‘Skylink’ to top landmark Centretown towers
Twin, 27-storey skyscrapers first to capitalize on tall buildings clause
Ottawa East News, Apr 23, 2014
By Laura Mueller
Two curved towers attached by Ottawa’s highest pedestrian walkway could be coming to O'Connor Street.
Mastercraft Starwood, developer of the “Soho” condo buildings, is proposing the first “landmark” building since the creation of a policy allowing buildings up to 27 storeys in Centretown.
There are only three sites in the neighbourhood that could qualify for extra height in exchange for amped-up design standards and a public park covering 40 per cent of the lot. Mastercraft Starwood’s 0.4-hectare site at 267 O’Connor St. bounded by Gilmour and McLaren streets is one of them.
Architect Gianni Ria from Page and Steele in Toronto has designed two, 27-storey concave glass towers with a small, 750-square metre floorplate.
The towers will rise in two phases: the first at the northeast corner of the site, which is currently a surface parking lot. The tower would sit atop a curved, three-storey podium that’s 1.5 metres wider than the tower. Four townhomes facing Gilmour Street are planning for that podium.
The second tower would take the place of the existing medical building at the northwest corner of the site. Its identical podium would house a single, 370-square metre retail unit. The three-storey podium levels will be clad in limestone to help the buildings fit into Centretown’s heritage streetscape, Ria said.
Once the second tower is built – within the next decade, Ria said, a “skylink” pedestrian walkway will be added to connect the two towers.
“We were looking for iconic buildings,” Ria said.
The two towers would hold a total of 500 residential units.
The city’s policy also calls for interesting articulation at the top of the building and Ria said he has designed a unique topper to house the mechanical functions, as well as spiraling balconies that culminate at the top of the towers.
But the key feature isn’t the towers – it’s the promise of new “open space” – a public park/square at the corner of O’Connor and Gilmour. The rare opportunity to create new gathering spaces and to green Centretown was what drove the creation of the controversial tall landmark buildings clause contained in the community design plan for Centretown.
The issue divided residents when a final version of the plan was debated in 2013. The Centretown Citizens Community Association board even took the unheard-of step of partnering with representatives from the development industry – led by FoTenn consultants partner Ted Fobert – to draft an alternate policy aimed at creating green spaces downtown.
Now, Fobert is guiding Mastercraft Starwood through the development application process for its landmark building.
The park would be built as part of the first phase of development and take up 40 per cent of the lot, as the city’s policy requires, Fobert said. That would eventually be reduced to 38 per cent when the second tower is built. There would be views from the park to art inside the open glass lobby of the first building, Fobert said.
Where Fobert and the city are at odds is the ownership of the park. A last-minute change to the tall landmark buildings clause requires the open space to be deeded to the city, but Mastercraft Starwood would rather keep ownership of the parkland and pay to maintain the landscaping. The developer also wants to build a four-level parking garage under the park, which might not jive with the city’s ownership of that piece of land, Fobert said.
Mastercraft Starwood is proposing to give the city a permanent surface access agreement as a compromise to make the park “public.”
Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes wasn’t enthused about the half measure. During an April 15 Centretown Citizens Community Association meeting, she bemoaned the proposal’s failure to meet both the 40 per cent provision for public open space and the 20-metre tower separation distance.
The policy calls for the buildings to be separated by 20 metres and even with the curved, concave design, the two towers are only between 15 and 18 metres apart, Fobert said.
“I think it comes very close to meeting the intent of the tall landmark buildings clause,” he said. “It will be a very distinctive building in the skyline.”
The developer also wants to make sure the park, which is being designed by noted Montreal landscape designer Claude Cormier, is well-maintained, Ria said.
Cormier is also designing a unique feature for a hard-surface parking, drop-off and pedestrian area. They’re calling it the “carpet” and the mosaic of hard materials will resemble something similar Cormier designed for the entrance to the Four Seasons hotel in Toronto.
“It’s pretty cool,” Fobert said. “It’s a parking areas in association with the open space. The vehicular space becomes a patterned material ... it pedestrianizes it and creates an open space.”
There would be room for about four visitor vehicles in unmarked spaces on the “carpet,” Ria said.
The developer is prepping to submit the rezoning application to the city in the next couple of weeks, Fobert said.
Given the controversy when the tall landmark buildings clause was drafted, Fobert said there is bound to be “mixed reaction” to the proposal. He anticipates more Centretown residents will be opposed to the two towers than in favour.
Representatives from Mastercraft Starwood’s team are expected to present the proposal to the Centretown community association’s planning committee in early May.