The idea of creating dense, multi-purpose developments where there’s easy access to public transit is taking shape in Ottawa.
Last week, the DCR/Phoenix Group won zoning approval from Ottawa city council for a 1.4-million square-foot complex that includes two towers — 32 and 29 storeys — with a six-storey attachment.
It’s for a part of Ottawa known as Bayview, just west of the city’s downtown core. It is poised to become the only place in Ottawa where two light-rail lines meet. It’s where the existing eight kilometre, north-south O-Train will connect with the future 12.5-kilometre west-east LRT line, which will go through downtown via an underground tunnel once it’s operational in 2018.
Even currently, the spot serves as a transit hub by being a connecting point between the north-south LRT route and Ottawa’s rapid bus network, the central part of which the future rail line will replace.
“We are confident that it is exactly the right location for this type of development,” said Michael Boucher, planning manager for DCR/Phoenix.
Office/residential mix still uncertain
Tentative plans are for most of the towers to be taken up by office space, but that could change, Boucher said. He said much of the space is likely to be used for residential purposes, and that could become an even bigger element than office use if that’s where the demand is.
Whatever happens, he said there will be a variety of uses there, including restaurants and entertainment that create some vibrancy during non-office hours.
“The important thing is that there isn’t one type of development there, that there’s a broad mix of uses,” he said. “People can work there, they can live there, they can be entertained there.”
The City of Ottawa is conducting transit-oriented development (TOD) studies for other areas near planned stops along the future LRT line, with the general idea that these are ideal locations for high-density, mixed-use development.
“The whole premise is that you try to break the reliance on the car,” Boucher said. “You put people and their activities in one spot, and that way you promote pedestrian (activity), cycling and the use of public transit.”
He said his company has held this land and has been studying potential developments for this area for more than a decade. It has 1.44 hectares (3.56 acres) of land for this project.
He couldn’t comment on the value of this land, but said it undoubtedly has appreciated significantly in recent years, given the evolution of the public-transit system that surrounds it.
Boucher said site plan approval is still needed from the city. A final plan will largely depend on what types of customers are willing to commit to occupancy. He added that this will also affect the cost to build, which is expected to approach $100 million.
Once approvals are in place and construction starts, it will take about two years to build, Boucher said.
Bayview transit hub future site of DCR/Phoenix Group towers
More development expected
Kelvin Holmes, managing director for Colliers International in Ottawa, said DCR/Phoenix’s plans for Bayview are likely just the “tip of the iceberg” of development that will happen in this area.
“I think it’s a natural extension of the downtown core,” he said. “The boundaries for the downtown core are so tight. . . . We’re leapfrogging over some residential neighbourhoods to get to this particular site, but it is right along the (public transit system).”
Holmes noted a city-owned industrial yard just north of DCR/Phoenix’s planned tower complex that could be put to better use. “What an incredibly under-utilized piece of land,” he said.
And both Holmes and Boucher cited the City Centre immediately to the south — an aging low-rise office/industrial complex — as a potential redevelopment site.
Government a likely occupant
Holmes said if DCR/Phoenix’s planned Bayview development becomes first and foremost an office building, as planned, the federal government will likely be a major occupant.
Even with government cutbacks, he noted that the government is looking to move much of its operations to higher-quality facilities. And despite efforts to eliminate the deficit over the next few years, the long-term tendency of government is to expand, he added.
However, Holmes said condominiums could end up occupying a bigger part of the development than currently expected.
“It’s becoming a very desirable area to live in,” Holmes said.
Besides transit access and proximity to downtown, Holmes pointed to the community of Hintonburg to the west, which has seen a resurgence in recent years.
“We’re seeing some really good commercial development happening in there,” he said. “You’ve got new restaurants going in, good retail. . . . I love to go to Hintonburg for lunch now. It’s close to downtown, easy to get to.”