a peek inside the fishbowl

07 Jan, 2011

The unfolding mess that is “urban planning” in Westboro…

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Westboro|Yaktivism

… can be summarized thusly: small homes are being torn down in favour of huge homes that tower over neighbouring homes.

A new twin set is being built in my neighbourhood right now and I wanted to take a photo of it and post it here because it perfectly encapsulates the growing problem. Allow me to illustrate.
(I’ve uploaded full-size images to Flickr… so you can freely click to enlarge.)

Here’s the front view. Behind that lovely porta potty (omg, why is it ON THE STREET?) note how the garage will be perfectly at pedestrian view/street level.
 
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It’s hard to get an idea of how big they are, isn’t it? Well, here is the neighbouring house on the one side. (God. I wonder what THAT guy thinks about his new neighbours):

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The smaller white home is on a large corner lot. Here’s another view, just to get a better idea of what I’m talking about:

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These monsters are popping up like weeds. It’s disheartening, really. Why is this allowed? Where will it end?

(And before someone accuses me of NIMBY-like hatred of growth, don’t. I don’t mind infill, but we all know it can be designed so that it fits the size/space/character of the streetscape.)

FYI, these are a few of the homes on the same block as the one pictured above. I just kept walking and snapping:

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You can see a few more pics online here.

Westborians might also be interested to know that there was a Planning 101 workshop for Ottawa City Councillors and staff yesterday. A helpful thing, right? Because urban planning is IMPORTANT. Well, a little bird told me that there was no one from Ward 15 (a.k.a. Kitchissippi Ward) in attendance. Maybe someone can confirm, but apparently the convent was mentioned more than once and there was some surprise among the participants that neither Katherine Hobbes nor members of her new staff were there.

What do you think Westies? What are we going to do about this?


22 Responses to "The unfolding mess that is “urban planning” in Westboro…"

1 | Tiana

January 7th, 2011 at 1:17 pm

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Maybe Katherine Hobbes was too busy adding me to Twitter to attend. You know… since I live in Orleans.

2 | Anu

January 7th, 2011 at 1:53 pm

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Lovely pictures of older houses. Are there any new developments in your ‘hood that you find acceptable (in size, style, fit, planning)? Just curious.
I also lament some of the new houses and duplexes sometimes for lack of thought/insight of design, but it is easy to forgive those that buy them as the families tend to be so nice and they would have *never* bought a small old place, nor could have afforded a single (new) house on a larger lot in the same area.

3 | bushidoka

January 7th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

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I’ve been thinking a lot about this matter regarding the sisters of visitation. I’ve said this before as early as 2 or 3 years ago, but when I really think about it – you know what – they can go ahead and build stuff like that condo. I’ve said it before – if we want to intensify, let’s do it in the form of big buildings like that on the main drag somewhere. The way not to do it is the little nickel and dime stuff like tearing down one house on a big lot and building 2. Or dividing lots and squeezing in another house like they did on my street (Grant St) a few years ago, as well as that monstrosity on Armstrong up near the end.

Go ahead developers – have your way with the main drags, I don’t care. Build your huge condos. Just leave the side streets alone. Don’t try to cram every last space full.

The house across from me just got bought by a developer. It is on a double lot, and he plans to squeeze another house in there. I sit on a double lot – I go back and forth between wanted to sell the other half because “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, and wanting to put a covenant on my deed saying that it can never be divided.

4 | andrea

January 7th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

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Anu, there are quite a new houses that do it right. I recently wrote about one (in Westboro!) for an Ottawa shelter mag. Pics and details in PDF format here.)

5 | Binki

January 7th, 2011 at 2:26 pm

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Not much that can be done. We have a controversial monster house being built in our neighbourhood. Neighbours objected on the grounds that it is way WAY bigger than the rest of the houses in the hood. Tempers flared, sides dug in, hearings were held and in the end…the city says there are no valid grounds for these objections. It appears that in Ottawa, big fat different houses are different but ok. So they will continue to be built. It has to be somewhat awkward when visitors ask what you store in the little shed next door and you have to explain that it’s your neighbour’s house.

6 | andrea

January 7th, 2011 at 2:34 pm

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It’s sad. My point is there is a line in there somewhere. We do want creative and interesting and beautiful architecture, but at what expense? And do they have to be so large? The homes pictured in the photos above should not have been allowed to be built, not when they tower so crazily over the home next door like that.

re: small white house on big corner lot. I bet developers are SALIVATING at the thought of that little baby coming up for sale some day. How many houses do you think they’d try to cram in there?

7 | Ryan

January 7th, 2011 at 4:47 pm

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I noticed that when I was up there. There was one just like you have pictured here down the street from where I was staying that stuck out on a corner lot like a sore thumb. The thing is, I did see one of a similar design, just not as crazy big a few streets over that did a great job of fitting in while still looking modern. You’re right – it can be done, but the owners have to care. It seems like most of these new houses going in are owned by people who don’t, which is sad.

8 | Binki

January 7th, 2011 at 5:32 pm

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Just so we’re clear….I’m not against different/modern styles (one of the arguments put forth by those who objected) and I said so in consultation meetings. It’s about the SUPER-SIZE.

Have you noticed something about these new places? They all look alike. It was cool at first but I’m already really tired of it. Is there only one architect in all of Ottawa? How about some variety? Enough already with the cuby, corrugated metal and plastic dark brown wood. It’s so 2008. Yaaaawn!

9 | Shelley

January 7th, 2011 at 5:52 pm

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Andrea,
I’ve got time on my hands….come on a walking tour of Westboro Beach with me. It’s stunning, as we were the original cottage area. There are million dollar monsters on every block. And I’m like you, I support infill, just not this kind.
And the weird thing is, almost none of them are four bedrooms. All three. So, what is the point?

10 | Jennifer

January 7th, 2011 at 5:53 pm

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I love infill, but agree with you it has to be done right. The size of alot of these places is obscene. The prominence of the garages is awful to the streetscape. A few of these monster went up on our street and we lost an enormous tree because of it. Sad, sad, sad. There are a few being done right. There is one on Brennan right now being built that looks very similar to the houses on that street. So, what do we do about it? How does this problem get solved? Why aren’t the people that represent us at the city doing something about it? Or is it really just a few people that oppose it? I like infill, but not what’s happening around here.

11 | andrea

January 7th, 2011 at 5:56 pm

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Shelley – I am sadly aware of what’s happening in Westboro Beach. I dare say it’s even worse! And anytime you want to do a walkabout let me know!

Jennifer – As I mentioned, I don’t mind infill. I don’t even mind contemporary infill. Design is so subjective! But this is just crazy. Further to your last point: “Why aren’t the people that represent us at the city doing something about it?” Well, we have to let them – or should I say HER – know we care. I’m not certain how much planning and zoning know-how Ms. Hobbes has, but she has to know what’s going on. After all, she lives here!

12 | katie

January 7th, 2011 at 7:07 pm

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Didn’t Katherine Hobbs say that one of the committees she really wanted to join was Planning and, hmm, a quick check of this run-down from City Hall shows that she is: http://www.ottawa.ca/home_page_feeds/features/new_mayor_council_en.html

The way she is starting her term as councillor is so disappointing and disheartening. I don’t care how much work and learning she’s doing behind the scenes: optics REALLY COUNT for us in Westboro. If we don’t see her there, and we have no previous experience with her, our faith in her commitment and concern for the ward is not terribly strong.

*sigh*

13 | Jen_nifer

January 7th, 2011 at 9:18 pm

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Your pictures reminded me of my shock the first time I went to Vancouver and saw giant pink stucco homes nearly filling their lot, next to 40 year old bungalows.

14 | Erica at kitchissippikids

January 7th, 2011 at 10:56 pm

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There is some beautiful infill and then there is some terrible infill. The change in standard lot sizes from a 50 ft frontage to a 30 ft frontage makes many of the squeezed-in infill possible. 30 ft now seems to be looked on as normal even in Westboro where houses were built with a different type of neighbourhood in mind.

What I don’t understand is why people no longer seem to want any land around their home when clearly it would be affordable for them (if you can afford a large house you can afford a smaller one). Do they really want to see into their neighbours kitchen window? Do kids not play in their back yards anymore?

Part of the reason we bought our house was becuase of the back yard and the large maple. It’s been worth it having…and keeping.

A duplex and a single went up very close to us. They’re actually not bad, but….there is a 4th single going in that will completely ruin all of them. No more space, no more yard. Frankly I’d rather see one row of town houses than 4 singles with only a few feet between them….

I do really like the chronicling of some of the infill and have been meaning for a long time to take pictures of my own street. Thanks for the reminder Andrea.

15 | bushidoka

January 8th, 2011 at 1:08 pm

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So my neighbour just stopped by. If you look at Grant St on Google Maps there is only 1 house on the one side of the street, with a double lot and a garage on the other side of the lot. He is selling his house to a developer and is hoping to get my support for the project. He said they are putting THREE townhouses on that little lot, he said about 15 feet WIDE each. So it is going to look like the monstrosity at the end of Armstrong. So I’m torn about it all. I don’t think there is any way to stop this by the sounds of it. Which leaves me tempted to just give up and sell my house too. Let them develop it. Crap.

On the other hand I won’t have to look at the big ugly apartment building anymore out the front of my house, but I will have to look at this new triplex crammed into that little space. My mind still boggles that they want to put a TRIPLEX in there!

16 | Hilary

January 8th, 2011 at 1:16 pm

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The situation is dire. I’ve just been home to Westboro for a week and every new monster home breaks my heart. Have you heard about the brouhaha over on Hillcrest Ave?? The character of the neighbourhood is changing and becoming, well… characterless!

The unfortunate thing is that probably nothing can be done. People (and developers especially) in Ottawa just don’t seem to be committed to sensitive, appropriate design, and Westboro is the newest victim.

17 | lacoop

January 8th, 2011 at 7:10 pm

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You are right Andrea, there is a line and it has been crossed. What confuses me is these houses are not cheap (usually in excess of $1,000,000) …. and yet, they all appear similar and kind of boring. The size is one thing, but really, if I was spending that much money in the little, sleepy town of Ottawa (hey, we ain’t Van or Toronto), I would want something special. Really, if you have that much to spend, then spend a little more and make it something that will be interesting for years to come, not just reflective of the current trends. Somebody must be making big profits, because I just can’t see how these are worth the asking price. The new house on Denbury, across from Broadview school, looks like it may be bucking the trend.

18 | Amy

January 9th, 2011 at 12:58 am

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I’m gobsmacked. One of the houses pictured was MY grandparents house. One they lived in for well over 50 years. I know the landscape on the block well. All the old neighbourhoods are seeing this development. I can’t stand it. I don’t mind infill, Machanicsville and Vanier are starting to pull themselves out of bad reputations because of it, but the City hasn’t done its job to protect the residents in these areas. Its really sad.

19 | Carla

January 9th, 2011 at 4:10 pm

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I think it’s interesting that the discussion has been all about infill and architects and the city. But, the reality is that all these houses are built because people are buying them. So, a key question to answer is Why are people buying houses like this in the first place? And that is not clear to me, but it may be worthwhile for those of you who say you have neighbours who have bought these big infill houses, who Anu said here tend to be really nice people, to ask them why makes a house like that attractive? I can imagine some answers, but don’t know if I ‘m right: A modern house with lots of space in the core city area. It used to be people who wanted big houses went to the suburbs where land was cheaper.

But, I think this desire is not isolated, it is part of a societal shift, or shifts happening: Many people want more space inside than outside, bigger rooms good, small yard ok. Used to be the other way around. Our personal space as a society is growing exponentially, to accommodate a more sedentary lifestyle, more time with electronics, more time inside. Also, there is a bigger demand for housing units given that family units are getting smaller, and often times single persons own/occupy a house that may have been home to 5 people when that house was built 50 years ago (all the power to the single people making their way, but this is having a real impact in the amount of housing that has to be made available for everyone). And, there is more of a ‘now!’ mentality where people are more willing to go into debt for what they want now rather than slowly move up as many did generations before.
One question remains for me at least: who has the kind of money to buy a $800,000 or more in Ottawa (classic or modern or not)? But that’s maybe just me being jealous! :) ha And there are many of them who have this kind of money who want the modern house in the city core so off they go to build them.
Ultimately, nothing is going to happen to the large modern infill houses unless demand changes; supply and demand basics I suppose.

20 | andrea

January 9th, 2011 at 10:38 pm

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Amy , I was sad to see your comment. I hope your grandparents house sticks around for a long time!

Good point Carla. There needs to be a shift back in this direction, and until that happens (or the City of Ottawa comes up with something else) we’ll keep seeing those kinds of megahomes cropping up all over Westboro.

By the way, two houses like the one in the photos above were built down the street from me. They weren’t built by regular people who bought the land and built a regular house, they were bought by a developer… and when that happens I think there’s a lot more speculation about what people want vs what they need eed. One of the two houses (two went in on a lot where only one home stood before) remains unsold.

21 | Amy

January 10th, 2011 at 2:11 am

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Thanks Andrea.

If I may point out. If the community is strong, and I can name a few that have remained so. (Pineglen for example) The community association can keep these developers out, but usually only with reasonable arguments. In Pineglen’s case, they continue to have well water and developers are begging to have city water sent in so the land can be partitioned. So far the community has won out. Some day they might loose the battle and the face of the community will forever be changed. So I believe it needs to be a two pronged approach (both city & community).

Perhaps we need to go back to a more grass roots approach to community. And voicing your concern on blogs like this is a great first step. Thanks for your post Andrea. Nearly 20 of us are moved by it and so many more are behind us.

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! 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.

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