John Howard Society’s new building – plans progress

By Sue Stefko
(Appeared in the Glebe Report, October 2019)

The initial goal of starting construction in fall 2019 will not be met, but there has been plenty of progress on 289 Carling Avenue, the site of the future supportive-housing building and headquarters for the Ottawa John Howard Society (JHS).

One major step was the site-plan proposal, which came out on August 29th. Looking much like preliminary plans released this spring, the site-plan proposal has no major surprises. The plan conforms to zoning, with no variances required. As initially promised, the development will contain 40 units, including space for education, training and John Howard Society staff and will have 29 parking spots.

Trees will not survive

One new (and disappointing) piece of information revealed in the site plan is that none of the trees on the property will survive. They will all need to be excavated, as they are within the building’s footprint. However, a cedar hedge at the northern edge of the property is outside the footprint and will remain – if it survives construction. The landscaping plan does at least show replacement greenery, including a small number of trees planned along Carling Avenue. While pleased to see trees as part of the plan, the Glebe Annex Community Association is encouraging the JHS to use more local, wildlife-friendly plantings in its landscaping.

One aspect that remains unknown, and remains of interest to the community, is the proposed outdoor amenity space at the top of the third-level podium and how this space will be configured to help ensure privacy for the Lakelander Condominium directly west of the property. Ottawa JHS executive director Tyler Fainstat indicates that those details have not been worked out yet and will emerge as part of the design development phase.

Site contamination

The plan also reveals that the site needs remediation. While this was expected, the Environmental Site Assessment provides some possible reasons why – it seems the site was part of an industrial zone in the past. Although it has been a parking lot since at least 1958, aerial photos show a building of unknown purpose on the site from as early as 1938 until at least 1950. It may have been part of JR Booth’s Fraserfield Lumber Yard, which extended from Dow’s Lake to north of Carling Avenue. The lot is also adjacent to an old quarry on the west side of Bell St. South which dates back from the early 1900s. It is also near a former landfill south of the property – the location of the current Commissioner’s Park. Finally, there were a number of retail fuel outlets with underground storage facilities near the area from the 1940s and 50s, and in some cases, all the way through to 2005 – for example, the auto service station at the southwest side of Bronson and Carling, which was demolished in 2017.

Regardless of the precise source, environmental testing found a number of contaminants that exceeded what are considered to be safe levels. These include arsenic, barium, chromium, lead, molybdenum, silver, zinc, mercury and benzene. Remediation is expected to take place in spring or summer of 2020 and is expected to take approximately two weeks. Construction is expected to start shortly thereafter.

In addition to the site plan, the proposal recently cleared another hurdle. Given its location on an arterial main street, it is in a Design Priority Area. As such, it is subject to review by the Urban Design Review Panel, an independent advisory panel of volunteer professionals, namely architects and landscape architects. While the panel can’t enforce any of its recommendations, they will be considered by city staff during their deliberation of the site plan. In its report following the September 6th meeting, the panel described the project in a relatively positive manner, as a “handsome building” with a good visual relationship to the neighbourhood. The use of brick on the podium was especially appreciated by the panel, as it is congruent with nearby red brick buildings such as the Lakelander Condominium and Dow’s Lake View townhouses. However, the panel did see room for improvement, calling for greater design linkages between the podium and the tower.

Once the considerations from the Urban Design Review Panel, the public, the ward councillor and other key stakeholders, such as various city departments and Hydro Ottawa, are considered, the building’s site plan will be deliberated by the city. Its approval, which is expected within five months according to city target timelines, will be another major step in the planning process. The next major step will be the JHS building permit application. The Glebe Annex Community Association intends to keep a close eye on this project as it continues to progress.

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