Sandy Hill group says city ignoring neighbourhood plans

A Sandy Hill community group is calling out the city’s planning department for ignoring a neighbourhood plan that expressly prohibits the kind of development now being recommended for approval.

Action Sandy Hill says an established plan for the area, as well as the new Uptown Rideau community design plan — which should be finished this fall — calls for a height limit of six storeys on the south side of Rideau between Chapel Street and the Rideau River.

Yet planners say the city should approve a Richcraft Homes application to construct buildings of seven and 14 storeys at 538, 544 and 560 Rideau St., as well as a 3.5-storey low-rise apartment at 501 Besserer St., which is a slim parcel of land connected to the Rideau Street property.

The proposal generally meets the intent of Ottawa’s Official Plan, but the planner does acknowledge the proposed building heights exceed what’s currently allowed, which is why Richcraft needs official plan and zoning bylaw amendments.

Chad Rollins, the president of Action Sandy Hill, says community groups are often told design plans are created to give residents a clear idea about the type of developments they could reasonably expect to see approved in their neighbourhood.

In fact, Jan Harder named “increased development certainty” as one of five building blocks for planning in Ottawa during this term of council when she assumed the role of planning committee chair.

And that’s why Rollins says he’s frustrated by the department’s latest recommendation.

“We’ve got these plans, why aren’t they respected after so much city time and money and so much volunteer time?” he said. “These should have some teeth.”

For months, a city planner has been working full-time on the new Uptown Rideau plan, as have dozens of community members who are volunteering their time, and yet, Rollins said, before the thing is even approved, it appears an exception is already being made.

“If people spend all this time and don’t see any actual positive outcome from it, (they) just won’t bother,” he said.

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney expressed similar discontent about two weeks ago when the planning committee approved a 27-storey tower on Metcalfe Street, even though it runs counter to the three-year-old community design plan for Centretown.

Efforts to build something on the Rideau Street sites go back more than a decade.

Council approved a zoning bylaw amendment for the main portion of the site, 560 Rideau, in September 2003. It was appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, which ruled that the site could be developed up to nine storeys. Subsequent to that 2004 decision, Richcraft bought the property to the west and filed the revised proposal, which the planning committee will consider on Tuesday.

The latest iteration initially called for 18 storeys, but that was later reduced to 14 with the tower portion shifted east to corner of Rideau and Cobourg streets.

Rollins said the height is a problem because the lot is too shallow to allow for a proper transition from the highrise building to the low-rise developments behind it.

Meanwhile, Action Sandy Hill was also disappointed to learn Trinity Group is taking its proposal for a development at the corner of Rideau and Chapel streets to the OMB because the city didn’t meet the legislated deadline for responding in time.

The Trinity proposal initially envisioned two towers — one at 27 storeys and the other at 32 storeys, to be located at 151 and 153 Chapel Street — but those heights have since been reduced to 28- and 26-storeys.

A pre-hearing will be held in August.

When Trinity first filed its application last year, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury said he wanted the company, and others like it, to wait until the community design plan was completed before proposing new developments. He also said his vision for the Rideau Street corridor is a traditional mainstreet with buildings rising to a maximum of nine storeys, with good setbacks, public spaces and ground-floor retail.

On Thursday, the councillor reiterated this position and added it makes little sense for the planning committee to review Richcraft’s application before the committee has approved the new neighbourhood plan.

Fleury isn’t a member of the committee, but said he is exploring mechanisms to delay the consideration of Richcraft’s application.

“I just wish the applicant would wait,” he said.