177 Hopewell from My Side of the Hedge—or at Least Where my Hedge Used to Be
What is worse: a developer, hired planner, and architect who promise a twelve-bedroom building in order to get approval, then file plans at the Building Code stage for a 27 bedroom building, or the City that allows this to happen?
I would suggest it is the latter. As citizens of this city we rely on the various municipal processes that are in place to safeguard us. I have no such expectations of a developer. When the City sent around a notice stating that that “the application indicates that the number of units will remain at six and the units will be expanded to 2 and 3 bedroom units” I believed the information that I had been given by the City on their letterhead. Likewise when I received the written decision of the Committee of Adjustment (CofA) stating the same, I believed the information that I had been given.
I participated in all aspects of this process in good faith. I wrote and submitted letters, and attended and spoke at both CofA hearings. Along with other neighbours my husband and I attended a community consultation meeting at the Firehall with Jordan Tannis (the developer), Robert Martin (the architect), and Brian Cassagrande (the hired planner from Fotenn), and we took them at their word. They stated during this community meeting that their intention was to renovate the existing six-plex and add an addition to the west of the building increasing the bedroom count from 8 to 15. At the second CofA hearing a few days after the Firehall meeting, planner Brian Cassagrande stated that these were to be higher end rental units. The proximity to Carleton had nothing to do with the intended market for these units. He stated that all units were to be two-bedroom units, and occupancy on the site would not increase as some residents would use the second bedroom merely for flexibility for occasional visitors. He is recorded on audio explaining that the proposal is only going to 12 bedrooms. He states that the owner could easily have a triplex, max out the bedrooms, and fill it with students, but that is not what he is doing. The application for permission was granted.
The fact that this is being allowed to be called a renovation of a legal non-conforming building when only a few boards from one wall of original structure remain is a fact that I find to be offensive. What has happened is that an entirely new apartment building, on an entirely new foundation, has been built on a residentially zoned lot (R3). When it came to light that the plans stamped by Building Code called for 5 four-bedroom units and 1 seven-bedroom unit that spans two floors it was just too much. Certainly the City would not allow this to proceed. The agent acting on behalf of the developer Jordan Tannis had, after all, promised at the CofA hearing that all units were to be 2 bedroom units and that the proposal was only going to 12 bedrooms. Certainly the fact that this is documented on audio recording, and was the basis upon which the CofA approved the application, would mean that the plans for 27 bedrooms would be deemed by the City to be unbuildable.
Receiving the news that the City of Ottawa would not stop the construction of the 27-bedroom plans was the final insult, and hardest blow of all. This was the one that really knocked the wind out of me. Having participated in every aspect of the process honestly based on the information I had been given, I was now being told that the fact that a bunkhouse was being built next door to us was “unfortunate”. I no longer want to hear about how unfortunate things are and how powerless the city is against developers. This is not an episode of Dora the Explorer where Swiper the Fox steals something each installment even though we know that is what he will try to do. “Oh man that sneaky fox got us again! We’ll get him next episode.”
I would suggest that we are past the tipping point on the issue of developers riding roughshod over neighbourhoods, and the City’s lack of willingness to reign them in. It might interest elected officials of the City of Ottawa to know that since a news story about 177 Hopewell came out at the end of October I have had complete strangers show up on my doorstep from other areas of the City to ask for advice regarding upcoming Committee of Adjustment hearings that affect them, express outrage, and offering support. Complete strangers. I would suggest that Ottawans have had enough.
When my husband and I purchased our home 11 ½ years ago we did so knowing that it is near Carleton University and next door to a six unit walk-up with a total of 8 bedrooms that already housed some students. We are not anti-student. Additionally, I support intensification. What I do not support is intensification at any cost. In its decision to deny the initial application for 12-18 bedrooms the Committee stated “...that the proposal represents a significant departure from what the Zoning By-law contemplates for the area, in terms of both form and density, and would significantly increase the impact of the use on the surrounding community...the increased impact of the expansion exceeds what might be considered reasonable and consistent with that of the existing use…” If this was the initial decision by the CofA based on 12-18 bedrooms how can it be that 27 bedrooms on this same site is now allowed to proceed? Why have the pretense of various Committees or the Planning department if, in the end, it is the developers who are allowed to dictate how our neighbourhoods evolve? How will intensification be successful if members of established communities find their neighbourhoods are no longer desirable places in which to live?
Karen Stevens-Guille has enjoyed living in Old Ottawa South with her family for 11 ½ years and can often be found at Brewer dog park with the family K9 unit.
Originally published in the December 2017 OSCAR.