By Carolyn Mackenzie
After three years, the Bank Street Height and Character Study finally made it to Planning Committee where it gained unanimous approval on November 25. Hooray! Next stop is consideration by full City Council.
The Glebe Community Association (GCA) thanks the City for working closely with the GCA, other stakeholders and residents on this plan. In the summer of 2018, after the completion of Lansdowne and approval of a couple of significant developments that are currently under construction on Bank Street, the City agreed the time was right – the Glebe was a target for development and intensification, and a plan to guide its future was needed. The result is a plan that includes policies on height and massing that are more tailored to the unique characteristics of Bank Street as well as adjacent lots on Chamberlain and Isabella.
The plan seeks a balance – adding density in some areas to contribute to a more vibrant Bank Street while also including measures to “sculpt” buildings in a way that should better maintain the pedestrian scale and street character. It puts in place policies to improve how mixed-use buildings (commercial on the first floor, office or residential above) transition to the residential properties that they back onto.
It also establishes policies for the street itself. Bank Street is categorzed as a “Traditional Mainstreet.” Currently, most of Bank Street has a “right of way” (public land used for sidewalks, roads, bike lanes, landscaping, etc.) of roughly 18.5 metres. This is among the narrowest of Traditional Mainstreets in the city. This plan will allow the city to take an additional 1 to 1.25 metres in front of any new redevelopment to expand the right of way, making room for wider sidewalks or other public uses. The plan also calls for the city-owned parking lot at the corner of Chamberlain and Bank Street to be used for affordable housing. The GCA will continue to work with the City to find solutions for how to make this happen.
The Model Helped
Many residents visited the GCA’s presentation of a physical model of the City’s recommendations in the fall of 2020. The model was built by GCA volunteer Richard Corbeil. I found it very useful to visualize what Bank Street could look like in the future based on the City’s recommendations, and I believe others did as well. It provided a much more effective basis for residents to give informed feedback to the City, and possibly even for city planners to “see” what the result of their recommendations might eventually look like. So a big shout out of thanks to Corbeil for this. The City should consider greater use of modelling – if not a physical model, then greater use of visual modelling tools – to engage with residents more effectively in future.
To be clear, the community didn’t get everything it asked for: for example, stronger measures to improve the transition from mixed-use buildings to residential areas and building stepbacks at three storeys to better establish human scale. But overall, I think we settled on a plan that will enhance Bank Street for Glebe residents and for all Ottawa residents who work, shop or play here.
It is our hope that adoption of this plan, with clearer rules that are the result of consultation with residents, owners of land on Bank Street, the Glebe BIA and other stakeholders, will ease the way for good development of underutilized land, including a number of surface parking lots fronting the street – but only if the city is prepared to stand behind it in future.
The GCA would like to thank city planners Alain Miguelez and lead Peter Giles for their effort and commitment to this study, as well as the thoughtful and useful input of Councillor Shawn Menard and his staff all along the way.
Carolyn Mackenzie is chair of the Glebe Community Association Planning Committee and one of the chief community crafters of the plan.