'East Flats' plan still too tall, neighbours complain

Ottawa's planning committee has approved a proposal for a high-density neighbourhood on the eastern edge of LeBreton Flats, but building heights remain a concern for people already living in the area.

Claridge planning 5 high-rises ranging from 25 to 45 storeys for LeBreton's east side

A map of the proposed East Flats proposal, which includes five towers ranging from 25 to 45 storeys. (City of Ottawa )

Ottawa's planning committee has approved a proposal for a high-density neighbourhood on the eastern edge of LeBreton Flats, but building heights remain a concern for people already living in the area.

Dubbed the East Flats by Claridge Homes, which has already built two condo buildings on the site, the plan calls for the development of all LeBreton Flats land east of Booth Street.

The developer has promised affordable, senior and rental housing units, as well as retail space including a grocery store, all steps away from the new Pimisi LRT station.

And while not directly responsible for the public greenspace, Claridge is also proposing a city park system that incorporates an aqueduct and five historical bridges.

City staff told committee members that if the parks department doesn't have enough funding to build the park, it can phase it in over the construction period, which is expected to take 15 years.

Residents against project

People opposed to the plan have submitted a petition with 260 signatures. They believe the buildings are too tall and fear the development will increase traffic and negatively affect the "livability" of the surrounding community.

"We were unprepared for this proposal," resident Ed McKenna told the committee. He lives at 300 Lett St., one of the existing Claridge condo buildings at LeBreton.

"The scale of this proposal is just overwhelming."

While McKenna said he and his neighbours are in favour of intensification in the area, they expected future buildings to be about 12 storeys high, as is called for in the city's official plan. Claridge's existing buildings are eight and 13 storeys high, with 450 residential homes.
Planning committee approved a proposal from Claridge Homes to build a total of 1,600 residential units on the portion of LeBreton Flats it purchased more than a decade ago. (Provided)

McKenna complained there was no public consultation on this project, which is not technically true. The proposal was unveiled by Claridge at a public meeting in January 2017, a year before the application was filed.

But McKenna is right that the city didn't update its development plan for the area after the LRT plan was approved.

Residents are also concerned about being "locked on a traffic island," with only two streets into and out of the new development.

"We need to do something about the number of cars packed into this little area," said McKenna.

Tower reduced by 10 floors

The tallest tower — which will have a west-side entrance on the Booth Street bridge and another ground-level entrance on the east side — has been reduced to 45 storeys from 55 storeys after both residents and the city's urban design panel balked at the height.

In particular, the panel was concerned the building would block views of Parliament Hill.

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

"You've got flat, flat, flat, then this thing in the middle," said panelist John Stewart, a landscape architect, at a meeting last year.

Panel chair David Leinster added: "I don't think anyone, historically, expected buildings of 55 storeys here."

Even the compromise seems too high for some. Resident Abe Jacob said only a couple of cities of one million people — like Abu Dhabi — allow 45-storey buildings.

"Twenty to 30 to 25 is reasonable. More than that, unbelievable," Jacob said.

Older plan, updated

Claridge purchased the 4.4 hectares of LeBreton Flats, east of Booth and just north of Albert Street, from the National Capital Commission 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.

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

However, the older plan did not anticipate the light rail system that will be running through the development. The new Confederation Line, which is supposed to be up and running by the end of the year, is one of the key reasons Claridge has argued for additional height and density on the site.

This new development isn't expected to be completed for 15 years, and Claridge has agreed that some details could change over time.

The first phase is supposed to include a 30-storey building on Booth Street as well as some of the public parkland.

Full council must still approve the plan.