Claridge to unveil expanded LeBreton Flats condo vision tonight

Claridge Homes wants to double the planned number of homes on the eastern part of LeBreton Flats that it bought more than a decade ago, including a proposal to build a 55-storey building on Booth Street. There's an open house to see the plans today at the Bronson Centre, starting at 3 p.m.

'East Flats' development calls for 1,650 units, including a 55-storey condo tower

Claridge Homes wants to build a total of 1,650 residential units on the portion of LeBreton Flats it purchased more than a decade ago. That includes three tall buildings that would have ground-level entrances on the east side of Booth Street. (Provided)

Claridge Homes wants to double the planned number of homes on the eastern part of LeBreton Flats that it bought more than a decade ago, including a proposal to build a 55-storey building on Booth Street. 

Highlights of the new plan include:

  • 1,650 residential units, as opposed to the 850 units in the previous plan.
  • Four new towers ranging from 25 to 55 storeys.
  • Affordable, senior and rental housing units.
  • Commercial retail, including a grocery store, in the podiums of towers.
  • New city park system that incorporates the aqueduct and five historical bridges.

The developer — helped by Toronto-based planning and design firm Urban Strategies — will unveil its new plans for the land at an open house Monday between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Bronson Centre.

The public is encouraged to drop by, look at the plan and artists' renderings, and ask questions of company officials. A pamphlet that went to homes in the area invites residents to "tell us what you think of the master plan before we submit it to the City of Ottawa for approval."

Claridge officials said the plans are far from complete, and that they are in discussions with the National Capital Commission and the city about how to develop the remaining open land on the eastern part of LeBreton. The rezoning and layout of the area, which could include five city-scale blocks, need approval from both bodies.

So far, Claridge has built three mid-rise condo buildings on the eastern portion of LeBreton. (Joanne Chianello/CBC)

Updating historical plan

Claridge purchased the 4.4 hectares of LeBreton Flats that lies east of Booth, just north of Albert Street, from the NCC for $8 million back in 2005. The process was somewhat controversial and saw the only other two bidders for the land drop out before the final deadline. 

The so-called "master plan" for the property had been in the works internally at the NCC for years before the sale. Critics at the time said the NCC was too prescriptive about what should be built on the land that had been a working-class neighbourhood 50 years earlier.

At the time, the plan called for 850 homes grouped around inner courtyards. Claridge also proposed building 197 affordable rental units, all by 2020.

Since then, a total of 500 homes have been constructed in three mid-rise condo buildings. The first one — a yellow-brick, unadorned 13-storey building visible from the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway — was not well-received by the general public.

We're going to look at three years' worth of work we've been doing to re-imagine what we're calling "The East Flats."- George Dark, Urban Strategies

Mayor Jim Watson once referred to the buildings as the "ugly condos" on LeBreton Flats.

In the last few years, Claridge has been working on an updated plan for the remaining land, arguing for a much higher density because it's walking distance from the new Confederation Line's Pimisi Station.

Back when the developer inked its deal with the NCC, not only was there no LRT line there, there wasn't even a plan for one. Now, the city has a policy to "maximize density around transit stations" and has put in place so-called "transit-oriented development" plans for all stations except Pimisi. 

Councillor encouraged by plans

"On Monday, we're going to look at three years' worth of work we've been doing to re-imagine what we're calling 'The East Flats'," said George Dark, a partner at Urban Strategies.

"The original master plan on this is now probably over 20 years old, but also, when the original master plan was done, there wasn't an LRT station right there … And so, this particular piece of land needs to be updated to meet the aspirations of the city."

Claridge's plans include a park system that would incorporate five historic bridges. However, it's still unclear who would pay for the park.

As well as increasing the density of the site, the plan calls for cycling and pedestrian walkways that would help residents get around the new neighbourhood — and possibly help people get from Pimisi Station to the new central library, which is being proposed for a piece of city-owned property adjacent to the Claridge lands.

"There won't just be a condominium neighbourhood," said Dark. "It will have condominiums, yes, but it will also have seniors' housing, it'll have affordable housing, it'll have rental housing. We're looking at how we can supply housing in what we're calling 'west downtown' for families, as well."

The plan also calls for retail on the site and Claridge officials have said they are specifically looking to attract a grocer to the area. And there's a wider array of uses being planned, including rental and seniors' residences, and affordable housing.

"I'm encouraged by the plans," said Coun. Catherine McKenney, who represents the area. "I think that if what we're seeing here is implemented, it certainly would be great. They're looking at establishing a complete neighbourhood … where people will be able to spend their day. They'll have a grocery store, there will be the amenities people need to be able to stay in their neighbourhood." 

McKenney also gave a shout-out to the streetscape plans, especially on Booth. The Claridge plans call for three tall buildings to have entrances on Booth, which McKenney said will help provide "an active frontage" on the currently vacant, elevated street.

Not a done deal

The early confidence in the project does come with caveats, and some unanswered questions.

It's unknown how many affordable housing units would be required on the site, and what those units would look like.

According to a news statement announcing the original land deal, "an NCC agreement with the City of Ottawa requires 25 per cent affordable housing on the site, geared to households in the 20th, 30th and 40th percentile of income levels."

Claridge has yet to build any of the proposed 197 affordable rental units, as those homes were to be constructed right on Booth — the part of the property that has yet to be developed.

The developer still plans to build some affordable housing on Booth. But now that Claridge is looking to building almost double the number of units, will it also have to double the number of affordable rental units in the development? 

Or will Claridge be looking at another mix of housing — for example, 200 affordable rental units plus other types of housing that meets the spirit of the original agreement that called for a quarter of the housing to be affordable for folks at different income levels?

These are the sorts of details that will be revealed Monday night.

And there's also the issue of the proposed park system. Designed to incorporate five bridges that date back to the mid-1800s, it's a particularly charming part of the plan. Claridge put aside the land, as required by a city parkland policy, but it's unclear who would actually pay to build the park, which would eventually be operated by the city.

Shadow concerns over 55-storey tower

And the proposed 55 storeys for one of the buildings will likely raise some eyebrows.

"Everybody seems to be rushing to build 50-plus-storey buildings," said McKenney, calling the height "significant." 

She said that while "height in itself isn't a bad thing," she's concerned about potential shadows that such a tall building would cast over the public spaces in the development.

'Everybody seems to be rushing to build 50-plus-storey buildings.'- Coun. Catherine McKenney

Dark said a 55-storey building on the east side of Booth, positioned so that it doesn't interfere with protected sights of the Peace Tower, is a great location for a "signature building."

Still, he said he realizes "people are going to want to talk about that."