Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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Ashcroft convent entry/egress

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In the next few weeks or months, Ashcroft will likely move ahead with a re-zoning application for the final phase of its convent development near Hilson/Bryon. With that application we as a community will need to deal with the question of how traffic will enter and egress the site. It’s been a topic of discussion for a long time and a question fraught with controversy, and I’m writing to outline how I view it today in response to the growing number of inquiries I've been getting.

The Ashcroft development, when finished, will have been built in three phases and on the basis of zoning permissions essentially finalized in 2010. The first phase (Phase 1) is built – the condos facing Richmond. The second (Phase 2A) – a nine-storey tower connected to the south of a re-furbished convent building – will get underway soon once its site plan is approved and building permits have been issued. Finally, two buildings (Phase 2B) – one four-storey on the east and a nine-storey stepping down to four or five (depending on the outcome of the next zoning process) will be built to the south of the convent and tower.

Currently, the vehicles from Phase 1 that enter off Richmond at Patricia will continue to use that access to the garage. There will be no access to the Phase 1 garage from Leighton Terrace. It is likely that Ashcroft will propose that the Leighton Terrace access will be for the Convent and its nine-storey attachment, though I have expressed my opposition to that, as well as the front door access for the future four-storey building (as it has a Leighton Terrace address). The future underground parking will serve both Phase 2A and 2B, with access points off of Leighton and Byron (or Shannon, as was the previous approval).

There are several options. None of them are ideal.

Under the original zoning, the cars from Phase 2A and Phase 2B that will share an underground parking garage would exit and enter to both Shannon Street and Leighton Terrace. This option was chosen when the original proposal of accessing the garage through Byron park was met with significant opposition. However, the option to enter from Byron St has been brought to the table again, after serious consideration of the possible impacts to Shannon Street. There is a third option to have all the traffic enter and exit to Richmond Road from Leighton Terrace; however, traffic planners consider this unsuitable and are unlikely to approve that as a plan.

There are other options that residents have posited that have been rejected by the City. Connecting the new underground garage to the old and having all cars exit at Patricia is a compelling possibility, but engineers have ruled out going under the heritage building. Extending the narrow laneway at Patricia along the west side of the building is also interesting but has been ruled out as an option on the basis of there not being enough land for a functional laneway.

I have been struggling for several years to decide which option I’d prefer. Ultimately, I have chosen to make safety my priority. It’s the only criteria that I believe everyone in the ward can agree should come first and is the criteria that can most likely be objectively evaluated.

As I noted in my newsletter recently, I believe that the safest option will be to provide access off of Byron. It’s not without problems and I have opposed going across Byron for a long time. In the past, I have insisted on the removal of the construction access at that spot despite knowing that it will have to be re-built when construction resumes. It is yet another point of potential conflict with runners, cyclists, scooters, skateboards, pedestrians, and others. I am concerned that it would introduce more cut-through traffic on Brennan and Kensington.

The originally approved option, to use Shannon Street, is also problematic. There is the specific issue of widening Shannon. I believe we have support from the City that if Shannon were chosen it would be built to the minimum City standard and no more. However, it would still take a significant portion of the front lawns of those homes, and it would ultimately cut into the parkland to the south, remove trees and require the repositioning of the existing hydro poles.

Most concerning to me, however, is the safety consideration. Hundreds of people a day use the intersection of Shannon/Hilson/Byron on foot and on bike. Introducing a nearly full-size intersection there will introduce the same conflicts as above, with most of the impact being on Hilson elementary school kids. Sightlines are poor and driving behaviours erratic. I have grappled with ways to introduce very aggressive traffic calming through the intersection but cannot fathom that it could be made safer than a simple T-intersection at Byron.

While the engineers have largely ruled it out on the basis of traffic volumes, there is a tentative option for entry and egress at Leighton Terrace onto Richmond. However, I cannot see how that option would be safer. Pedestrian and cycling volume is heavy on Richmond, sightlines poor, and with the volume of traffic at Richmond/Island Park/Wellington it is a gong show at the best of times.

Again, I believe the City is bound to approve the safest option, and I currently believe that that is a simple cut across Byron where sightlines are good and where there is lots of possibility for creative mitigation to ensure the cars are moving slowly.

Where does this go from here?

Ashcroft essentially has zoning permission to build Phase 2B. They will be seeking some changes to that zoning that we’ve seen in the open houses and that they know I oppose: the addition of an enclosed amenity space on the roof of the building to the east, and for a fifth storey facing Byron on the building to the west. I am hoping to successfully fight those with the support of my colleagues on Council.

Even if those zoning changes are rejected, they still have permission to build Phase 2B according to the zoning approved in 2010, though they require a new site plan. There will be public consultations upcoming when Ashcroft files an application, and the entry and egress will be part of that discussion – whether site plan or re-zoning. If it is a re-zoning, there is an opportunity for Council to reject any recommendation made by the City’s planning staff. At the site plan stage, staff have delegated authority to make the decision unless I force a site plan vote at the Planning Committee. Either of those is appealable by the developer to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

Ashcroft recently submitted a transportation study, conducted by Parsons, to evaluate the various options. You can review their full study attached below, and a summary of the impacts and benefits for each option here. I don't agree with some of the language in it, but I do agree with its findings with respect to safety.

As I write, there is no final decision to be made, but that day is coming as Ashcroft begins its formal application process. When those documents go online and a consultation process started, I'll use my newsletter to publicize that information. This will be a long process: I welcome your feedback.

Posted January 30, 2020