On September 10 the City released its new Community Development Plan, or “CDP” for Uptown Rideau St, between King Edward and the Cummings Bridge. The Plan has been developed over the past 18 months, in consultation with a small working group of residents’ associations, including the LCA, property owners and developers.
The CDP’s Vision for Rideau Street is a vibrant downtown mainstreet, with stores, shops, restaurants and cafes at street level and places for people to live and work above. It seeks to fulfill this vision by addressing various topics governing the future development that will occur on the street, including:
- Building heights – how tall buildings can be and where they will be located
- Building form and design – how buildings should look and relate to each other
- Heritage features – which buildings of heritage interest should be preserved
- Ways to support pedestrians and cyclists –connections to cycling routes, wider sidewalks
- Open spaces – new small parks or plazas, wider sidewalks
Why do we need for a new Plan?
The current CDP dates from 2005. Its Vision is also one of an active “traditional mainstreet”, and it seeks to achieve this by strictly limiting new development to six storeys. Pressures to revisit this Plan have arisen mainly from the recent renewal of the street and Ottawa’s new Official Plan which provides for intensification, including taller buildings, on traditional mainstreets.
Development is already taking place. In August, Council approved a proposal by Richcraft for a 14 storey high-rise tower at Cobourg St., based on a zoning application first submitted more than 10 years ago. In April, Trinity Developments filed plans for 26- and 28- storey towers above a large commercial centre at Rideau and Chapel St. The city has yet to rule on its application.
Many question the need for any change to the six storey height limit in the old CDP that was supposed to ensure a pedestrian-friendly, traditional mainstreet framed by mid-rise buildings. They point to Westboro and the Glebe as models, and want to avoid the high-rise canyon created by the high-rise condo towers in the blocks west of King Edward.
Others, including City staff, point out that only one new building has been built on Rideau St in the last 15 years, in part as a result of current zoning restrictions. New high-rises are inevitable, given the number of tall buildings already on the Street and past OMB decisions favouring greater heights. They argue the CDP is needed to protect Rideau Street from over-development by limiting where high-rises can be located and ensuring that they respect the character of the street and surrounding neighbourhoods.
The CDP’s main provisions
Most of the rules in the new CDP are widely supported and generally will have a positive impact on Rideau Street and Lowertown:
- The overall scale of new development will be limited to mid-rise, medium density buildings, generally with “baseline” heights of six and nine storeys.
- Design guidelines will help maintain the human-scale of a traditional mainstreet for pedestrians at street level. These include a requirement that buildings taller than six storeys will be set back on a base, or podium, to frame the street and avoid the “canyon” effect associated with high-rises.
- Additional funds will flow to Macdonald Gardens, Jules Morin/Anglesea and Bordeleau Parks, since more of the cash-in-lieu of parkland fees collected from developers will stay in Lowertown and Sandy Hill.
- New public parks or plazas (called “privately-owned public spaces” or “POPS” in the CDP) will be required for some larger developments, since developers may be granted extra height in return for more public space; and
- New pedestrian-friendly measures will be implemented at some street crossings. In particular, the CDP recommends that none of the existing cul-de-sacs (notably at Chapel and Beausoleil) should be opened to traffic, at least until a community-wide study clearly demonstrates there would be no harmful effects.
The most controversial aspect of the new plan is the concept of “density redistribution”. This will allow developers to exceed the CDP’s six and nine-storey baseline height limits on some larger properties. They would be allowed to design a much taller structure – up to 15 or 25 storeys – provided the overall size and density of the building is no larger than that of a six or nine storey “baseline” building.
Density redistribution will be allowed only once several conditions are satisfied: the lot would have to be large and on a corner; the taller building cannot have more floor space than an equivalent six or nine-storey building; and part of the site that would be freed-up by building a taller structure with a smaller footprint would have to be turned over for public use. These taller building also would have to satisfy new design guidelines set out in the plan to minimize negative impacts at street level. The idea is to provide the flexibility to design more attractive buildings better suited to their sites, but not larger ones.
Where will these high-rise towers be located?
The new building heights allowed on the north side of Rideau east of King Edward would be as follows:
Between King Edward and Augusta, the baseline height is established at nine storeys. However, density transfer would be allowed, so new towers as tall as 25-storeys could be approved on at least four properties: the vacant government-owned buildings at the corner of King Edward; the Loblaw’s property at Nelson; the Trinity Developments property at Chapel; and the Econolodge property next door at Augusta.
Between Augusta and the river, generally a six or nine storey limit will remain in place and density redistribution will not be allowed. However, if the conditions for density redistribution can be met, a 25 storey tower could be allowed on one property adjacent to the river, next to the 14-storey Ottawa Housing and 22-storey Watergate apartment towers in the same block.
The maximum heights along the south side of Rideau generally are lower, reflecting the smaller sizes of the lots and the low rise residential homes along Besserer Street west of Chapel St. The proposed height limits are as follows:
Between King Edward and Chapel, the baseline height is nine storeys. Density redistribution will be allowed, but only up to a maximum of 15 storeys. These new towers could be allowed on one or more of the properties between King Edward and Nelson, including the existing Shoppers’ Drug Mart property.
Between Chapel and the river, the baseline height generally is six storeys, or less, and density transfer will not be allowed. However an exception has been made for the recently-approved 14-storey Richcraft tower at Cobourg St. This mainly results from an earlier OMB decision that had already approved nine storeys on most of the site. The developer’s has used the concept of density redistribution to lower the main portion of the building and provide more public space, in return for extra height on the corner of the property.
The conditions attached to density redistribution in the CDP will limit its use and encourage better building design. Nevertheless, many remain concerned that will fundamentally alter the “traditional mainstreet” character of Rideau Street. Once introduced, it will become the rule, not the exception, and 15 and 25 stories will be the de facto standard for development in many blocks, especially at the western end of the CDP area. They fear the result will be similar to the canyon of buildings now lining Rideau Street to the west of King Edward.
Those supporting the new CDP point out that the current CDP has not been effective and offers no protection from the future development of high-rise towers. Without a new approach, it is only a matter of time before even larger, taller buildings will be approved, without any of the benefits and limits on overall size and heights in the CDP. They point to two recent large developments – the Richcraft project at Cobourg and the Trinity application at Chapel – that have both been scaled back, in part because of the new provisions in the CDP.