By François Bregha
On July 12, City Council unexpectedly restricted for one year the construction of low-rise apartment buildings with high bedroom counts (colloquially known as bunkhouses) to give itself time to develop more effective controls over that type of development. This interim control bylaw covers Sandy Hill and other inner-city neighbourhoods (including parts of Centretown, Overbrook, Old Ottawa East and Old Ottawa South). The property at 70 Russell (at the corner of Osgoode) is explicitly exempted from this bylaw because it had already received site plan approval. That former single-family home will be demolished (it is structurally unsound) and will be replaced by a low-rise apartment building with 21 bedrooms.
Sandy Hill residents who have long been concerned about the proliferation of bunkhouses may be encouraged by the wording of the Council motion proposing the temporary restrictions because it recognizes that many of the developments being built look like rooming houses (although they fall outside the technical definition), that they adversely affect the fabric and character of the neighbourhood and that they have given rise to significant public concerns.
City staff now has the difficult job of proposing policies that will achieve a better balance between growth and the compatibility of this growth with established neighbourhoods. In doing so, it will review best practices in other jurisdictions.It also has retained a consultant (Urban Strategies, the firm that developed the University’s Master Plan) to provide additional expertise. City staff will develop options for analysis with three goals:
• Provide for the gradual evolution of established communities, and ensure that multi-unit development fits with the mixed character of inner-urban neighborhoods;
• Develop appropriate zoning standards for low-rise buildings to ensure good fit, integration and site function, and
• Ensure clarity and reasonable expectations regarding what is and is not allowed, for both the community and builders.
Staff will report back in two phases and expects to table a first set of recommendations for stakeholder consultations this fall. This phase would address ambiguities in existing regulations (e.g., what is a rooming house?) that have led to abuses. A second set of recommendations is to follow in the spring to propose additional solutions (e.g., broader application of the site control bylaw).