Planning committee OKs proposed pair of residential towers connecting to Ottawa LRT station downtown

A rendering of the proposed development for 383 Albert St. and 340 Queen St. that would be constructed around the Lyon Street LRT station in downtown Ottawa. City of Ottawa

UPDATED: Ottawa city council approved the zoning changes for this development on June 12, 2019. City staff said Claridge has signed an agreement with CMHC, which will provide financing for 300 affordable units under its rental construction financing program.

The city’s planning committee on Thursday gave its blessing to a pair of 27-storey residential towers that would introduce just over 580 new apartments around the Lyon Street light-rail transit (LRT) station in Ottawa’s downtown core.

The development proposed for the L-shaped, 3,850-square-metre site at 383 Albert St. and 340 Queen St. has been in the works since late 2010, but the project application by FoTenn Consultants was put on hold to allow the City of Ottawa to construct the underground LRT station at Lyon and Queen streets, according to staff in the city’s planning department.

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A nine-storey podium and a four-level underground parking garage are also a part of the proposed development, which would replace a surface parking lot on Albert Street and a two-storey building fronting Queen Street that currently houses a restaurant, an adult entertainment parlour and, until recently, the Glue Pot Pub.

A division of Claridge Homes owns the site. If the development is approved by city council, the whole ground floor of the complex would be reserved for commercial use. The construction plans also include setting aside space at the corner of Lyon and Albert streets for an emergency bus platform in the event that OC Transpo has to temporarily shut down the LRT station, which hasn’t yet opened to the public.

The city’s independent urban design review panel studied the project late last year and issued a list of recommendations. The applicant integrated a number of them into the design, including a direct indoor connection to the Lyon LRT station, but didn’t incorporate others, like a suggestion to lower the podium from nine to five storeys to “bring more natural light into units on lower floors and reduce the canyon effect.”

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In their report, planning staff described the project’s updated design as a “significant improvement from the previous design,” which originally called for three highrises.

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But a few residents who addressed the planning committee on Thursday said they aren’t entirely happy with the latest design. Jack Davis, who sits on the condo board of the apartment building adjacent to the site, lamented the height transition between his building and the proposed development.

“There’s no easy transition with the 27-storey monster that’s being erected beside our 13-storey condominium,” he told councillors.

The proposed site for a new pair of 27-storey residential towers and nine-storey podium at 383 Albert St. and 340 Queen St. in downtown Ottawa. City of Ottawa

Another resident challenged the development’s impact on the streetscape and called for the buildings to be set back further for “esthetic … safety … and transportation reasons.”

Meanwhile, Catherine McKenney, city councillor for the area, called for 20 per cent of the proposed units to be affordable and “deeply affordable” housing. On Thursday, she pressed the applicants for their “plans and goals for affordability on the site.”

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Neil Malhotra, vice-president of Claridge Homes, told councillors the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation has approved one of the towers for its rental construction financing program, which aims to increase the stock of rental units in tight rental markets by providing low-cost loans to developers so a percentage of the units they’re building can be priced below market rent levels.

Malhotra later confirmed that Claridge’s formal agreement with CMHC is under negotiation.

In her comments submitted to the staff report, McKenney also took issue with the volume of parking at the site. According to planning staff, there will be a total of 339 parking spots in the underground garage. About two-thirds of these spots will be reserved for residents in the building, and the other third will be rented out.

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While the staff report notes that the size of the garage is “520 spaces less than the maximum permitted by the zoning bylaw,” McKenney said she believed having 300 parking spots beside an LRT station is “completely excessive” and “unacceptable.”

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“It is counterintuitive to provide this amount of parking in an area that is currently highly walkable and serviced by frequent bus routes and, in the future, very near will be within 50 metres of an LRT station,” she wrote.

City council is expected to consider the development at its next meeting on June 13.

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