Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
Responsive image

Innovative affordable housing as 979 Wellington moves forward

You are here

For months, City staff, residents, the Hintonburg Community Association, developer and I have been in intense discussions about an application to allow a development at 979 Wellington Street to build to 9-storeys instead of the secondary-plan-allowed six. A staff report now available on the agenda of the February 13 Planning Committee meeting recommends approval of that building, and contains my comments in support.

I've attached that staff report below, but here paste my full comments. In short, we have through a lengthy discussion gotten to a point where the building can move forward subject to some public benefits well over and above what would normally be achieved, including the provision of two affordable housing units that are, to the best of our knowledge, the first in the city to be provided in this fashion. I'm particularly pleased to have achieved these, and hope this discussion will prove to be a model for how discussions with other developers can proceed. I am already carrying this discussion forward with other developers in our ward who have applications before us.

In addition to these affordable units, there will be a contribution from the usual section 37 benefits of a $155,000 contribution to the re-building of the Laroche Park fieldhouse, and a $10,000 contribution to cycling facilities on Armstrong. The developer will expand the pedestrian space in Somerset Square, and the moose will be preserved.

I acknowledge absolutely that opposition to a deviation from the carefully-constructed secondary plan exists. There is a concern that I consider to be very legitimate of "gateway creep". I will be working with the HCA, property owners, City staff and residents to conduct a focused study of gateway locations identified in the various secondary plans in the east end of the ward to ensure we have the appropriate list, following the model of our successful Armstrong Street process conducted earlier in this term of Council.

There are two key lessons that I draw from this process:

  • A well-crafted, up-to-date secondary plan is the foundation for successful planning outcomes. In areas of the ward where we do not have that, the community is virtually powerless to insist on its priorities; and,
  • the Armstrong Street study led from my office in partnership with the Hintonburg Community Association and Wellington West BIA was worthwhile. While it has no legal status, City staff are taking it into account when considering planning applications. My commitment is to continue in this vein as resources allow.

I am very grateful for the pragmatic, patient participation in this process by especially the Hintonburg Community Association, the principals in Beament Hebert Nicholson who were the applicants, City staff including Simon Deiaco, and the applicants' planning team at Novatech. There were multiple deep-breath moments in this process; in the end, collaboration has resulted in what I consider to be a very positive outcome.

Here are my full comments:

I and the community have been seized with this application to develop 979 Wellington Street West for several months, and I am very pleased that the developer, City and I have been able to ultimately support the application, which is unopposed by the Hintonburg Community Association (HCA).

This application is for greater height than is called for in the Wellington West Secondary Plan, and I am grateful that our planning staff have treated with the utmost seriousness a change to that recently crafted vision. In addition, I and the community are satisfied that the new Armstrong Street community vision – though not a legally binding document – has been adhered to and was a key component in discussions between the stakeholders.

This parcel occupies a unique position in the streetscape, and can legitimately be described as a gateway though it was not identified as such in the community design planning process. It sits at considerably further distance from the parcels across Wellington than most buildings on the street, mitigating the potential for overpowering the pedestrian realm. Despite this attribute of the site geometry, however, it is with some trepidation that we deviate from the secondary plan, as described below.

Several commitments have been made by the developer to mitigate the effects of this intensification and satisfy the community and I that the building will be a net positive development in Hintonburg:

  • The building envelope was modified early in the process to adhere to the Armstrong Street community vision that Council received from my office in January 2017. I am grateful to planning staff for taking that document into account. The efforts by my staff, our consultants, the Hintonburg Community Association (HCA) and the Wellington West BIA to craft that have been borne out; and
  • As part of an expanded Section 37 benefit package, the developer will improve Somerset Square adjacent to their building by adding more pedestrian space to this urban park. How this space will look and function will be identified through the site plan control approval process.

More significantly, Hintonburg is fast-changing. Its demography and built form are evolving rapidly in response to the continued intensification thrust in Kitchissippi driven 17 by the imminent arrival of several light rail stations and North American trends toward re-urbanization and gentrification. A chief concern shared by I and residents is that affordable housing is disappearing from our community, and with it the diversity that helps knit communities together and develop neighbourhood capacity. While LRT is a key to sustainable growth in Ottawa, the irony is not lost on anyone that the effect it has of raising property values will drive out residents who could most benefit from vastly improved public transit.

To mitigate this, the community and I have worked productively with the developer to include two affordable housing units in the building. I am grateful to the City’s legal, housing and planning staff for guiding us in those discussions, and especially to the HCA who have made this an underpinning foundation of their position since the beginning of this conversation.

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time as part of an expanded Section 37 benefits package that a developer has voluntarily included affordable units in an otherwise market-rent building as opposed to providing a cash contribution towards such affordable units. We have had a transparent discussion about the financial implications of that thanks to the openness of both Beament Green and their planning consultant Murray Chown with Novatech.

The HCA has been, in turn, pragmatic about the affordable housing consideration. They and I feel that we have demonstrated that, even on a small-scale project, affordable housing is a key consideration and that it is feasible to achieve. As we continue to discuss the City of Ottawa’s approach to housing and homelessness, we will return to this initiative consistently and persistently as an example of what can be accomplished.

It is important to note the legitimate trepidation felt by both myself and the HCA about approving this building partly on the basis that it can be considered a community gateway. Identification those gateways in the community design planning process might have included this parcel with a greater effort to ensure everyone was at the table. There is a feeling that had it been proposed at the outset of that process as such, it may well have been identified as a location that could support greater density and height. That was not the case, however.

There is the possibility that approving this building could open the door to “gateway creep”.

To achieve greater certainty moving forward, I have proposed with the support of the HCA to undertake an exercise similar to that of the Armstrong Street vision to identify with greater certainty which parcels in the vicinity of the ward’s east end transit stations are supportable as gateways. I will work with the HCA, property owners, the BIA and other interested stakeholders to better propose which parcels the community can support as gateways before the end of the term of Council. I am grateful that the City is aware of this commitment on my part, and that it will participate in those discussions. The resulting document should help the community hold its representatives accountable as more ad hoc applications inevitably move forward, and provide greater certainty to the development community about what the community and councillor will support or not.

Finally, it is important to note that this conversation has evolved in a very positive way over the past many months thanks to the strong concerns raised by the City’s planning staff about deviating from the secondary plan. In turn, the developers, their consultants and the HCA have engaged in a generous and creative conversation to arrive at the point where I can support this application. That path was not always easy, and the application raises certain considerations around how section 37 benefits are negotiated between the City and applicants. The achievement of several public interest benefits related to the final form of this application means those are best left for discussion to another day. However, both the HCA and myself will return to that discussion in the near future.

We are fortunate in Kitchissippi to have a well-crafted Wellington West Secondary Plan to guide the continued growth of our community. It is a modern plan that dovetails with our Official Plan, and takes into consideration the arrival of LRT. The Armstrong Street community vision has added further precision to that plan. Having an up-to-date vision for our neighbourhood, with clearly-set-out limitations on development, has provided the community with leverage to insist on the greatest possible public interest benefit when there is a potential deviation. It is well worth noting that instead of a discussion about going to twenty-plus storeys from a limit of six with a foreordained outcome, the community in this instance was able to have a very productive discussion in the context of an increase in height of just three storeys.

The contrast between the productive discussion we were able to have in this instance, and the steady march of wild west development in the west end of the ward couldn’t be starker. The City has made informal commitments to re-visit our Westboro/Richmond 19 Road secondary plan in the next term of Council. That undertaking can’t come soon enough. My thanks go to the HCA, the applicant, and City staff for their patience and generosity on this file.

Posted February 3, 2018