Fifth Avenue Court redevelopment
By Carol MacLeod
Minto detailed development plans for property between Fourth and Fifth avenues on Bank Street, at a public meeting on Tuesday, January 16. The proposal is to retain the two-storey commercial brick row that faces Bank Street and to demolish the two-storey commercial building behind this row, replacing it with residential condo units. No commercial space will be retained where Fifth Avenue Court now stands.
The Glebe Community Association organized the meeting so that Minto, the developer, could present its proposal and answer questions. The city’s new deadline for submission of comments is February 14. The meeting hall was packed, an indication of community interest in this project. About 200 people attended, both from the community and from businesses in Fifth Avenue Court and on Bank Street.
Minto representatives spoke to the history of Fifth Avenue Court, justifying the eight-storey proposed condo option and defending the architectural style. Minto considered two broad options, demolition of all buildings including the Bank Street row or redevelopment of just the courtyard part of the site. The city discouraged demolition of the row on Bank because it intends to add the row to its Heritage Registry, which should be released spring 2018. Minto proposes to retain the familiar red brick row on Bank in recognition of this turn-of-the-20th-century commercial row being the last example of its kind and a cornerstone of the Bank Street commercial strip.
Minto staff said that the courtyard has been underused in recent years although this was not so originally. Minto indicated that the Bank Street row of businesses carried the costs of the courtyard part even though several units sat empty for well over a year. The building is envisioned as condos for empty nesters and singles, which could add density to the Glebe. The architectural firm, which also designed Minto Beechwood in New Edinburgh, a development much contested in that community, defended its use of materials and placement of mechanicals.
It was not possible to take all the questions. A neighbour summarized many of the proposal’s significant issues in a short slide presentation. Major concerns are the impact of the eight-storey height plus mechanicals and the possible domino effect on Bank Street. Others questioned the fairness of considering so much height, given that the McKale property (kitty corner to this lot) is being redeveloped as a four-storey building within zoning by-laws. Many people are very concerned about the loss of the public courtyard, professional offices and services to the community. Minto undertook to relocate tenants in nearby Minto properties.
Some wondered about the social benefit of the development. There was concern about the community context, lack of compatibility with the surrounding 2- to 3-storey residential properties, loss of sunlight, loss of green space and the failure to use brick that characterized the Bank Street row and houses on Fourth and Fifth. Many thought the development will undermine the character of the diverse, family-oriented community.
One person wondered whether replacing a demolished courtyard with this development would enable Minto to lower rents on Bank Street. Minto proposes a two-level parking garage with 110 spaces exclusively for condo owners and 11 outdoor spaces for visitors and commercial tenants to replace the current 65 underground and 15 outdoor spaces. People wondered where patrons of the commercial tenants on Bank Street, which currently includes several restaurants, would park. Some people raised traffic safety concerns – that Fifth Avenue is a fire route, that pedestrians will have to cross three lanes at the garage entrance to Fifth and that this development will increase traffic in an area already strained by Lansdowne traffic and parking demands.
The Glebe Community Association passed a motion at its January 23 meeting that asked that the building respect the current height of 15 metres and provide greater building stepbacks along the avenues so that the building is more pedestrian friendly and in keeping with existing scale. The GCA also requested retention of commercial space at ground level to retain existing commercial tenants.
If you wish to comment to the city on Minto’s proposal, you should do so as close to February 14 as possible. Send comments to Kersten.email@example.com. Copy Councillor Chernushenko (firstname.lastname@example.org) the Mayor (email@example.com) the Chair of the Planning Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org) and as many of the members of the planning committee as you can manage. You should clearly state your support or opposition to the proposal, i.e. “I oppose/support this development because …” Watch the Glebe Community Association website, www.glebeca.ca for updates on this proposal.
Carol MacLeod is chair of the Glebe Community Association Membership Committee, former co-chair of its Environment Committee, an avid gardener and nature enthusiast, and a community activist.
GCA opposes eight-storey condo development
by Carolyn Mackenzie
Residents and tenants of the current building raised significant concerns at a public meeting held on January 16, 2018. The Glebe Community Association (GCA) submits that the proposal does not fall within the intent of the city’s Official Plan. The GCA has therefore requested that the city secure modifications to this proposal, as follows:
Building height should be restricted to the current 15-metre cap, in keeping with the character of the neighbourhood.
The building should include a significant two-storey podium along Fourth and Fifth avenues, as recommended by the city’s own Urban Design Review Panel in January. The building should be stepped back sufficiently to establish a strong podium that reflects the scale of the existing pedestrian realm exhibited by the heritage brick row facing Bank Street, as well as the homes and other built forms along the avenues.
The materiality of the building exterior should more strongly reflect and align with the character of the neighbourhood.
Further, the GCA strongly supports the intent of the Traditional Mainstreet (TM) zone to recognize BIAs (Business Improvement Areas) as primary business or shopping areas. Thus, the GCA strongly supports the inclusion of ground-floor commercial in the proposed building to accommodate existing businesses.
Further, the GCA requests that the city make a firm commitment to undertaking development of a Secondary Planning or equivalent for Bank Street as soon as possible so that both a vision and rules around development of Bank Street can be clarified. In the interim and until such a plan exists, the city should agree not to give permission for additional height or massing above that found in the current TM zoning for Bank Street.
Please consider supporting the petition to reinforce the comments above by going to www.glebeca.ca.
Carolyn Mackenzie is chair of the Glebe Community Association Planning Committee.
Fifth Avenue Court redevelopment – an opinion
by Chris Leggett
This article is in response to the article in the January 12, 2018 issue of the Glebe Report on the redevelopment of Fifth Avenue Court to include condos.
There are some important things to consider to ensure interesting and dynamic streetscapes. When buildings are too high, canyons and wind tunnels develop. According to all enlightened cityscape planners (see below), Minto’s project is too high by several storeys.
From an urban design point of view, a great streetscape relies on a number of elements. Visual elements include building façades, building heights, sidewalk widths, protected sidewalks, street furniture, street lighting, planting, sculpture, roadways, parking and open spaces. Some of this has been carried out in the recent revitalization of Bank Street; however, there is more to do. As it happens, height-to-width ratio (HTW) is critical in determining a streetscape that is visually right and more critically “feels” right.
To give a sense of visual enclosure to the street, the buildings along the street should create the sidewalls of an “outdoor room.” Reid Erwing states in a study what we all intuitively know: “People like rooms; they relate to them daily in their homes and work places and feel comfortable and secure in them.” He further states, “Visual enclosure of streetscapes occurs when bordering buildings are tall enough in relation to street width to block most of a pedestrian’s cone of vision…The walls of the room are the vertical elements that bound and shape the street spaces….”
So instead of simply stating NIMBY outrage, what is a reasonable, defensible argument for the height of the buildings along any given street? Experts agree that an ideal HTW on community-based commercial streets should be a ratio of between 1:1 and 1:2. (See Jacobs, Allen, “Great Streets;” Walter Chambers, “Great Streets San Diego;” and Duane, Andes, “A Framework for Walkable Streets Urban Street Design,” to name a few.)
The street and sidewalks are approximately 60 feet wide in the Glebe. Currently, most of the buildings along Bank Street are one and two storeys or approximately 10 to 20 feet high. This puts the HTW at 1:1/4 and 1:1/3, and has the feel of an early western frontier town – the edges of the “room” do not provide a feeling of enclosure. The HTW ratio of 1:1 to 1:2 would result in building heights of 4 to 6 stories maximum in height. Wander the great inner cities of London, Paris or Rome and you will see and, most critically, sense how the right scale feels. As previously noted when you go higher, canyons and wind tunnels occur – think of Westboro between Churchill and Island Park Drive and Marché Way in the new Lansdowne. Those are cruel environments at this time of year and simply unpleasant the remainder of the time.
There are at least three other considerations that are essential to ensuring a successful urban project.
Right to light. Sunlight studies should be mandatory for all new projects. No new project should be allowed to diminish existing light to a neighbour. Currently, the city can ask for a study if there is enough concern but there is no clear policy as to what is done with the study. Developers often suggest that stepping the building back from mainstreet will mitigate the canyon effect. It is a worthwhile concept, but only if the properties abutting the rear of the project are not presented with a “piled up” towering wall and are not deprived of previously enjoyed light.
Establish a design committee. The concept of controlling aesthetics is not easy, but it is necessary. It cannot simply be left to developers to choose a designer whose low fees may be the only criterion for selection (or is from out of town and has no concern for the neighbourhood or community). The City of Ottawa had such a committee a few years ago but during a budget squeeze in the 1990s and pressure from developers, it was eliminated. Having such a committee forces developers and builders to give serious attention to architecture.
Public meetings should be mandatory for inner-city projects. Currently, developers may attend meetings out of the kindness of their hearts, not because they are obliged to.
Many people, businesses and streets will be impacted by a new project such as the Fifth Avenue Court condos. It is critical that the community be made fully aware of and be fully involved in determining how their neighbourhood will be affected by this new project.
Chris Leggett, OAA, MRAIC, is principal architect of the firm Christopher A. Leggett Architect Inc. and has resided and practised architecture in the Glebe for over 30 years.
Fifth Avenue Cart before the horse?
by Joseph Federico
“Some regard private enterprise as if it were a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look upon it as a cow that they can milk. Not enough people see it as a healthy horse, pulling a sturdy wagon.” – Sir Winston Churchill
I’m pretty sure that wagons have drivers. And if private enterprise is the horse and we are the wagon then the driver must be government. We need vision and we need direction to move our neighbourhoods, communities and city forward. This is what the Official Plan, zoning and bylaws should deliver – consistently. Without a strong driver, horses are apt to take you in whichever direction suits them best.
With respect to development in our well-established residential areas, the very first sentence of the City of Ottawa’s Streetscape Character Analysis Manual states: “In the Mature Neighbourhoods, ‘Your street gives you your rules.’” The first paragraph is all in extra large font, and in a different colour. I’m assuming this is to make the point unmistakably that “Your street gives you your rules.”
The rules of the mature neighbourhood do not apply to commercial properties. That said, all streets still give you your rules through zoning. Bank Street, as it courses through Old Ottawa South, the Glebe and Centretown, is zoned Traditional Mainstreet. Traditional Mainstreets are those that were developed primarily before 1945. According to the city, on Traditional Mainstreets, “the Official Plan supports compatible development that respects the character of the street and adjacent areas … with building heights between four and six storeys.”
This all seems pretty straightforward. Yet time and time again communities are challenged by proposals that seek to develop outside the zoning. And time and time again bold proposals become the starting point for negotiations and concessions that result in final outcomes that are still outside the zoning. Residents and communities are made to feel that they won something but they often walk away with wins that feel hollow.
Successful, winning development must be community-inspired so that it creates dynamic economies and livable neighbourhoods. Planning policies aim for greater intensification within our cities, but does this simply mean more people? Jane Jacobs would argue that successful intensification is more than just people, it’s people who stay a long time. Long-term residents become a part of the community. They live in the community, they use the sidewalks, they shop in the community. By their very presence, they make communities safer. They support vibrant, diverse and successful economies that make cities great.
Is it realistic to think that 350 to 400 square foot units will attract long-term residents? Wall to wall that is the equivalent of a 20 by 20 space and it won’t be cheap. This is a model that might work and even be necessary in massive cities like Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York and maybe even Toronto. But Ottawa is none of these places.
There are many things that one can point out about the Fifth Avenue Court redevelopment proposal, some supportive and others not. As John Ruskin said, “walls that have long been washed with the passing waves of humanity” must be preserved. The original brick building speaks to us through its very presence. Someday it will tell our story, too. And, in consideration of the Traditional Mainstreet passing through a mature neighbourhood, it is essential that the zoning, especially as it pertains to built form, be adhered to. Change is inevitable but it should always be respectful.
Developers and residents must be partners in enduring development. Our buildings may not last forever but we have to live with them for a very long time and we inevitably pass them on to future generations. It is essential that we work together to get them right every time so that everyone profits, whether it be financially or socially.
Joseph Federico, a Glebe resident for 20 years, has been engaged in community issues for a decade. He is a physiotherapy clinic owner. Follow him on Twitter @Joe_Ottawa.