a peek inside the fishbowl

12 Jan, 2011

In which bigger is not better

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Ottawa|Yaktivism

Further to this post.

When we went skiing at Westboro Beach the other day I grabbed my camera and walked up the street from where we parked in order to snap a few photos of some new houses that were being built in that neighborhood. Here’s the kind of thing you encounter when you’re in the neighborhood (you need to click to enlarge – sorry for the poor quality panorama, but you get the idea):


Edited to add: Here’s a snap from Google street view. This is what used to be on the site pictured above.

I understand why people clamour for height in Westboro Beach. They want views of the river, but isn’t that a little much? What exactly does this say about the people who build these huge homes?

Here’s a suggestion for a residential zoning amendment! How about developers not be allowed to build a house that is twice the height of the neighbouring house if they are within a certain distance from each other?

Westboro Beach - blog photo

These ones are just high, but many of these new houses look down with condescention upon the rest of us in other ways. Like the homes in my previous post, there is something off-putting about the placement of the garage (street level) and front door (high above street level). The trend nowadays is to add two monster homes (often purchased by childless double-income couples) where one stood before. This does not exactly do much for the stated goals of intensification.

The whole process favours the developer, not the people who actually live here. I’ve said it before but it needs to be said again…  the whole process is fueled by greed; greedy developers, greedy buyers, greedy sellers, and a greedy administration who (a) doesn’t really care and (b) benefits with an increase to City coffers. Great neighborhoods are not built upon a foundation of greed.

I understand that some people want to live in really big houses, I understand that some changes are here to stay, but we need to take a serious look at what’s happening here and ask ourselves (and our new Councillor!):

  • Do we, as a community, want to live in a neighbourhood that looks like this?
  • Do we, as a community, value trees and green space?If so, how can we protect it?
  • Why can’t new houses be designed to fit into the community, within existing zoning bylaw?

A few more shots from this stroll were uploaded to my Flickr page.

29 Responses to "In which bigger is not better"

1 | Kimusan

January 12th, 2011 at 10:27 am


Self-identifying right off the bat as a childless double-income family, Andrea. It’s not all of us.

In fact, this trend you’re tracking is why I *cannot* live in that neighbourhood. I can’t afford it, even with our significantly-reduced lifestyle costs and generous salaries.

If I can humbly submit, the one tact you haven’t articulated is, in fact, affordability. It will not be long before people like me are utterly priced out of neighborhoods like this, forcing us further from the centre. Whither, urbanization?

And I’d make a damn fine neighbour.

2 | Lynn

January 12th, 2011 at 10:57 am


These photos are astonishing to me. I knew about infill in Westboro but I had no idea that such mismatches could occur. Speaking as someone who lives in the ultimate cookie cutter community, it’s kind of sad to see the character of your neighbourhood fall to such suburban ways of living.

It’s not really my fight to fight, but I’m so glad to see you doing something about it. I hope you rally your councillor to your cause.

3 | andrea

January 12th, 2011 at 11:35 am


Kinusan – no disrespect to DINKS was intended. I’d love to have you as a neighbour! :)

I know it’s not all of you, not by a long shot! I was making a point about infill becoming a priority for the City of Ottawa. They want to build infill to bring more people into Westboro in order to stop urban sprawl, which is fine, but massive homes for two people do not really do much to further the cause, you know what I mean?

Gentrification is a real issue too. Heck, if we were looking to buy we probably couldn’t afford it either. :(

4 | andrea

January 12th, 2011 at 11:36 am


Lynn: when you look at the photos you really get a sense of how out-of-control it really is. It’s sad really.

5 | andrea

January 12th, 2011 at 12:05 pm


This comment came from Louisa, who couldn’t post it because of firewall issues:

“When we moved into Westboro, neighbours – even stranger walking down the street – kept congratulating us for renovating and adding to our little house instead of tearing it down. It took me a while to clue in to why, but in the past two years several monsters have gone up near us so I get it now.

Infill is important but the scale of the infill homes is way out of control. A real estate agent told us that no one wants a back yard anymore – for buyers, it’s all about squre footage of home. The impact on the streetscape and the affordability of the neighbourhood is very true and disheartening.

I agree with you on many fronts, but I do want to point out that often there are families with small kids moving into these houses. I can think of several near us. Which makes it all the more confusing to me – don’t they want to be able to open the back door and say “Go get dirty!”?”

6 | andrea

January 12th, 2011 at 12:09 pm


There’s an interesting discussion about intensification unfolding over here:


There’s an apt line in one of the comments on that page: “Low-density housing incurs a lot of unnecessary infrastructure costs, to say nothing of the financial and personal toll of having to drive everywhere. It’s something that can, and should, be actively discouraged by city planners.”

In my post I didn’t mean to imply that ALL new infill homes are owned by couples with no kids. Some are, and some aren’t, but I think it’s safe to say that these kinds of homes don’t really add much density to Westboro. If increasing density is really the City’s goal, they should build higher, smaller dwellings along Scott Street near the transitway.

7 | Fern Doctoroff

January 12th, 2011 at 4:32 pm


Interesting – we have a 6 storey condo being built in our backyard (we border Wellington Street West – near the Metro grocery story so I know exactly what you mean). Took a quick look at our new councillor’s facebook site – no action since Dec 23? I sent her a quick e-mail at the end of Nov – didn’t get a response – where is she? I doubt she would have anything to say that I agree with when it comes to intensification but I find it distressing that she is not making it a priority to engage herself in these discussions since it is a significant issue facing the residents of our ward! I am not impressed!

8 | Demae

January 12th, 2011 at 5:27 pm


As a long time resident of Westboro, part of a childless couple and now retired, I resent being called greedy if I should choose to sell my home for market value.

Are you not being greedy in wanting to keep others out of our community? Part of what makes this a good place to live is that there is diversity in the type of housing and in the people who live here: young, old, with and without children.

While a childless couple moving into a large home may not add to density initially, the space is there. What about the couple you wrote about in their 2400 square foot custom home? Did they add to the density?

I do not think the process of intensification only favours the developer. Most of the infill being done in Westboro is by small guys, not Minto, Ashcroft and Claridge. These little guys are not making big bucks when they’re building two homes at a time.

What about your renovation? Are you not considering an addition to your home, thereby increasing its square footage and value?

9 | andrea

January 12th, 2011 at 5:52 pm


Demae –
One of the things I try to do here in this virtual space is never write anything I wouldn’t say to someone’s face. In a fit of anger and frustration that’s exactly what I did. If I met you or a developer on the street I would never say that to you. I apologize for that.

I don’t want to keep anyone out of the neighborhood at all. I am, however, saddened by the fact that the only homes that are on the market nowadays are in the pre-million range. And THAT is what’s keeping people out of this neighborhood, not people like me.

The diversity you mentioned is disappearing very quickly.

The couple I wrote about replaced one small house with another small(looking) house that totally blends in with the streetscape. I offered that up as proof that it could be done. New homes do not have to look like monoliths. Other developers would have taken that same lot and plunked two tall homes into it. That couple did not choose that route.

For the record, I would never knowlingly sell my house to someone who planned to tear it down and build anything on it like what is pictured above. We are planning a reno, but it will NEVER tower over our neighbours homes. Why would I do that to them?

10 | ken

January 12th, 2011 at 5:57 pm


So if I want to buy a lot beside a small post war 1 and 1/2 storey house I can only build 1 and 1/2 storeys? But my neighbour down the street who bought beside the old 3 storey farm house can build 3 storeys? Imagine the screaming about that one.

Zoning rules cannot be lot specific because its not fair.

I beleive this is progess. The kind of progress that has this area being farmland, then pasture then cottages, then suburban lots, then urban lots, then high density lots and undoubtably in 50 years these will be removed to build condos. Sometimes it hurts, but it is progress.

If nothing changes then someone would be upset that this area was allowed to atrophy.

great thread.

11 | andrea

January 12th, 2011 at 6:25 pm


lol – I know. This is why urban planning should be left to the professionals. :)

It is maddening to see progress without a plan or a thought to what this place will look like in 5, 10, 20 years.

And progress aside, would you want to live in the little house in the middle between two monsters? I know I wouldn’t.

12 | Lilibet

January 12th, 2011 at 9:20 pm


with all due respect, the photos you have shown are not monster homes, they are 3-level stacked townhomes, not a single family dwelling. The future of infill is going to be higher density units like these, or people would not be able to afford to live inside the greenbelt. Are you saying you would like to see only single-family bungalows built in westboro? Who could afford that??? I bet these stacked towns are going for half a million, at a very, very, VERY conservative estimate. So your advice to build small, single homes is not really realistic; who could afford that when stacked towns are a half-million already?

13 | Lilibet

January 12th, 2011 at 9:29 pm


…not to mention that these new homes may be much more energy efficient than the old ones, that they will house 2-3 families instead of just one, that those are people who will not be heading to the suburbs for housing.

It’s not condos (I see Metropole in the background), it’s stacked towns. I, personally, would prefer to see social housing go on lots like these, to add *true* diversity to this neighbourhood (good luck, eh).

14 | Lilibet

January 12th, 2011 at 9:47 pm


agh. I just perused your pdf about the couple in Westboro who had an architect cutom build their ‘not so big house’. Okay. I am not trying to be snarky here, I am trying to be realistic. I try to stay grounded. How much did that ‘not so big house’ cost with its Cherry floors and its custom millwork? Seriously! Who can afford to buy a house in Westboro, tear it down and have an architect design a new one? Oh wait… their other choice was the Glebe! Come on! Are these people really representative of the average Ottawa home owner? No! These are extremely wealthy individuals who are nearing retirement. You cannot possibly be holding this couple up as the poster people for Westboro? They are gentrification personified…. AGHHHHHH!

I have to go and relax now.

Again, I am not trying to be snarky — I am just a bit startled that you would think that an average couple or family would be able to build that home and that the future of Westboro should be made up of residents like that — they look lovely, but they are obviously a white, wealthy, professional couple with money. Let’s be realistic here. The house is beautiful, but if you factor in the cost to buy the first house, demolish it and have an architect build a second house (with custom cherry table no less), then you are looking at a price tag of $750k easily.

Personally, I don’t think Westboro should be a haven for the uber-wealthy. Maybe that’s just me. I see nothing wrong with the higher density townhomes if it means more diverse families will be able to live there.

15 | andrea

January 12th, 2011 at 10:03 pm


Monster is in the eye of the beholder, but let’s not get hung up on semantics. Look again at the second image from the top. It is a Very Big House. Do you really see nothing wrong with the photo, the juxtapostion of the two homes? Would you honestly want to live in the smaller house, living in the shadow on the larger one? Be honest.

Lillibet –
re: the article. I was only giving an example of what kind of home can be built in this area. Yes, it’s expensive. But a new home does NOT have to tower over the house next door. It CAN be designed to fit the streetscape.

The point of my post seems to have been lost, or perhaps I was not clear enough at the outset. Building homes that tower over neighbouring homes is not right. It looks ridiculous, and it makes life miserable for the people who live next door. Who’s speaking up for those people? Why aren’t they given the right to protect their investment?

16 | shelley

January 12th, 2011 at 10:26 pm


I live in Westboro Beach in a cottage that was built before the turn of the century. It’s quaint and hip and soon, it will no doubt be bulldozed like so many other homes of yesteryear. In its place something towering. Progress? Perhaps.

Beyond my price range? Absolutely.


I’d like to say that my area has an architectural history worth preserving. But it doesn’t, really. Most of the cottages on my street were long ago bulldozed and brick townhouses built in their place. Most of these new houses and are nondescript and uninspiring.

But, they aren’t over-the-top (literally) in size, and they are humble enough that young families can afford to live in them. When the seniors on my street moved out, young families have moved in. Meanwhile, the towering newly built singles on my stree are inhabited not by families, but by wealthy two-income couples, no kids. That’s not a slur, that’s a fact. And I envy their double-income-no-kids wealth, but I also resent their taste and preferences. They don’t want yards, because they have no kids. They don’t want family homes with four bedrooms, they insist on three-bedroom homes with huge master bedrooms.

I know it’s a matter of time before my little cottage is dwarfed by two or maybe more monsters on either side. I only hope that I can still see the sun from my windows.

17 | lacoop

January 12th, 2011 at 10:26 pm


The pictures are good Andrea. To me, it does illustrate the poor taste of these projects. For the money they cost, I still believe they could look better. I wonder what this neighbourhood is going to look like in 20 years. I hope we don’t lose the trees in the process…I think it is one of the key things that does work. In Montreal this past weekend, I saw similarly priced homes in a good downtown neighbourhood which were much more attractive…and they were big too, but they managed to make themselves look good at the same time.

18 | Nadine

January 12th, 2011 at 11:46 pm


Andrea, I absolutely agree with your comments about this type of landfill. I just fail to understand why some of your readers cannot see how the 2- storey older house in the first picture resembles something from the “playmobile” toy collection when it is stuck there between those 2 Supersize-Condos…
You would think that the architects would have tried to respect some sort of harmony in the “lines” !

Our neighborhood (McKellar Park) has been under attack as well : new single 2 -storey houses that look like hotels built on postage stamps !

19 | Fern

January 13th, 2011 at 2:57 pm


One more comment … what about the lack of a yard around these large infill buildings? Doesn’t anyone lament over the fact that people don’t seem to care that they are giving up a front and backyard.

For those with children, where will they play? What about having space for a patio, bbbq and other outdoor space around their indoor living space. I thought the type of people attracted to live in Westboro valued – outdoor recreation? Is’t there something to be said for having access to your own private outdoor space?

Isn’t there something to be said for having something nie to look at, … plants, flowers, trees, birds, small animals – we actually see bunny rabbits from time to time running across our street and woodpeckers in our trees. Larger buildings taking up most of the lot means less less greenspace and more concrete … zoning by-laws contain conditions regarding set-backs (front, side & rear) and all these new large buildings are obtaining minor variance approvals to build with reduced setbacks, etc. in order to design infill housing that squeezes as much indoor living space onto the smallest lot possible -nice to live closer to the core of the city but do we all need to have +++ ammenities in our homes – 3-4 bathrooms, several ensuite bathrooms, jaccuzi tubs, gyms, “man caves”, space for 4-5 large screen 3-D HD tv’s, etc. You know what I mean!

20 | Lilibet

January 13th, 2011 at 4:00 pm


well, had to revisit and agree on a couple of points: in Old Ottawa South, they are erecting whatever the heck they want, with big old garage doors dominating the streetscape; it’s been in the paper. It seems that there is not an adherence to agreed-upon aesthetics in new infill builds. Seems this needs to go into building bylaw. I will agree on the greed (developer + consumer). Also, looking more carefully @ your photos, there is indeed a big honking monster home there. As always, hope I have respectfully disagreed!

21 | Jennifer

January 13th, 2011 at 4:29 pm


I’ll say it again Andrea…. you are a brave, brave girl for weighing in on this issue. And it is an issue isn’t it. A few of the comments I think are very interesting. Someone mentioned diversity in our community. I think this is a big issue because we are losing it. And a bland demographic makes for a bland community. As the housing prices go up the diversity of our community goes waaayyyyy down. I’m not brave enough to say it so I’ll just quote from above: “…white, wealthy, professional couple with money..” This is what we get. No offense meant as we almost qualify as these people (wealth being subjective).

Although I don’t like the big garages (admittedly I secretly would LOVE one – but I would hide it around back). At least when these semi’s go up they are housing 2 families where usually there was only one before, so at least one less family is driving out to the suburbs to get a new home. I think this is worth weighing into the overall infill debate. I think it’s also valid to consider as someone points out that the new homes I’m guessing are far more energy efficient then the old one. ANd maybe drain a little less resources even if they are bigger.

Carla also made a good point from a previous post. What do these homes say about our society as a whole when a four person family needs 2400 sq ft? And no yard? WHy are we so willing to go into so much debt for a house? Maybe there are quite reasonable answers to these questions, I just haven’t heard them yet.

I think in Ottawa we have little chance to do anything about this as the most people will do is sign a petition and line up politely at City Hall to have their voice heard for 3 minutes. Then City Hall goes with the developer/building, new folks move in, we like them, so we forget until the next BIG house goes up and it all starts over again. Maybe someone needs to get a little more pissed off?? (I’m not volunteering to do that just suggestion ;-)

I’m still on the fence about all this. I do HATE the prominent garage though, that’s for sure. I’d also LOVE to hear from a few folks living in a new bigger home in Westboro. WHat’s your take on this? WHy did you buy a big house? Are you aware of how some people feel about it? Does it bother you? Would love to hear your side of the story.

Great post, Andrea.

22 | Binki

January 13th, 2011 at 5:30 pm


This is a great post. I responded to an earlier post by saying that I doubt that anything can be done about the SUPER-SIZED houses being built in older neighbourhoods with mostly matching smallish houses. I went to a meeting where several really pissed off folks took on a young couple who were planning to build a monster house. The main argment was the SIZE (much too big – it doesn’t match the rest of the houses). The owner listened but said he wanted a BIG house and that he didn’t have to get anyone’s permission. City Hall approved the plan. It’s half built and it’s REALLY big. I doubt that anyone can now stop these places from being built. There are so many of them that the precedent is now solid. On what grounds could City Hall now NOT grant approval?

There are some good points to ponder in the reponses above. I don’t like the SUPER-SIZED houses. To me they seem CRASS. They seem to shout LOOK AT ME! Should this bother me so much that I fight tooth and nail to stop it? Or do I accept that things change? I’m watching the steady construction of the new MONSTER HOUSE around the corner and every day I accept it a little more. It won’t kill our neighbourhood but it does change it. I liked it better…before.

23 | Binki

January 13th, 2011 at 5:39 pm


Hummers are also CRASS and scream LOOK AT ME but I have never done anything about them – other than give them the evil eye when I pass them on the Queensway.

24 | bushidoka

January 13th, 2011 at 7:12 pm


Check out this proposal for Grant St, right across from my house. Taking the house shown and dividing off the free space beside it into a separate property, and putting a TRIPLEX on it where each unit is about 15 feet wide and 4 stories high


25 | ken

January 14th, 2011 at 12:41 am


I get from this that the majority opinion is that people don’t like the size and esthetic of the larger semis (I don’t think they are stacks – not enough front doors).

Esthetic, unfortunately, you can’t legislate. Different cultures, different price point, different socio-economic levels all create too many variables.
Imagine trying to force someone to build a larger house in Stonebridge. (“No I’m sorry sir you can’t build that little bungalow here, its too small. Not in keeping with the neighbourhood. Could you please add another floor and 2000 square feet”)

Size however you can legislate. That is the zoning bylaws, and obviously they allow this kind of size and height in this area. If the residents and community associations don’t like the size they can deal with the city. Vote somebody in or out. But, I bet most of these people don’t mind seeing their property values skyrocket with the potential to redevelop with larger, higher density housing.

So is it unfortunate visually, yes, but I bet that little bungalow on the 50 foot+ lot is now worth $750k plus. Not bad for a 1000 square foot post war cottage with no insulation, faulty wiring and single pane windows.
I betchya he’s pricing out a nice new condo next door or in Kanata Lakes.

26 | andrea

January 14th, 2011 at 9:37 am


This has been a really interesting discussion. Thank you!

I would like to point out that:

1) I’m not against contemporary design or large homes. I’m against large homes in settings that don’t make sense and pit neighbour against neighbor. And I doubt that all large homes use less energy than their smaller counterparts. Large new homes may be more efficient, but owners still have to heat/cool that much more real estate. How many of those new homes decided to forgo the A/C?

2) I still believe that 99.9% of those who say that the big homes pictured above are ok would never want to live next door in their shadow.

27 | bushidoka

January 14th, 2011 at 7:01 pm


Ken, I’d be happy with the existing size legislation if they’d just stick with it. The problem is that the developers apply for an easement, and then always get it, and the size regulations go out the window. And then that easement gets used as a slipperly slope for the next developer to apply for an even bigger easement. This is happening on my short little 1 block street. The house at the end of the road got an easement 3 or 4 years ago to build 3 stories. Now the one across the street is going for 4 stories. Where does it end? Why do they make the laws if they don’t stick to them?

28 | Marg

January 16th, 2011 at 8:30 pm


I’ve noticed quite a diff in the way people post their opinions to your blog about colossal intensification and the way other threads progress about this issue. Before I read this thread I had already wondered why more civility couldn’t be the norm and yours is super civil for which I am so glad. There appears to be a gender difference too. I think women need to get their opinions even further into the fray (and it feels like a fray) because so much of what people and you are saying about the over-sized housing going up around the near westend needs to be heard loud and clear and with conviction. I found it really great to hear others saying what I’d been thinking on my daily strolls as I saw the change for the worse over the years. I’ve lived in Wellington West thirty years, and stroll everywhere in the areas talked about and photographed. Often I had wished that I had my camera. Andrea your blog about this is as important as any of the other ones about intensification and I hope readers tune into those other ones too.

29 | Erica at KitchissippiKids

January 21st, 2011 at 12:27 am


Andrea, I find these discussions you start on intensification fascinating. I watch my own street in trepidation as it remains one with several very small post WWII homes. I know they will either be torn down or renovated and am just hoping the end result is something that “fits in”. Three new homes were built on a single lot 10 years ago just before we moved in. Our own home was originally a bungalow but had the second story added about 30 years ago when the owners had their second and third boys. We renovated recently but didn’t expand the foot print by more than a few feet. What would I do without my backyard? Some of the houses on my street could do with updating, renovating, even possibly bulldozing. But it is really important how it’s done.

One other thing that I have noticed about the neighbourhood since moving here 10 years ago is the gardening. Every small home, even the smallest somewhat rundown home, used to have a beautiful garden, clearly hand done by the owner. Now, a lot of what I see is professional landscaping. Just an observation but I wonder how it fits into the neighbourhood “psyche”.

comment form:


Stay in touch

Me and my pet projects

Ottawa Bucket list

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


E-book alert!

Shopping Embargo e-book promo

My right hand is actually a camera

Connect with me at these places too!

Piper is on Instagram

On the nightstand

All hail the mighty Twitter