Hopewell Avenue 'stealth' bunkhouse getting downsized

Residents of Old Ottawa South learned Monday night that a developer will scale back plans for a six-unit, 27-bedroom apartment building after neighbours raised concerns the project had ballooned without consultation.

Nearby residents and city councillor fought plan for 27-bedroom apartment building

Residents said they felt betrayed by the city when the expansion of this six-plex at 177 Hopewell Avenue grew from 12 bedrooms to 27. It has now been cut back to 16. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Residents of Old Ottawa South learned Monday night that a developer will scale back plans for a six-unit apartment building after neighbours raised concerns the project had ballooned from 12 to 27 bedrooms without consultation. 

Coun. David Chernushenko called the growth of the project during the build "overdevelopment by stealth."

Karen Stevens-Guille, who lives next door to the project at 177 Hopewell Ave., had enlisted neighbours and strangers on her street to write to the mayor, their councillor and the city against the proposal.

"At one point if I'd been told the bedroom count was going to go down this much, I would be opening up something bubbly to celebrate," she said. "But I think it's been such a long slog we're cautious about even feeling relief."

Karen Stevens-Guille stands on her porch in front of the 177 Hopewell Avenue construction site. She organized neighbours against the proposal when she learned of the increase in the number of bedrooms. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Stevens-Guille said she is grateful to all the letter-writers who helped make the change happen.

The former plan to expand the number of bedrooms was not illegal, according to city officials. The permission granted the developer by the city's committee of adjustment did not specifically limit the number of bedrooms, although at a committee hearing, a representative for the developer repeatedly told committee members that the plan was for six two-bedroom units. 

Councillors put pressure on builder

Capital Ward Coun. David Chernushenko said he, Kitchissippi Ward Coun. Jeff Leiper and city staff met with the builder in an attempt to get the number of bedrooms reduced.

"Did we have the legal means after committee of adjustment gave him approval? Possibly not," Chernushenko said. "But there was certainly the ability to put pressure on him."

Coun. David Chernushenko said previously the incident had destroyed his trust in developers and consultants, and he continues to be wary.

"I'm more suspicious and cynical than I would like to be," Chernushenko said. "I'm not naive, but on the other hand, I'm not someone who goes through life expecting or assuming the worst from people. So it's disappointing I have to be far more that way now."

Jordan Tannis, president of Concorde Properties, said his company followed all of the city's rules, but is addressing residents' concerns after a CBC report. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Further consultation wasn't required, builder says

Jordan Tannis, president of Concorde Properties, said he had followed the city's rules and blamed the dispute on miscommunication.

"Because of the way the process and the application went through, I wasn't required to seek any further community consultations and I wasn't required to seek any councillor consultations, neighbourhood consultations," Tannis said. "Once I had the approval for the envelope I was more or less allowed to go ahead."

"Any attempts to accuse me of misleading the public, misleading the councillor's office or what not, I think that's not fair because that's not what I did."

By reducing the number of bedrooms from 27 to 16, he is attempting to "right the wrong" and respond to concerns he heard from the community, Tannis said,

"Never will I hide behind the city bylaws and city officials or what not, or even the councillors. They have the hardest jobs around," Tannis said. 

"Any time we can help them out and what not and make the process easier for everybody, that's something I'll work towards."

The proposed expansion of the six-plex on Hopewell Avenue, from planning rationale documents submitted to the city's committee of adjustment by the consulting firm Fotenn.

Need to restore confidence

Tannis said he doesn't think the project has damaged the reputation of developers or his company but suggested lessons could be learned from it. 

He said he supports changing city policy so residents don't end up feeling "screwed."

Coun. Chernushenko said an interim control by-law to deal with the problem of so-called "bunkhouses" has reduced the risk of a builder adding bedrooms to a development, but the dispute on Hopewell Avenue shows there's still work to be done.

"It does highlight that there are still a number of things in the city's processes that have to be tightened in order to have a better planning process that residents can have some confidence in," he said.