Councillors on the city’s planning committee have given their blessing to a proposed mixed-use development off Riverside Drive, despite sympathizing with residents who complained it will exacerbate an already-congested arterial road that feeds into a major, accident-heavy intersection.
The 20-acre site — located just above Hunt Club Road, adjacent to the Rideau River — has been sitting vacant for years and plans for its development have changed several times.
The site is already zoned for office space, a residential care facility and a retirement home; it’s now been cleared for a car dealership, a high-rise apartment building and a park after the planning committee approved another zoning by-law change on Thursday.
Because access to the new builds will only be possible off southbound Riverside Drive, residents living in the communities directly north of the site argued that related traffic will worsen congestion and jeopardize safety in the Riverside-Hunt Club intersection, which for years has been crowned Ottawa’s worst for collisions.
“More congestion will no doubt lead to more accidents,” Quinterra resident Tania Mushka told councillors. “It’s more than just an inconvenience. I think it’s a serious decision that you’re making today.”
On most days around 4 p.m., traffic going south on Riverside Drive — much of it destined for communities south of Hunt Club Road — is already backed up to Revelstoke Drive, and sometimes as far as Walkley Road, Mushka said.
There’s no public transit that runs north or south on Riverside Drive, limiting people’s ability to get to the site through other means, she and other residents pointed out.
“Even without this development, it’s bad enough and getting worse. And now we’re just going to make it even worse without a good solution to handle it,” Riverwood resident Peggy Pratt said.
Speaking on behalf of the site’s applicant, an affiliate of the Taggart Group of Companies, Michelle Taggart said the proposed mixed-use development is expected to generate 230 vehicle trips at peak hours. This, she claims, represents between a third and a quarter of the extra trips anticipated when the site was zoned for a 650,000-square foot office space in 2010.
While that increase in traffic may be “miniscule” in the grand scheme of things, the councillor for the area bemoaned what he argues is a “chasm” between development planning and transportation planning.
“You cannot approve planning files in absence of considering the transportation network, and that’s why my residents are so frustrated — because they experience this every day,” said Coun. Riley Brockington, who isn’t a member of the planning committee but attended to participate in the discussion.
“They can’t understand why the city would improve another planning file for this corridor without making improvements to the transportation network.”
Staff at the City of Ottawa don’t deny the congestion on Riverside Drive is terrible; they’ve given the Riverside and Hunt Club intersection a failing grade for its ability to move high volumes of traffic, particularly during rush hour periods.
But staff told the planning committee they’re limited in what they can do in the short term to significantly alleviate congestion at that crossing. (For that, the city is looking to middle- to long-term transportation infrastructure projects, like the widening of the Airport Parkway and the extension of the Trillium LRT line to Riverside South.)
In the meantime, councillors were told some minor improvements are in the works for that hot spot on Riverside Drive. A traffic impact assessment submitted with the development application identified “the need for a signalized intersection to enter and exit the site due to safety concerns.”
That assessment also recommended lengthening the southbound, right-hand turning lane on Riverside Drive, saying this would help cars turn faster onto westbound Hunt Club reduce the number of vehicles clogging through lanes. (The city and the applicant are finalizing the specifics of how this will be bankrolled.)
A new sidewalk on the west side of Riverside Drive and a new cycling lane are also in the pipeline, although Brockington pointed out that bike lane won’t be connected to any others.
“I support a mixed-use development in the urban core on an arterial road in the urban core. But you can’t do that in isolation of the current challenges that the community faces,” the councillor argued towards the end of the debate on the project.
“We want to see smart development and we want to see development linked to a solid, multi-use transportation plan.”
Coun. Laura Dudas implored staff to look at getting “more people on buses” on Hunt Club Road and Riverside Drive. Staff said Hunt Club is a “transit priority corridor” but more so for the long term.
Despite pleas from residents to reject the Riverside Drive application due to the traffic issues, councillors heard from staff that an F-rated intersection alone didn’t constitute grounds for rejecting a development application. Were this not the case, a few councillors on the committee, including Coun. Glen Gower, said they would vote against the application “out of principle.”
At decision time, the committee voted unanimously to shepherd the application to city council, which also has to provide its stamp of approval before the developer can stick shovels in the ground. (Brockington didn’t get a vote at committee but will at council.)
A previous concept plan for the site included a private school and more retail shops, but those were ditched.
The city is retaining five of the 20 acres beside the river — which includes “all the shoreline property” — for public use, Brockington clarified after the meeting.