Thursday, February 20, 2014

Proposed makeover for former CFB Rockcliffe has ‘got it pretty much right’: planner

OTTAWA — It’s like a small town dropping in on the big city. That is how Ottawans might regard their newest neighbourhood-in-waiting after Canada Lands Company unveiled its plans for the former Canadian Forces Base Rockcliffe.

Canada Lands, the Crown corporation that owns the 125-hectare site, held a public meeting Tuesday to reveal its intention to a mixed-use district of about 5,200 houses and apartments for 10,000 to 15,000 residents. The one-time military base, located a mere five kilometres from Parliament Hill, is the largest development parcel of land within the Greenbelt. It occupies an escarpment overlooking the Ottawa River valley, east of St. Laurent Boulevard and north of Montreal Road. The area is surrounded by other mature neighbourhoods and communities such as Manor Park, Rockcliffe Park, Rothwell Heights, Fairhaven, Thorncliffe Park and Vanier.

The plan, which will likely be submitted to the City of Ottawa this spring, is the culmination of a series of public consultations, workshops and studies that CLC has conducted over the last few years. On Tuesday evening, company officials expressed confidence that their project will find general acceptance with both the public and the politicians.  “We’ve listened to what people have told us and we think we’ve got it pretty much right,” said Don Schultz, real estate director for the Rockcliffe project.

Certainly, there were those who thought a few things — for example, where’s the health centre? Why no housing for seniors? What about a wetland to attract frogs and dragonflies? — needed more attention. One streetwise observer warned that “a pathway at the back of retail stores is asking for trouble.” Another questioned why six- to eight-storey apartments were proposed for a well-treed area that once housed officers and their families. And, of course, there were some who thought Canada Lands was “ruining a beautiful parkland ... by this awful intensification.”

By and large, though, those who attended Tuesday’s presentation gave CLC credit for taking area residents’ concerns to heart. “There’s a few glitches, but I like it,” said Al Crosby, a longtime Fairhaven resident. “They (Canada Lands) have done an excellent job in the pre-consultation process and I think they’ve achieved a balance (between environmental concerns and developmental aspirations).”

Perhaps the biggest concern for nearby neighbours was increased traffic congestion, particularly on Beechwood Avenue, Hemlock Road and the Rockcliffe Parkway.  Schultz said the company has taken that concern seriously, designing the community to be highly transit friendly.

“A big part of the solution is going to be public transit,” he said, citing plans for special transit corridors that will give buses priority at traffic lights, extra lanes at intersections and, in some places, bus-only lanes. The idea, he said, is to “make it as convenient and comfortable as possible” for residents to use transit services.

The plans as presented show intended sites for different types of houses — detached houses, townhouses, stacked townhouses and four-storey apartment buildings, along with residential buildings of up to eight storeys — as well as two parks, two schools, open areas, storm ponds and, never to be forgotten, woodlot green space.

In his presentation, Schultz alluded to the company’s willingness to address green space concerns, pointing out that about 90 per cent of the existing trees in the development area will remain standing. Indeed, one park is specifically slated to be built around a 200-year old Burr tree in order to preserve it.

Schultz also noted plans to “provide for employment” within the community itself. “Fruitful discussions” are underway with the nearby Montfort Hospital and the National Research Council on this matter. As well, CLC hopes to locate variety of small business outlets — laundries, drugstores, retail outlets and the like — in the community core. And there is every intention of building appropriate monuments that commemorate both the areas military history and its importance to its one-time aboriginal occupants.

The project has been a long time coming. In 2006, Canada Lands unveiled a project called Rockcliffe Landing that would have established a community of between 10,000 and 15,000. A year later, the Algonquins of Ontario filed a land claim temporarily prevent the Department of National Defence from selling the land. Only in 2011 did the land sale go ahead, after the Algonquins signed a $10-million deal with the federal government that allows them to buy some of the site and develop it in keeping with Canada Lands’ overall plans.

Canada Lands intends to submit its project to the city for its consideration this spring, with a view to sending in the bulldozers to install streets and services in 2015. The lots will be offered to builders in 2016.

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