An Ottawa developer says its proposal for a pair of apartment highrises in Centretown meets the standard of a civic “landmark” required at the site under city planning guidelines.
The Taggart Group of Companies recently filed a proposal to build two towers of 28 and 30 storeys at 267 O’Connor St., between Gilmour and MacLaren streets. The plan calls for a total of 541 rental units, 339 underground parking spots and a small amount of retail space on what’s now the site of a six-storey medical office and parking lot.
Under the Centretown Community Design Plan, buildings on streets such as O’Connor and Metcalfe can exceed established height limits if they qualify as “true civic or national landmarks.”
The policy states that developments must make “significant and exceptional contributions to the public realm” through elements such as “iconic architecture” and include a publicly accessible space consisting of at least 40 per cent of the subject area’s property.
Taggart says its proposal hits the mark on both counts.
It says the towers designed by Hobin Architecture will achieve “an iconic built form” while protecting view planes of other downtown landmarks.
In addition, the developer says that about 40 per cent of the property will be devoted to an open public space that will feature a mix of greenery, seating and outdoor activity areas. Taggart says the space will “create a sense of place and become a focal point for the neighbourhood.”
“We have put forward an integrated concept that seeks to respond to the array of policy considerations and also achieve great outcomes on the ground – in terms of design excellence, vibrancy of the public realm and the provision of affordable rental housing,” Emily McGirr, a development co-ordinator at Taggart Realty Management, said in an email to OBJ.
“The goal is for this project to be a positive addition to the community and become a landmark and gathering place for residents and neighbours in Centretown.”
'Will not impact' protected views
Taggart is seeking Official Plan amendments to the site’s current height limit of nine storeys. While city policy states that so-called “landmark buildings” can’t exceed 27 storeys, Taggart argues its proposed development “fits well” within the context of surrounding buildings and “will not have any impact on protected views” of the Parliamentary precinct.
In addition, the builder is asking to retain ownership of the park and amenity space. Under the current Official Plan, such space must be “publicly owned.”
The builder is also seeking zoning amendments to allow for reduced setbacks and retail uses on the ground floor. The property lies with a heritage conservation district, meaning Taggart will require a special heritage permit to develop the site.
Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney argues the site “doesn’t easily lend itself to that degree of height.” Calling O’Connor one of the “least attractive streets” in the downtown core, she says “thoughtful” architecture will be a must for any plan to win her backing.
"You have to be able to look at it and know that it stands out."
“What it looks like is important,” McKenney said. “You have to be able to look at it and know that it stands out.”
In addition, the councillor said an affordable housing component will be “absolutely key” to gaining the community’s support.
“If we’re going to allow for any additional height at this location, we have to ensure that it’s housing that suits everyone’s needs,” she said.
This isn’t the first time a developer has floated the idea of building multiple highrises on the O’Connor Street property.
Six years ago, Mastercraft Starwood proposed a pair of 27-storey towers for the site in what became the first test of the “landmark” policy.
The plan called for two condo buildings, green space and four townhouses, but the proposal never came to fruition. City planners urged councillors to reject the application, contending it fell “significantly short” of qualifying as a significant landmark.
The developer challenged the city’s Centretown community design plan at the Ontario Municipal Board, then the provincial body that settled planning disputes, but Mastercraft Starwood ultimately abandoned the proposal.
Taggart acquired the property in the spring of 2019. The company said the recently filed application is a preliminary proposal and could change depending on market conditions.
“At the present time we are examining all options on the table as part of our overall development strategy for this site,” Taggart’s vice-president of development, Derek Howe, told OBJ.
“We’re sort of taking it one quarter at a time. We want to listen to the public, we want to see what their feedback is.”