Reflections from Old Ottawa East

Beckwith Road at Main Street in Old Ottawa East. PHOTO: JOCK SMITH

By Phyllis Odenbach Sutton

In an effort to intensify the links between our two communities, particularly in light of the 2019 opening of the Flora footbridge between Old Ottawa East (OOE) and the Glebe, our community associations have agreed to attend each other’s meetings on an occasional basis.

It was in this context that I had the great pleasure of attending the November Glebe Community Association board meeting at which I provided the OOE Community Association’s perspectives on our Community Design Plan (CDP) and Secondary Plan (SP).

First, a bit of background information for readers: our original vision and themes arose from a 2005 community survey; the final versions of the plans were approved by Ottawa City Council on August 25, 2011. These documents include goals for land use and design, intensification targets, affordable housing and green space. The city wanted to look at just Main Street itself, but the community pushed for a broader scope so that the plans cover the entire Old Ottawa East area. Residents accepted a broad scope because they saw that there would be a lot more people (about 2,000) moving into the community, and this would give a “critical mass” to support amenities like a grocery store and an enhanced community centre.

When we look back and consider what went well in the development of these plans, we have concluded that it takes a lot of time to get the plans right. The process was not rushed, and the community had to push back numerous times to get acceptable provisions included. I recognize, however, that time may be more limited for the development of a secondary plan in the Glebe in today’s development environment.

We also benefitted from some unique circumstances. The Sisters of the Sacred Heart and the Oblate Fathers wanted to leave a legacy, and as a result accepted more modest heights for the redevelopment of their lands, ranging from four storeys at the perimeters to nine storeys in the middle of the site.

The community side had excellent professionals helping, and we were able to incorporate a number of environmental provisions, developed in large part through initiatives undertaken by Sustainable Living Ottawa East, the environment committee of the community association. The developers more or less bought into the plan as well; they realized, I think, that the stronger and more sustainable the community, the more attractive it would be to new residents.

So how are we judging the actions undertaken to date on our CDP and SP?

I would like to focus on two key areas: Main Street and the new developments on the former institutional properties.


Our SP included the idea of reducing the width of the roadway of Main Street and a transfer of the excess to sidewalks. My view is that the “complete street” design is a big success. The wider sidewalks, raised bike paths, parking bays available even in rush hour and new left turn lanes have improved Main Street as a neighbourhood street, rather than a thoroughfare for commuters. The recently completed Main Street Road Safety Audit has identified some problem areas and safety risks, but hopefully these can be rectified soon.


I would also like to discuss our experience to date with the redevelopment of the institutional lands. The two major companies involved in projects, Domicile (The Corners on Main) and Regional (Greystone Village), have been generally respecting the CDP. We do have some concerns, however, in terms of the lack of progress on affordable housing targets, the recent minor variance and rezoning requests with respect to height for several components of Greystone Village, and the request to allow office use rather than just retail and commercial space on the side streets of The Corners on Main.

We are concerned about the precedent- setting nature of these applications, and we are also upset that there have been requests for rezoning from plans approved only a few years ago; this can make it very difficult for recent purchasers of properties who are now facing the possibility of higher buildings beside them and the consequent loss of sunlight and views. We have also been saddened to see the loss of many large trees as development proceeds.

A final assessment is still years away. But without an approved CDP/SP in place, our ability to respond to development proposals would, in all likelihood, have been more fraught and time-consuming.

Phyllis Odenbach Sutton is president of the Ottawa East Community Association.

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