Developer's approach a model for others, neighbours say
Chenier Group consulted community, stuck to height limit laid out in design plan
- Planning committee approved this plan on Aug. 28, 2018.
Peter Ferguson and his comrades with the Lowertown Community Association have fought countless battles with developers over infill projects in their downtown neighbourhood.
Sometimes they win, but often they lose. Whatever the outcome, the combatants always seem to emerge bloodied and battered.
Imagine Ferguson's relief when they came up against Chenier Group.
It's a model for public consultation around the development process, and there's no reason why others can't be doing the same thing.- Peter Ferguson, Lowertown Community Association- Peter Ferguson, Lowertown Community Association
The builder wants to construct a nine-storey apartment building at 541-545 Rideau St., a deep lot at the corner of Cobourg Street that's currently occupied by a 150-year-old red brick dwelling.
Chenier Group's proposal conforms to the Uptown Rideau community design plan (CDP), a council-approved document that's meant to guide growth, but which developers ignore more often than not.
The building would also add much-needed rental units at a time when the city — and this neighbourhood in particular — are grappling with record-low vacancy rates.
"The nine-storey ceiling was particularly important to us," Ferguson said. "[Company president] Gaetan [Chenier] was determined that he was going to stay within the limits of the [community] design plan, and good for him, he did."
The Lowertown Community Association has opposed several developments along Rideau Street for exceeding height limits set out in the CDP. Those include The Charlotte, a condo tower proposed for a vacant lot across Rideau Street from Chenier's site.
Shortly after buying the property, Chenier, acting on the advice of Ottawa architect Barry Padolsky, approached the community association to discuss his plans and ask for feedback from residents.
"My approach has always been a collaborative one," Chenier said. "I recognize this is a community development process, so get the community involved so they can give input."
Praise from councillor
The community did offer its input, and compromises were made on both sides, Ferguson said.
"[Chenier] was very forthcoming," he said. "In our minds, it's a model for public consultation around the development process, and there's no reason why others can't be doing the same thing."
Chenier's approach also won praise from Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, who submitted comments to the planning committee.
"There has been a conscious effort on the part of the applicant to engage the community in all aspects of this project," Fleury wrote. "This can be seen in the number of times the applicant has reached out to the community stakeholders to gain feedback since the initial submission of the project."
But it's what the developer has planned for the original building, constructed shortly after Confederation, that's winning him special praise for going above and beyond the city's requirements.
Brick by brick
Built in 1870 as a single-family home, the building that now occupies the property was converted to apartments after the First World War. Until a few years ago the ground floor served as a coffee house and catering business.
The building, which has undergone extensive renovations and additions over the decades, doesn't have official heritage designation, but the city hoped to see some part of it preserved nonetheless.
Chenier first proposed incorporating the red brick facade into the new apartment building. When he discovered that plan wasn't viable, he hired engineers to determine whether the original building could be moved. That, too, was a no-go.
Instead, Chenier now plans to dismantle the dilapidated structure brick by brick, using the materials to construct a duplex that will replicate the French Second Empire architectural style of the original building, complete with a concave mansard roof and dormer windows.
Fits in 'beautifully'
The duplex is designed by Padolsky, who specializes in heritage projects, and will sit next to the apartment building, facing Cobourg Street.
Ferguson said the duplex will fit in "beautifully."
"We're happy with this," he said. "This is something that he did not have to do, and he's volunteered to preserve the building."
Chenier, who moved to Ottawa from Cornwall, Ont., eight years ago, plans to move his office into one half of the newly built duplex. The other half will be rented out.
"The house is a costly endeavour, and there may not be a lot of profit in that," Chenier said. "But overall in the long term, the house will be highlighted as a separate structure, and it will stand out on its own."
Advice for developers
Chenier hopes the duplex will be finished by the end of 2019, and the apartment building ready for tenants by the following spring.
A rezoning application is scheduled to go before the city's planning committee Aug. 28. It's expected to pass.
Chenier's advice to other developers is simple: "Whatever the community had planned, just go for that," he said.
Ferguson believes other builders could learn a lot from Chenier's approach.
"Listen to the community." he advised developers. "We're not there to pick fights. We're there to provide good, useful advice on how to make the project fit into the community."