Ottawa's tallest building one step closer to reality

Despite existing rules that only allow 30-storey buildings at 900 Albert St., the city's planning committee voted seven to two in favour of a development that includes three towers, one of which would be Ottawa's tallest at 65 storeys.

Planning committee voted 7 to 2 Tuesday in favour of a 65-storey building at 900 Albert St.

Designs presented during a city committee meeting on Tuesday, July 10, say 900 Albert St. will be home to slender towers that will serve as an anchor in the growing LeBreton community. (Courtesy GGLO Design)

Despite existing rules that only allow 30-storey buildings at 900 Albert St., the city's planning committee voted seven to two in favour of a development that includes three towers, one of which would be Ottawa's tallest at 65 storeys.

Only councillors Jeff Leiper and Tobi Nussbaum voted against the application. Coun. Riley Brockington was absent.

I'm here to ask whether the community was lied to by the city.- Catherine Boucher , resident

Plan for area ignored

Local residents and the ward councillor, Catherine McKenney, had a number of criticisms of the project across the street from Bayview Station, including that the proposed heights ignore a piece of the city's formal planning policy, called a secondary plan.

That plan was developed through a time-consuming process between city staff, landowners and the community to come up with a blueprint for the Bayview area, and it called for maximum heights of 30 storeys.

"I'm here to ask whether the community was lied to by the city," resident Catherine Boucher told members of the planning committee on Tuesday morning.

"Was there a wink-wink that I missed someplace?"

Coun. Catherine McKenney says the 65-storey building goes against the city's own rules that set a maximum of 30 storeys for the area, and adds the plan for the ground level won't make for a good neighbourhood. 0:46

Boucher had been involved in the process that led to the secondary plan, and said that "when you ask people in a community to spend countless hours thinking really deeply about how they want their community to grow" and then ignore the plan at the first application, residents need to "ask the city why you bothered to participate."

She said she wants to hear from Mayor Jim Watson on this issue, as he promised the plans would be followed. And Boucher said the community association for the area hasn't ruled out appealing the decision, which must still be approved by council.

Ground-level issues

The other major criticism of the development revolves around what's planned for the ground floor. In particular, there are four loading bays on the south side of the development, although all the servicing — such as truck unloading — will take place inside the building.

Still, the loading bays on the south side might segregate the tenants of the development from the rest of the growing community to the south.

"We have maybe 2,000 new neighbours in this development, and that's a good thing," said McKenney. "I want 2,000 new neighbours. But I want to meet them. I want my kids to play with their kids. As we all age, I want to hang out with them. We are never, ever going to meet them. We're never going to bring our kids to a loading zone."

McKenney continued her impassioned argument to build communities that integrate with each other.

"It's OK to put this amount of density along this corridor," she said. "We have got to consider how we are going to live together, how we are going to take swimming lessons together. Where are we going to hang out, what are we going to do?"

Resident Catherine Boucher speaks against the plan for 900 Albert St., which includes a 65-storey tower. (Joanne Chianello/CBC )

Community benefits too low, some say

Some criticized the amount and character of the benefits the developer is contributing to the community under rules set out in section 37 of Ontario's planning act. These sorts of benefits are triggered when a developer asks for a 25 per cent or more increase in density from the permitted zoning.

For this development, Trinity and the city have landed on a total of $975,000 in cash, which critics believe is too little considering the heights being requested.

About $525,000 would go toward an affordable housing fund. Another $450,000 would go toward a pedestrian and cycling bridge on the western edge of the development that would take people over the Trillium Line tracks.

But that bridge would cost $10 million to $15 million, according to McKenney. She said she'll be moving a motion at council Wednesday to redirect the $450,000 to community gardens and parks.

McKenney also plans to move a number of other motions, including one that compels the developer to earmark 25 per cent of the 1,200 units as affordable housing.