City council July 11: Ottawa is getting a 65-storey skyscraper

Proposed design for 900 Albert St., in Ottawa.
Proposed design for 900 Albert St., in Ottawa. GGLO Design

A majority of Ottawa city council gave developers the green light to go ahead with a massive trio of towers at 900 Albert St., barely 24 hours after the planning committee reviewed and approved the application for the complex.

When built, the highest of the three slender buildings –- at 65 storeys -– will be Ottawa’s tallest high-rise.

Five councillors voted against the development proposal: Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, Kitchissipi Coun. Jeff Leiper, Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury and Capital Coun. David Chernushenko.

READ MORE: Planning committee approves application for Ottawa’s tallest high-rise

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson threw his support behind the application, calling the project a “vote of confidence” in the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats and saying it will “add much needed rental accommodation, office and retail space.”

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While she agrees density is needed around in and around light-rail transit (LRT) tracks, McKenney told her colleagues the site plan, as it is now, “really does fail the mark.” While the height of the towers is one issue, McKenney said she’s more disappointed with the south façade of the site, which will feature giant loading bays and a separated pedestrian pathway.

She wants to see the developers create more public space in that area, like shared amenities and community parks –- but neither city staff nor council made any changes to the design of the south side.

“We have nothing going forward to give us certainty that that will happen,” said McKenney, who represents residents in the area around 900 Albert.

The three-tower complex is set to be built on the site at the southwest corner of Albert Street and City Centre Avenue, just east of the O-Train tracks. The Bayview Station – soon to be the junction of the Confederation and Trillium LRT lines – will be about 140 metres walking distance from the site.

READ MORE: Council votes to defer development charges, waive interest for Amazon facility

The five downtown-area councillors expressed significant frustration again on Wednesday with the fact the tallest skyscraper will more than double the 30-storey building height limit outlined in the city’s secondary design plan for the Bayview area –- and a community design plan that residents helped form.

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This had some councillors challenging the existence of these design plans when their rules won’t be respected. Nussbaum argued the way the city has handled the 900 Albert application has the potential to harm public trust in city hall and its planning processes.

“How can we expect residents to engage their volunteer time and resources and energy in very robust community consultation processes that lead to council-endorsed [community design plans] and [secondary plans] … only to have staff recommend in a five-year period that we ignore elements of these plans?” Nussbaum said. “We are failing our residents on these.”

Pressed on this after council, Watson pointed to the fact that an amendment to the city’s official plan allows buildings to exceed the 30-storey maximum if they meet three specific criteria and he said 900 Albert met those requirements. He added the city’s plan also “envisioned taller buildings” close to Bayview Station.

“These things are not cast in stone … circumstances change,” Watson told reporters. “Each one of these projects goes on its merit. The vast majority of members of council thought this was a good project.”

The mayor also noted 900 Albert was a contaminated site, which “was never going to be developed without council support.”

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Despite her outstanding issues, McKenney said she was pleased to get support on three motions she presented on the site application. The first directed city staff to “remove all exterior parking” (except for accessible spots) and to control the rate at which underground parking would be made available during the three towers’ construction.

READ MORE: City council June 27: Château Laurier conditions, hydro unknowns, and market misfortunes

The councillor also got support to redirect a portion ($450,000) of the benefits the developers are contributing (in exchange for an increase in density) towards community gardens and parks. Her third motion originally sought to require the developers to make 25 per cent of the rental units at 900 Albert affordable –- but lawyers for the city said Ottawa doesn’t yet have the tools to enforce this. The motion now encourages the developers to do so.

McKenney said the rejection of her attempt to mandate a certain number of affordable housing units is a “big loss.”

“We could’ve provided up to 300 affordable units here,” McKenney said after council. “We need people to be able to live where they work. We need to make sure that we’re building the type of city that we all want to live in.

“We talk about it but we don’t have the tools to do it.”

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Council approves name for new Rideau Canal footbridge

In other municipal news, city council on Wednesday voted in favour of Chernushenko’s motion to name the new footbridge connecting Fifth Avenue in the Glebe and Clegg Street in Old Ottawa East after the late Flora MacDonald.

The pedestrian bridge over the Rideau Canal will be called “Passerelle Flora Footbridge,” in honour of the decorated Canadian politician who served as the country’s first female foreign minister.

A rendering of the footbridge connecting Fifth Avenue in the Glebe and Clegg Street in Old Ottawa East, which is currently under construction. Council voted Wednesday to name the pedestrian bridge after Flora MacDonald.
A rendering of the footbridge connecting Fifth Avenue in the Glebe and Clegg Street in Old Ottawa East, which is currently under construction. Council voted Wednesday to name the pedestrian bridge after Flora MacDonald. Support Fifth-Clegg Canal Footbridge

MacDonald lived close to where the footbridge is being built and often speed-skated on the canal. She passed away in 2015.

Her name was selected from 86 unique suggestions submitted by the public.

Council approves temporary free parking in city hall garage on weekday evenings

Starting July 16, residents will be able to park for free in city hall’s parking garage on weekday evenings (after 6 p.m.) and on weekends, until the major construction work on Elgin Street comes to an end.

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Council today approved the motion put forward by Watson, which intends to reduce the impact of removing on-street parking during the construction period on Elgin Street businesses.

There’s no chance of scoring free parking any earlier, however. The city’s parking garage, located at 110 Laurier Ave., is closed this weekend between 11 p.m. Friday, July 13 and 6 a.m. Monday, July 16 due to scheduled electrical maintenance. Drivers and cyclists are asked to remove their cars and bikes by 11 p.m. this Friday.

Elgin Street remains accessible to pedestrians.

Holland Avenue

In other Ottawa street news: council also passed a motion to reduce the speed limit on Holland Avenue –- between Kenilworth and Tyndall streets –- to 30 kilometres per hour (down from 50 kilometres) for the duration of a temporary detour on Holland.

The school zone speed limit of 40 kilometres per hour will also be removed during this time.

Money to cover the cost of installing new speed signs on this stretch of Holland Avenue will come out of the budget for the Harmer Avenue Bridge replacement project.