Posted: Oct 6, 2011, 6:22 AM
Join Date: May 2010
Here's a blog post from the Ottawa Citizen.
Hume to Tega’s 36 storeys: No, no, also no
October 6, 2011. 12:14 am • Section: City
This morning I took a break from the provincial election to drop by the Ottawa Real Estate Forum. In particular, I wanted to hear the panel with the cumbersome title, “A vision for growth and development in the National Capital Region: What are the strategies of the NCC and the City of Ottawa?”
I’m glad I did.
Peter Hume, who’s the councillor for Alta Vista and the chair of the planning committee, put the development community on notice that the city will not be entertaining re-zoning applications for sites where the zoning has already been decided through a community design plan.
Hume singled out a proposed development in Hintonburg, where Tega wants to construct a two-building complex that would include a 36-storey building — the tallest in Ottawa. But the location was included in a recent community design plan, which calls for a maximum of eight storeys.
The planning chair was clear today: no way.
(Earlier this year, I wrote about this development, which is controversial for more than just wanting to flaunt the existing zoning. Tega claims it needs the extra height to cover the $12 million clean-up of the contaminated site, which used to be owned by Honeywell. Hume says that Tega and its partners knew full well the site was contaminated when they bought it, and that it was zoned for eight floors. And the Ministry of Environment confirmed it is overseeing Honeywell’s continued clean-up of the site. )
Hume has spoken about his plan to firm up zoning in some areas of the city, in order to give more certainty to the community and to developers. In fact, I did a story on this last December (yes, I’m getting a little preoccupied with planning issues), and Hume said then that the idea would be to pre-zone key areas of intensification in the city. It wouldn’t necessarily mean people would be happy – no one really likes change, especially when that change is a condo tower at the end of your street – but at least residents would know what to expect. And developers would know ahead of time how much they’d be allowed to build, and would pay for land accordingly.
But today’s panel was the first time I’ve heard Hume speak to the issue so firmly in public.
Here’s the key part of his statement:
“We believe that community design plans are incredibly important. They are designed to tell you where height is and is not appropriate. And we believe they are not jumping-off points. Once we complete a community design plan, and we zone appropriately to the heights that are designated in the plan, it’s not a jumping-off point for more.
“West Wellington’s a great example. We completed a community design plan, and we spent many hours doing it. And we just received an application from Tega Homes to go to 36 storeys. It’s totally out of keeping with the community design plan. We believe that we have to respect those community design plans. We’re doing them for a purpose, and that purpose is to bring you certainty.
“So I tell you now that when those happen, like Tega Homes who is looking for 36 storeys, the answer is going to be simple: ‘No.’ It’s ‘no’ at 36 storeys, it’s ‘no’ at 30 storeys, it’s ‘no’ at 25 storeys, it’s ‘no’ at 20 storeys.”
Hugh Gorman, a principal with Bridgeport Realty Capital Partners who was on the panel along with Francois Lapointe, the VP of planning at the NCC, actually agreed with Hume. Gorman put it this charming way: “When my kids ask for another cookie, I say, ‘no, there’s no more cookies, you’ve had enough.’ And when a developer comes to you and wants 35 storeys in a zone under a CDP that’s got a lot less than that, I think there’s got to be consistency.”
Gorman said there has to be “balance” on the other side, that when there’s a demand in the community for housing (in particular condos, I imagine), and it’s in compliance with the CDP ”or close to it, you’ve got to stop councillors in that area from exerting undue influence in the process.”
So this discussion is far from over (although it does seem to be at an end for Tega’s hopes of building the city’s tallest condo tower). Hume told the crowd he and Mayor Jim Watson would hold a second planning summit this winter that will focus on a “significant review of just where our official plan is meant to take us.”
The first summit took place in early 2010, after which the city reconvened a design review panel (the old one had quit in disgust). Hume also said that while he understands that “some — maybe all — of you in this room feel that the panel is bureaucratic and its recommendations are unreasonable, unworkable, don’t respect the economic circumstances that you operate in, we understand that and we are open to making changes. But I’m here to tell you, the panel is here to stay.”
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