A tale of two traditional main streets

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAby Robert Smythe

Progress on revitalizing two of Centretown’s primary east-west “Traditional Mainstreets” has been painfully slow. Two currently empty sites on Somerset Street and Gladstone Avenue, with nearly identical zoning, have produced radically different proposals for redevelopment.

Both are essentially good news, but one will be seen as a bold experiment and the other as a cautious return to the old tropes.

PIC2-GOLCould this project on the site of Chinatown’s most recent tragic burn-downs become an exemplar for infilling Somerset Street’s many vacant lots? It replicates the traditional format of residential units over store fronts once so typical on main streets. Cities all over North America are experimenting with all sorts of developer inducements to respect this built form — usually with mixed results. One of these is the parking space holiday.

In the case of Somerset and Percy, the land came with existing rights to skip providing parking because the buildings here previously, which had none, were removed by “involuntary means,” i.e., the fire. It takes advantage of the existing excavation, not for underground parking but utility rooms, storage, and bicycle parking. At the same time, as an inducement to redevelopment, the City of Ottawa has waived parking space required for commercial uses on mainstreets.

With only three storeys, it is much shorter than the five to nine storeys that might have been possible here. The developer’s design brief asserts that this project echoes the architectural heritage of Chinatown, but that is a matter of taste. If it goes ahead it will surely pioneer the market acceptability of zero-parking developments.

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The second example is several blocks due south on Gladstone Avenue. Until the early 1990s, this property was the site of modest row houses. They were damaged by fire and demolished, and it has remained an empty lot for some 25 years.

Charlesfort Development proposes an 18-unit apartment building created by Fotenn Planning and Design, although it bears a resemblance to that developer’s previous projects designed by Hobin Architects Inc. Three separate front door entrances lead to six units apiece.

Parking is provided in abundance with 16 spaces in an underground garage, plus one visitor parking space exceeding the bylaw space per unit demand that was previously established by the more stringent requirements of the City’s old regulations. No bicycle parking is discernible on the plans, but this is a bylaw requirement so it’s assumed that this will be provided.

Although Gladstone’s Traditional Mainstreet designation encourages commercial uses at grade the development will be residential only. If there ever was a suitable candidate for the stacked-shipping-container school of architecture, it would be this stretch of Gladstone. The development company has opted for signature pseudo-swanky buildings, evoking historic styles of no particular period, although the planning brief terms it “nouveau art deco.”