berated developers for not coming to her first. Perhaps her exhortations were heeded … or maybe they did things differently in Starwood’s Toronto under the late unlamented Miller regime. For I gather the developer has been off to see the Mayor. Good to see the public consultation process start with the top public persona. Then it was off to see Mr Hume, he of the Planning and Development committee.

And what sort of advice will they get when both these fine gentlemen turn to their professional planning staff for advice? Why, nothing. Because the developer hasn’t (yet) seen fit to brief the planning staff, those people who understand and guide proponents through the Official Plan rules.

Yup, for Starwood, it seems planning approval starts in the political offices rather than the planning offices. This of course is not an end run around the planning procedure, and I am certain he isn’t hoping the politicians will be influenced before the staff gets a chance to have their say. No, I am sure it is just public consultation that somehow got a bit disconnected between the political briefings and the planning dept. briefings. Surely they are down at city hall right now having a sincere chat with the planners.

Preston Businesses:

What will be reaction of the Preston Street businesses to this proposal?

  The BIA wants a village mainstreet, of low rise, 3 and 4 storey buildings with  businesses on the ground floor and residences above. Recall that they grudgingly accepted the previous owners successful increase of the Sydney lot zoning from 4 floors to 18. That proposal was for a thin thin building, like a vertical pencil, two units per floor. There was a public right of way between the new and the existing coop building on Sydney. The thin building was pulled out flush to the sidewalk, rather than rising in setbacks, so unit holders would have unobstructed views towards Dow’s Lake, should the lots closer to Carling be developed some day. Will the Preston business owners be as happy with a much chunkier, much larger, 35 storey building that wants reduced or no  set backs on any side, and that presents a 340′ wall straight up from the sidewalk?

Or will they find it convenient to ignore the Preston village concept for the glitzy high rise? Most of the business owners along Preston don’t live in the neighborhood. They commute in by car. Surely it must be tempting to think that the land your business sits on might support a mega-highrise. Even a tiny 60×100 lot is eligible for the jackpot. Retirement winters in Hawaii become a reality. Maybe pop over for a quick game of cards with Obama?

They must also feel a bit warm towards the idea of so many potential customers living right on Preston.

I can’t image CIBC will find it the highest and best use of their land to continue to run a drive-in-bank at the corner. And there’s the empty ESSO lot at the corner, freshly decontaminated. And the Dow’s Honda site — the auto business is a bit dicey these days, and that site, right beside the O-train station, begs for redevelopment for three or four 35 storey towers (or maybe taller, as they are north of the Starwood proposal…). And there’s the old gas station lot (now a sleepy-servant parking lot) nearby that could easily support another 30+ storey tower. Gee, that makes six – 35 storey towers at the corner of Preston and Carling, and we haven’t yet even started to explore the potential of sites a bit further back.

But, enough speculation, I think the BIA and business people will stick to their original vision of low-rise sidewalk-friendly development, with a heavy Italian theme.

They wouldn’t trade their neighborhood plan in for the Starwood offer a community benefit to arise from the rezoning, would they? A benefit such as a free storefront space at the base of the tower for a Museum of Italian Culture?

The problem, as I have argued here before, with community benefits being traded off for a higher rezoning, is that the developer doesn’t pay for this out of his pocket, it’s more akin to a tax on the new residents who pay more for their starter home condo because they (and they alone) gotta put some cash in the pot for someone else’s Community Museum. And once wads of money are waved around, you gotta be careful that the beneficiaries don’t sell out their values for cash (or retail space, or a daycare, or a few lower-floor units at the back given over for “affordable housing”, or some reno money for the adjacent co-op).  I’m not picking on the Italian businessmen here: the ones adapting their plans could just as well be the City, or a community association, or a non-profit housing provider, or a cultural group, or a business group. The result will be more bitter than previous lost zoning battles, it will be flavoured with suspicion that someone sold out.

__________________

CBC Morning broke the high-rise condo storey on the MSM this morning. They got Diane Holmes and myself on tape. Neither Starwood nor the architect, Rod Lahey, was available.

For more info on the Sydney site, go back a few posts to the one entitled Purely Speculation.

For info on the proposed developments on the west side of the O-Train corridor, use the blog search button for terms like “125 Hickory Street”, Hickory Street, StarwoodMastercraft, Starwood, “855 Carling Avenue”, Arnon, Domicile.

No doubt, more posts will follow in the next few days.

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About westsideaction

Eric Darwin is a community activist involved in planning, transportation, streetscaping, and cycling issues in Ottawa, Canada.
This entry was posted in 125 Hickory Street, 855 Carling Ave, Bayview-Carling CDP, bike path, Claridge, condos, cyclopiste de preston, Dows Lake, intensificatioin, O-Train, preston street. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Highest High Rise

  1. Chris B says:

    This might be naive of me to ask, but will the elevations shown include all the planned and proposed towers in this neighbourhood? It would be good to see a picture of what it WILL look like in 10 years.

  2. Caio says:

    The only positive thing I’d see about this is that 35 stories of people wouldn’t be living in the suburbs. But it’s a development incompatible with the surroundings, that’s why I like the idea of form-based zoning (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Form-based_code) (http://www.transect.org/). In any case, I’d rather see Ottawa going more in the direction of the Plateau in Montreal or cities like Amsterdam or Copenhagen (all very dense places). I think that kind of urban form has a healthier relationship with the street and pedestrians. I know we have a fascination with skylines, but city planning is not about views from afar, it’s about the relationships at the street level. 3-4 stories buildings are more resilient too; they are more easily convertible to whatever the needs of the future will be, also they are more prepared for whatever energy inputs we will have. Skyscrapers, just like suburbs, were a product of cheap energy era, which will not go on forever.

    • WJM says:

      I would like a definition of “incompatible with the surroundings”.

      The surroundings include one of our few rail-transit stations in this backward-thinking duckburg, and numerous parcels of land that are clamouring for more intensive, denser, transit-supportive construction. This thing fits the bill to a T.

      There is also major mid- to high-rise office construction nearby. The only thing that this building would be “inconsistent” with are the numerous surface parking lots and other auto-oriented land uses. Good riddance to those.

      • Caio says:

        I meant it in the sense of height, 35-stories would be the tallest building in Ottawa, but if that’s the direction the area is going then ok, but it’s not my favourite type of density.

    • Chris B says:

      My major worry (and where I see an incompatibility) is that a neighbourhood of skyscrapers loses its connection with the street. The buildings have fitness centres and common amenities, they have underground parkades, they have the potential to not integrate well.

      However, they do have the potential to be additions. Coal Harbour and Yaletown in Vancouver aren’t the most animated of places, but they are getting more and more animated as time goes on. Bottom line about condos is that if people are choosing a smaller place in the city, it is because they want city life, not suburb life

      • WJM says:

        The height of the building is utterly irrelevant to whether or not it connects with the street.

        I used to live in a mid-rise eight-story apartment building in Centretown that would almost certainly never get built anywhere in NIMBYville these days, which had great street interaction. The parking was tucked discreetly away underground, the ground floor had two commercial offices, the next floor up had professional/medical offices, and everything above that was residential.

        That building, as “tall” as it would be to the NIMBY brigades, had much better street interaction than pretty well any of the dreadful, inward facing townhouses that ended up getting built about three blocks away during the mid-1990s.

        If we want buildings to interact with the street, we have to start demanding that they interact with the street. That means getting up in arms with what the plans are at street level, not at the sky level.

        It never ceases to amaze me what ugly, street-killing, inward-facing garbage the NIMBYs will settle for at ground level (I’m talking to you, St-Ambroise and Dagmar) as long as the new building isn’t “too tall”.

      • David says:

        Bottom line about condos is that if people are choosing a smaller place in the city, it is because they want city life, not suburb life.

        Or they’re choosing a place with a nice view of Dow’s Lake and the Rideau Canal. It’s like having a view of a big back yard but not having to maintain it. If that’s the case, would-be buyers may care less about the surrounding neighbourhood and how their building relates to its surroundings than they do about getting the best view.

        The Metropole in Westboro, for instance, is perched up on its own little hillock (basically piled up excavation material used to cover the nominally below-grade garage) and it has no relation to anything around it. Residents of the surrounding townhouses (who use transit far more than the skydwellers above them) were probably lucky just to get a path and a gate in the fence shortening the trip to Westboro Station.

  3. meg says:

    My concern is that the focus is to bring more people to live in the neighbourhood, yet we still have no plans for a grocery store, a liquor store, a post office, a drug store or any other shops that all these new people (plus existing residents) desperately need. We had 168 market for a few things, but now that is gone. Where is everyone to do their shopping? Will it mean that we also have 35 stories of people and their cars so they can get the basic supplies?

    • David P says:

      Meg: You’ve got the cart before the horse. Bringing 200+ new living units with 300+ new residents (plus all the other developments) will create a demand that Loblaws or Sobeys or Shoppers Drug Mart or someone will want to fill. Imagine Dow’s Honda turned into a grocery store – main floor – with two 20 story residential towers above, for example.

  4. Caio says:

    “If we want buildings to interact with the street, we have to start demanding that they interact with the street. That means getting up in arms with what the plans are at street level, not at the sky level.”

    Agreed.

    From Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language:
    http://vasarhelyi.eu/books/A_pattern_language_book/apl21/apl21.htm

    From Andres Duany’s Smarth Growth Manual:
    http://books.google.ca/books?id=JKwebAbN5zEC&pg=SA10-PA4&lpg=SA10-PA4&dq=appropriate+building+heights+smart+growth&source=bl&ots=tr5GFoeajn&sig=BE8LhfI1hzIdGD8DEWZ9cY1Y2yU&hl=en&ei=urE0TeepAsKBgAf4xo2ZCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CDUQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q&f=false

  5. Looks nice. Not sure it belongs in Little Italy just yet, though. It seems more of a Centretown-appropriate design as presently constituted.

  6. Charles A-M says:

    WJM, just because tall buildings can be good doesn’t mean every tall building is good. Also, an 8-storey building with ground level retail is actually something the community would welcome, so long as the retail is along an arterial street. The interaction with the street level is precisely what we worry about, and included is this is how many cars are going to be accessing the street from the building (or how are they encouraging people to use other means that get them out the front door on foot, bus, or bike instead of the parking garage entrance)

    Tall buildings like this that are lot-line-to-lot-line are terrible because they have to go down incredible numbers of storeys in underground parking to meet the minimum parking requirement (89-91 Nepean has to go down 7 storeys, 20 stalls per floor, and doesn’t even meet the minimum visitor parking requirements, leaving the visitors to fill out on the street). If you let one building go to its lotlines, you must allow the next also, and the next. George Dark–who likes tall buildings–keeps talking about how terrible Cooper Street is from Elgin to Cartier because it’s like a canyon of 12-storey buildings; however, he doesn’t seem to care that 89-91 Nepean will set the stage for a 27-storey canyon once the neighbours all get their share (the developers also call it a ‘point tower’, which is total BS).

    For those who cite Parisian 4-storey heights, note that ALL of central Paris is that height; they don’t have single-family Victorian homes like most of Centretown.

    Another factor to consider with the SoHo developments is that they are “Hotel-inspired living”, i.e. they function as hotel for much of the time, and by extension the residents don’t really reside there year-round. Sounds like housing for rich people. I’d be interested to see how attached, if at all, the residents will be to the surrounding neighbourhood. A friend of mine who lives in the Mondrian says that, even though they’re in the middle of the best pedestrian and transit friendly neighbourhood, about 90% of people going down the elevator in the morning continue to the parking levels.

    This begs the question of cramming so many people onto these sites just so more people live downtown.

    • WJM says:

      WJM, just because tall buildings can be good doesn’t mean every tall building is good.

      I don’t recall having said anything to that effect, but hey, feel free to rebut it in case someone does show up and make that absurd argument.

      Also, an 8-storey building with ground level retail is actually something the community would welcome, so long as the retail is along an arterial street.

      What is the difference, at street level, between an 8-story building with ground level retail, and an 80-story one?

      The interaction with the street level is precisely what we worry about, and included is this is how many cars are going to be accessing the street from the building (or how are they encouraging people to use other means that get them out the front door on foot, bus, or bike instead of the parking garage entrance)

      Agreed. That’s all part of worrying about street level, which is where worry belongs.

      Tall buildings like this that are lot-line-to-lot-line are terrible because they have to go down incredible numbers of storeys in underground parking to meet the minimum parking requirement

      Which is another good reason to revisit parking requirements.

      I am not worried about how many storeys underground the parking might have to go; that’s for no one to worry about except the proponent’s engineers and accountants.

      If you let one building go to its lotlines, you must allow the next also, and the next.

      Good, if that’s what it takes to rid Ottawa of its “setback” fetish.

      George Dark–who likes tall buildings–keeps talking about how terrible Cooper Street is from Elgin to Cartier because it’s like a canyon of 12-storey buildings

      De gustibus non est disputandum; that happens to be one of my favourite blocks in Ottawa and one of the most pleasant “long” blocks to walk on anywhere in the downtown core. Treesy, shady, lots of coming-and-going day and night. I used to live right around the corner.

  7. S-Man says:

    Being a fan of symmetry, the undulating facade shocks my simple sensibilities; being a fan of intensification and striking architecture, I like the height and the ambition. Living near Preston, I’ve always thought of that remarkably underutilized first block of Preston as an abomination, hardly a gateway to anything significant. It looks like the year 1970 vomited onto the sidewalk. I keep expecting to see Ford Granadas parked along the street 😉
    When I first heard of this proposal, my mind immediately went to a location at the north end of Preston, in or near City Centre. Maybe that says something about where this building (or one like it) is needed most….
    That said, I don’t have a problem with something new being taller than the 1970’s federal brown boxes marooned next door on Booth and Rochester. Anything to cover them up, or distract from their hideousness. Whenever there is an outcry over the height of proposed new condos in the Centretown area, I’m always mystified over people’s worry that said building will be somewhat taller and more daring than the existing 1970’s slabs our city is filled with. Doesn’t matter what it looks like, as long is it isn’t tall and doesn’t overwhelm the existing breathtaking federal architecture. Okay…..
    Design and height aside, interaction at street level is key, and I would be very interested to see how they build an appropriate retail podium on a lot this size. Maybe it can be done, who knows, but like previous posters have said, this thing needs to be sidewalk friendly. Shadowing won’t be much of a problem, because no one lives north of the site, and the land for two blocks east and west is offices of varying height. Unless the sun starts rising and setting in the south, there won’t be too much Vitamin D deficiency in the neighbourhood.
    As for a lack of amenities, I know how frustrating it is not to be able to walk and buy a bottle of wine while living in Little Italy (!!!!!). However, because this proposal (whatever form it takes) is years down the road, I think the community will be better served by the time any tenants start to move in. Once the Champagne Avenue developments start to break ground, I think we’ll see something happen on the food and beverage front. My choice for a mixed use building with a large grocery component on ground level would be the undeveloped block just south of Preston Square. Man, that’s a lot of wasted land – it could hold so much in the way of retail and entertainment, and a few units of housing I’m sure.

  8. Tommy Karla says:

    I really love this style of architecture to be honest.

    Ive been reading all the plans on http://sohoitaliablog.com and im into it

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