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Controversial condos given the go-ahead

Council approves construction of 27-storey tower

Ottawa’s skyline is changing fast. Construction in the downtown core is booming, but as more condos are built space gets tighter, and the only way to go is up. Buildings are climbing higher – and they are about to get even taller.

On Wednesday, May 25, city council approved a controversial proposal from Claridge Homes to construct a 229-unit condominium at 70 Gloucester St.

The tower will stand 27-storeys, more than twice the size of the 12-storeys permitted for residential buildings.

The decision for the proposal to be brought forward to council – one day after it was approved by the planning committee – was fuelled by the developer’s desire to beat the deadline for paying development charges for downtown construction.

In 2009, council decided to waive the development charges in order to encourage residential construction in the downtown core. The plan worked, but possibly too well, as Ottawa is now in the middle of a condominium surge.

The exemption expires at the end of July, which is why Claridge Homes and other developers are racing to get their site-plan agreements officially filed with the city.

As part of its negotiation with the city, Claridge Homes has agreed to contribute $1 million for a “community benefit” as long as the site plan is approved by July 29. What the benefits are will be determined during the site-planning process.

The Gloucester St condos, when built, will be adjacent to another condo tower at 89-91 Nepean St, which will also stand at 27 storeys.

The wave of development and the height of the new condos is a concern for residents in the area and for Councillor Diane Holmes.

Holmes, who was responsible for negotiating the $1-million package from Claridge Homes, finds herself in a difficult position.

She is worried that if the project is not approved, the developer may not commit to the money and the community will miss out on public amenities. However, she is also apprehensive about the continuing development.

At the council meeting, Holmes raised concerns about the recent spate of approvals for condos in Centretown and spoke of the development being detrimental to the residents of that area.

Members of the Centretown Citizens Community Association share her concern. Charles Akben-Marchand, president of the association, met with Mayor Jim Watson in April to express reservations about the apparent trend of building high-rise condos in the neighbourhood.

Akben-Marchand was unavailable for comment but directed Xtra to the association’s website, which cites some of his organization’s concerns.

A board meeting report says that although the association supports the “intensification within the urban boundary,” members take issue with the increasing height of the buildings; developers’ failure to meet setback and side-yard requirements, leaving little or no exterior amenity space; and their failure to request public input from the city when building applications are issued.

The association has made similar objections to most of the construction work proposed in Centretown but to no avail. The objections are not new, and in the case of Claridge Homes, the controversy has followed the proposed development at 70 Gloucester St for several years.

Claridge Homes originally won approval from council when Larry O’Brien was mayor. The intention of the developer was to build two residential buildings between Gloucester and Nepean streets.

The agreement was that if Claridge Homes partnered with the city to bid on a proposal to house the National Portrait Gallery, the residential buildings could be between 20 and 24 storeys.

The gallery project fell through, but before it was cancelled by the Conservative government, Claridge Homes applied to the Ontario Municipal Board to build the condos at 27 storeys each.

The company currently has nine condo developments either under construction or already completed in an area that stretches from LeBreton Flats to New Edinburgh.