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

Westgate redevelopment proposal

You are here

First, thanks to the many Kitchissippi and River ward residents who came out last night to view a pre-application presentation of the proposal by Riocan to re-develop Westgate. It was a busy night.

You'll see pictured here (click to embiggen it) a rendering of the basics of the final concept - some tall towers with retail at grade and commercial and mostly residential above. Riocan is proposing that this would be a 20-year or so re-development. In the attached rendering, the first building would go on the southeast corner, where Monkey Joe's currently is. The mirror building would be built next, subject to market conditions of course, on the southwest corner. Taller towers would come in much-later phases.

The buildings would be rental, which is good news. Riocan is a real estate income trust (REIT), so challenged to meet its business model with condos. The announcement yesterday that the Ottawa side of the Ottawa-Gatineau CMA has just a 2.6% vacancy rate, and still-rising rents, speaks to the demand for rental in this city. Persistently below 3%, those vacancy rates speak to a market that likely isn't providing affordable options.

There are a number of concerns that both I and Councillor Brockington share about the proposal. While well-served by Carling Avenue and the Queensway, transit service in that corridor isn't optimal. We heard lots last night about traffic. Island Park is obviously over-burdened, and Merivale is a concern as both congestion in peak and speeds outside of peak continue. While there are lines on a map in the City's Transportation Master Plan speaking to an eventual light rail spur, and at least a bus rapid transit improvement, those are largely unfunded and conceptual. Development here, and potentially at the Civic Hospital site, speaks to the need to accelerate those. And, of course, pedestrian and cycling considerations are critical. My support for this project will be contingent on seeing a well thought-out, holistic cycling plan developed, and then Riocan on the hook for building out their portion of it.

Since the beginning of the discussion with Riocan, I've been emphasizing the need to keep affordable housing top-of-mind. I'd like to see a significant portion of the public benefits put into affordable housing, as we did with the Richcraft building at Parkdale/Scott. 

The park shown against Carling is a positive feature, eventually replacing the surface parking. At this point, public realm improvements seem conceptual, and I'll want to hammer those down before lending my support. 

I don't think we can emphasize enough the other key consideration we heard last night - the loss of community space. Yes, it's an old, covered strip mall, but it provides a community focal point in this area. It's a place to walk with a stroller in winter, and gather with friends to socialize. I'll be looking for Riocan to try to incorporate some kind of indoor space where these kinds of activities can continue.

It will be important to keep in mind that Westgate also offers important retail services in the community. I tend to believe that these are very likely to continue; they're Riocan's bread and butter across its real estate portfolio. But, we need to know that we won't lose banking, grocery, drug, small retail and restaurant uses.

I'll also throw this out there - though we have almost no leverage to accomplish it, I'm increasingly taken with the notion of seeing if we can get a theatre in there - but that may be a pipe dream. 

The development is part of a look Riocan is taking across its whole portfolio, and as part of a strategy to re-develop underused urban sites. There's much more on this if you're interested in the Q3 investor information available online here.

On balance, and ensuring that some of the benefits we want are delivered, I'm positive on this development. I've fought a lot of development battles over the years, but this one doesn't follow the usual script. Compared with the thrust of putting inappropriate intensification right in the midst of our neighbourhoods, this is a site that seems able to handle intensification. Of course, I'm working very closely on this development with Councillor Brockington. While it's in our ward, his residents are in much closer proximity than ours. If this is approved, there will likely be dust and noise impacts in addition to the loss of community space and traffic consderations. Those will all require careful consideration, and I'm looking forward to working with Riley on all of them.



Posted December 17, 2015