More commercial planned for Rockcliffe development

The process for redevelopment in a key part of central Ottawa is back on track, but the picture looks a little different than the previous time — about six years ago — when efforts were made to plan for the old Rockcliffe military base.

Last week, Canada Lands Co. Ltd. — the federal agency tasked with finding opportunities for surplus government land — said it was restarting the process for creating a long-term vision for this 125-hectare (310-acre) site just east of the national capital’s central core.

The process was stalled as an agreement was negotiated with the Algonquins of Ontario, which made a land claim on the site. The settlement with the Algonquins included a $10-million payout from the federal government and a commitment to include this First Nations group in the planning process and in the economic activity that results there, said Don Schultz, Canada Lands’ real estate director for Rockcliffe.

Lots of land for middle of city

The former Rockcliffe base is still seen as one of the most important building opportunities in Ottawa.

“It’s only about 5 ½ kilometers from downtown,” Schultz said in explaining the significance of the area. “It’s within the greenbelt, so it’s the largest redevelopment area of a parcel of land within the greenbelt.”

The greenbelt is a ring of natural area and farmland, preserved by the National Capital Commission, that separates urban Ottawa from the surrounding suburbs.

No light rail equals less residential development

What’s changed the picture for Rockcliffe in recent years, however, is that a planned light rail line no longer includes a close connection to this part of town. Because of this, Schultz said there will be less residential development than previously thought, and highrise condominiums are no longer likely.

“It was (previously) being planned as what they would call a transit-oriented development,” he said.

Past estimates had seen as much as 11,000 residential units penciled in for this area. Schultz said about half of that is now likely.

Schultz added that slower economic growth in recent years means the kind of residential development — which he anticipates to be a mix of single-family homes, townhouses and lower-rise condos and apartments — will generally be at lower prices than previously anticipated.

Commercial development

“I think we’re more committed to employment on the site than perhaps the previous planning exercise was,” he said, though he added that residential development is still likely to be the bulk of what goes up there.

It’s unclear specifically what employers would occupy commercial buildings on the Rockcliffe site. Schultz said it would make sense that medical service operations would be there, given the proximity to the Montfort Hospital. Research-oriented activities might also be appropriate, with headquarters for the National Research Council nearby.

While Schultz said it’s possible the federal government will place operations on the Rockcliffe site, that remains to be seen.

“I can’t speak for what their plans are, but there hasn’t been any discussion between Canada Lands and any federal department for any future use on this site,” he said.

Schultz said the overall vision is for a community in which the residential and commercial components are closely integrated, possibly within the same buildings in many cases. There will be a lack of designated office parks and “standard suburban tract development,” he said.

Long-term build-out

Schultz said it’s too early to say how much development will go on the former Rockcliffe base. It will be done in several phases over the next 15 to 20 years. Just as changes in the economy and municipal planning altered the picture over the last six years, things could continue to change as the build-out for this site happens.

“We don’t know what the market will be in 10 years, 15 years, 20 years,” Schultz said. “It’s even hard to predict five years out.”

Whatever happens will be subject to a public consultation process, which gets started with a public “ideas fair” later this month. Schultz said a community design is expected to be ready for city councillors in the spring of 2014. After that, zoning and subdivision approvals will be needed for various proposals, and Schultz doesn’t anticipate any plots of land being ready for buyers until 2016.

Transportation infrastructure

In terms of transportation to integrate new development with the rest of the city and region, Schultz said there have been discussions with the city about rapid bus service that would connect the community to the future light-rail line.

As well, it is close to an area where there has been talk of placing another interprovincial bridge to connect Ottawa to Gatineau, Que. Schultz would not speculate on how this would affect development there but said a bridge at this location would be positive.

“I think our primary interests are having good access to as many different points around our site as possible,” Schultz said.

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