Southminster at a crossroads

170410 Southminster Meeting.indd
The proposed redevelopment of Southminster United Church, by Windmill Development Group. Bank Street is upper right. Photo: Courtesy of City of Ottawa

by Laura Urrechaga

Southminster United Church, the beautiful stone building that has graced the Old Ottawa South end of the Bank Street Bridge since 1932, is about to undergo tremendous change. The church, along with the adjacent Bank Street Bridge and the Rideau Canal, is an important visual cultural heritage element defining the entrance to the Old Ottawa South community. It is a showpiece, a neighbourhood-defining landmark within the urban fabric.

The church plays another equally important role. As a vital contributor to the community it is also woven into our social fabric. In addition to traditional church services, it hosts musicians, writers, scouts and after-school children programs that have been enjoyed by generations.

Still, as with many churches, financial pressures led the congregation to search for additional revenues. After weighing options, Southminster decided to sell and then sever part of its property facing the Rideau Canal, all of its property facing Galt Street and some of its property facing Aylmer Avenue.

The existing 2.5-storey annex building facing Galt will be demolished to make way for a new development. Most church programs that can be accommodated within a newly renovated basement, part of the proposed development, will be retained. The 17 existing church-dedicated parking spaces on Galt are part of the sale property and will be eliminated.

The buyer of the property is a developer, Windmill Development Group, who, with their architect Barry Hobin & Associates, developed a design proposal. A development application for rezoning was filed in May proposing a six-storey condominium facing the Rideau Canal and Galt Street and four three-storey townhouses facing Aylmer Avenue.

If the proposal is approved as submitted, the church’s existing Minor Institutional Zoning, which has a maximum height limit of 11 metres, would be changed to a Traditional Mainstreet zoning so that a six-storey, 19-metre-plus high development can be built. According to the application, the height of this proposed condominium will be higher than the church and will sit in the foreground of the church on the canal side.

 The longest facade of the proposed condo faces the Rideau Canal and abuts the heritage overlay that extends over most properties along both Colonel By and Queen Elizabeth between the Bronson and Bank Street bridges. The zoning height limit on the heritage overlay properties next to the proposed condo is nine metres.

The condo rendering shows materials and details echoing the style of the church on the two lower floors, a transitional third floor of mixed materials, and glass facades on floors four, five and six. The townhouse vocabulary reflects the church architecture although the application is unclear as to whether these will meet the 11-metre height limit on neighbouring Aylmer Avenue properties. The driveway access to the condo’s underground parking will be from Galt Street, aligning with the church’s rose window. The parking garage will contain 32 dedicated parking spaces for the owners of the 14 condo units and one visitor space.

Trees on the NCC property abutting the development are a consideration. As they are mostly bare for seven to eight months of the year, they will do little to hide the top three floors of glass panels facing the Rideau Canal. The root systems of the large mature trees nearest the property line will suffer during construction of the underground garage, which extends to the property line. Those not slated for removal may die.

Most neighbours support the church development as necessary to its continuing role in our community, but many favour a lower height limit that will keep the beautiful church building as the dominant visual element on the hill and protect important visual heritage views along the Bank Street Bridge, on Queen Elizabeth, on Colonel By and along the UNESCO World Heritage Rideau Canal.

Development Watch Southminster is a city-registered community group that proposes limiting the height of the development to the current maximum Traditional Mainstreet height limit of 15 metres on nearby Old Ottawa South Bank Street properties. At 15 metres high, the development would still be taller than the surrounding residential property height limits of nine and 11 metres, but its impact on the Canal viewscapes and on the church building itself would be somewhat mitigated.

Our individual letters to the city planners in charge of the file, encouraging a development that meets the nearby TM2 H(15) maximum of 15 metres, are needed to protect the visual heritage value of the church, of the Rideau Canal and of the lovely view on the bridge that connects us.

Please express your views on this development by contacting the people at the city working on this important project. They are working hard to protect and enhance our city’s urban environment but they need to hear our opinions in order to include them in the decision-making process. Please reach out to:

Allison Hamlin, Lead Planner:; LeeAnn Snedden, Director of Planning Services:; NCC Lead Planner Sandra Candow:; Capital Ward Councillor David Chernushenko:; Councillor Jan Harder, Planning Committee Chair:

Letters should be sent to: City Hall, 110 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa, ON K1P 1J1.

You can reach Development Watch Southminster at

Laura Urrechaga, a Florida registered architect, has lived in Old Ottawa South for 25 years and is a member of Development Watch Southminster.


Southminster redevelopment – what’s in the black box?

by  Susan Brousseau

Big Black Box - PagesThe Southminster United Church in Old Ottawa South is selling a parcel of land along Aylmer Avenue, Galt Street and the Rideau Canal to Windmill Developments. Windmill plans to demolish the addition on the Galt side of the Church and build four townhouses facing Aylmer Avenue and a 6-storey building facing the Rideau Canal, comprised of 14 deluxe condominiums. The upper storeys of the condominiums will step back from Galt Street like layers of a wedding cake.

Windmill has submitted an application to the city on behalf of the church requesting a change to the zoning from Institutional (I1) to Traditional Main Street (TM) for the entire church property. Each storey of the six-storey condominium will be approximately three metres in height. There will also be a mechanical level on top of the condo for elevators and such and the entire six-storey-plus structure will sit on a podium that is high enough to allow access to the underground garage. Egads!

Old Ottawa South residents are sympathetic to the church’s financial situation and are not opposed to the church selling its land to a developer. Most residents are pleased with architect Barry Hobin’s design of the townhouses and the two lower levels of the condominium as they conform well with the streetscape and church exterior. What most residents do oppose is the height of the proposed building and the effect this will have on the views from the Rideau Canal (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the Bank Street Bridge, as the church has both a visual and cultural heritage and is a landmark and gateway to the neighbourhood.

It is unfortunate, but the Old Ottawa South Community Association (OSCA, our community association) thus far has taken the position that they are here only to facilitate conversation between Windmill and the community. And our Ward Councillor, David Chernushenko, has not taken a proactive role in opposing the development as proposed. Hence, residents have formed their own community group, Development Watch Southminster (DWS), which is officially registered with the city. Representatives of DWS have met with the lead planner at the city and with Parks Canada and have been in communication with the NCC and Windmill representatives. As well, residents have attended two Windmill presentations. And yet, as of the writing of this article, important aspects of this development remain a black box.

DWS has repeatedly asked Windmill to provide the height of the condominium as it compares to the height of the mid-point of the gable end of the church’s peaked roof, as is usual for zoning purposes and defined as such in the zoning bylaw. The condominium will be higher than the church roof. Windmill provides only sea-level measurements of the top of the church roof and condominium, excluding the mechanical level. These measurements make it difficult to compare building heights to bylaw specifications. Why are they resisting such a simple and normal request? What’s in the box?

Residents are well aware of the importance of the heritage overlay that exists along both sides of the canal between the Bronson and Bank Street bridges. Many worked hard with the city to create this overlay with the express purpose of preserving the views along this stretch of the canal. The church property was not included in the overlay, as all parties felt the church was, well…eternal. Regardless, the intent was to acknowledge the importance of this view and to preserve it. Windmill knows this.

Windmill has provided the city with views of all sides, except the north side as viewed from the Canal and the top of the bridge. DWS has requested that Windmill provide such a rendering, preferably in winter when the trees are bare. Will mature NCC trees survive construction, as the wall of the underground garage would abut the north property line? Are there to be balconies on the north side or an uninterrupted wall of glass? How much of the church would remain visible? What effect will this modern glass structure have on the landscape and the heritage overlay? Without a rendering, the box remains black.

Residents are opposing the proposed height of the condominium. It should be no higher than the 15 metres stipulated in the zoning bylaws for TM2 along this section of Bank Street. Please, residents of the Glebe, send an email (with subject line: Application No. D02-02-17-0044) to one or more officials (see previous page) and make your voices heard alongside ours.

If you’d like to stay informed, email

Susan Brousseau is communications coordinator on behalf of Development Watch Southminster.

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