Condo developer wants 35-storey tower on Preston

A condominium developer is seeking to construct a 35-storey tower in the heart of Ottawa's Little Italy that, if completed, would be the tallest building in the city.

A condominium developer is seeking to construct a 35-storey tower in the heart of Ottawa's Little Italy that, if completed, would be the tallest building in the city.

An artist's concept of the Soho Italia, a 35-storey condominium tower. ((Roderick Lahey Architect Inc.))
Mastercraft Starwood Group wants to build "Soho Italia" just behind the archway of Little Italy on the site of an old parking lot on Preston Street.

Last week, developers pitched the idea to mayor Jim Watson and the ward's city councillor, Diane Holmes, as well as Peter Hume, the chair of the Planning and Environment Committee. An official zoning change request has not been filed yet.

An artist's conception for the project from architect Roderick Lahey shows a slim glass and concrete tower that resembles a stack of plates. The design also includes a ground floor dedicated to a museum of Italian culture.

Lahey said he's excited about the project, and describes it as a fluid design that's supposed to look like water moving, inspired by the Aqua Tower in Chicago. The Ottawa building would house about 220 residential condo units.

If completed, it would likely edge out tower C of Place de Ville, the 29-storey, 112 metre building, and the 32-storey, 108 metre-tall Minto Metropole in Westboro, as the tallest building in Ottawa.

Developers have battled over this land in the past and won concessions from the city.

The spot is currently zoned for 19-storeys for a commercial building and 22-storeys for a residential building, according to a spokesperson with Mastercraft Starwood. The company has also met with the local business improvement association and is expecting to meet with community groups to discuss the plan.

Local residents, businesses and politicians CBC spoke with expressed surprise at the sheer size of the planned building, with some questioning its height while others worry that it is too wide for the available lot.

Lot is 'tiny postage stamp': Holmes

"It's hardly the location for the tallest building in Ottawa," said councillor Diane Holmes. "The problem is it's a tiny postage stamp piece of land."

The potential site of the proposed condo on Preston Street is just north of Carling Avenue and next to a CIBC branch. ((Ashley Burke/CBC))
"I think the height is way beyond what that area can put up with. The fact they are going to 35 is quite an exaggeration. I don't see the value that we would get," said Holmes.

The developers are also consulting with the Preston Street Business Improvement Association on the plan.

Stoneface Dolly's owner and Preston Street BIA member Bob Russell said he has mixed feelings about the proposal.

"It came out of the blue, it was a bit of a shock... I mean we're looking at a significant size building...and it's a concern," said Russell.

"On the one hand, I want to protect the heritage of Little Italy and that's what [the BIA is] trying to do...on the other hand, being a business owner I say well [it's] 2,000 more people coming in. So it's going to be very delicate to get a balance."

Dalhousie Community Association president Eric Darwin said that while businesses and the city are getting word of the proposal, the public has yet to hear directly from the developers.

"I think most people will go ballistic when they first hear about it," said Darwin. "It's just squished in."

With files from the CBC's Ashley Burke