Norberry apartment expansion plans get ‘cool reception’
Property owner should first invest in improving aging units, tenants say.
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A proposal to expand the Norberry Residences apartment complex recently received a thorough drubbing by several tenants and neighbouring homeowners.
Many of the estimated 100 people who packed the Hunt Club-Riverside Park Community Centre on Oct. 13 to discuss the proposal were flat out against the plan to bump up the four-building, 761-unit complex with three more buildings for a total of 959 rental units.
The plan also calls for scaling back the required number of tenant and visitor parking spots to 671.
“Who agrees with this proposal right now? If you want to kill this right away clap your hands, stand up, do something,” Norberry tenant Patrick Rheaume said, drawing applause. ”There’s your answer, right there.
“For me it’s the principle. This area is a precious diamond in the rough of Ottawa,” Rheaume said of the Mooney’s Bay area. “They need to actually renovate those buildings (at the current site) before they even think of doing anything of that nature. This is the opposite way of where they should be thinking.”
Paul Lumsden, a longtime Springland Drive homeowner, blasted the project for being a cash grab and criticized the public meeting as a sales pitch.
“Why are we doing this? Are the people lying in the streets looking for a place to live? They want to make a profit.”
When another local resident asked officials what is driving the project, planning consultant Lloyd Phillips said the Norberry apartments are aging and there is an opportunity for additional housing, but that the site’s configuration has presented many challenges.
“Is it an effort to increase the revenue from the property? It certainly is,” he said. “They’re in business to provide housing, but in doing that they also have to follow the city’s policies and procedures and make sure that it is a workable and functional plan.”
Development firm GreatWise Developments, which is owned by Toronto-based GS Regal (as is Norberry Residences), is now setting its sights on adding three five-storey buildings at the perimetre of the property rather than in the middle.
“The benefit of this way of thinking is we increase green space, develop on land which is currently a parking lot and create an edge to the street, which is more in keeping with residential development and the scale of development,” said architect Rod Lahey.
Many at the meeting zeroed in on the issue of parking.
The proposal calls for downsizing the number of required parking spaces from 1.2 per unit to 0.65, and from 0.2 visitor spots to 0.05 after a parking study revealed the existing lots are underused.
The developer is seeking a minor zoning bylaw amendment to lower the number of required spots since current city rules would require more than 1,000 spaces “in a giant parking garage,” Phillips said, adding this would encourage more car usage and increase traffic.
“We think this is a much more constructive and sustainable way of dealing with it and it reflects the reality of the actual usage of the site.”
If demand for parking spots from future tenants is higher than anticipated, Lahey said the parking strategy could be reviewed after the first building is constructed.
“Right now it costs anywhere between $30,000 and $40,000 a parking space to put below grade,” he said after residents said underground parking is needed.
River Coun. Riley Brockington said the city’s planning committee and council have to be convinced that the parking formula is justified.
“The key to remember is Riverside Park streets are not parking lots. We are not offering our streets to be parking lots,” he said.
Concerns were also raised about the planned demolition of a parking garage and that future underground spaces that will be built will be reserved for tenants of the three added buildings.
A number of current renters complained they have paid a premium for underground parking, which they said they need because they either have physical disabilities or young children.
Phillips said the new apartments will be built in phases, which means the current parkade will be available until it is removed.
“We will have to work out an appropriate number and location of spaces to serve people with disability needs and there may be special accommodation that’s made. That’s the kind of advice we need to hear,” he said, adding the plan at this stage is conceptual.
Other concerns raised included access points that will be blocked by piled snow, the future of bicycle parking, that a new access road would cause congestion, increased traffic posing a risk to the safety of children, the employment status of current parkade security personnel and whether mature trees at the site will be protected.
Sarah Lorenz-Clement, who has been a Norberry tenant for a decade, worries about the parking situation but also said her view will be forever changed.
“I chose it because of the view and the trees,” she said. “Now it’s going to be apartments.”
While Phillips said there are no guarantees the tree roots won’t be damaged during construction, he agreed the trees are “one of the best assets on this site.”
Some tenants also questioned the state of the current apartments.
While the property owner is aware of problems with the older buildings, Phillips said “this new development isn’t really connected in terms of funding the repair. We’re not taking money to build those buildings away from the maintenance of the existing buildings.”
A LOOK AHEAD
No applications have been filed with the city yet, but city planner Melissa Jort-Conway said the proposal would require the approval of a site plan control as well as a minor zoning bylaw amendment.
Depending on when those are approved, construction on the first apartment building could begin in two years, and, pending its success, the next two buildings could be added in phases, said Phillips.
The first structure would take about 14 months to construct, Lahey said.
Brockington, who acknowledged the project was met with a “cool reception” at the meeting, urged attendees to submit comments to his office within the next two weeks as he wants to meet with project officials before the applications are filed.
“It’s easier to make changes now than when the formal application goes in,” he said.
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