500 Preston (Soho Italia)

The City will shortly be considering the rezoning of 500 Preston Street to permit a 35 storey condo tower occupying the entire lot at the corner of Preston and Sydney. Here is our input to the city consultation process:


755 Somerset Street West, Ottawa, Ontario, K1R 6R1    11 August 2011
Eric Darwin, President

Planning and Growth Management Dept
Attn D.Bridgewater

Re: the Soho Italia proposal by Starwood Mastercraft, 500 Preston Street

The Dalhousie Community Association (DCA) has discussed this project, met with the proponents, and unanimously agreed that it is objectionable on numerous grounds.

Firstly, the City is supposed to plan for its future using an Official Plan, supported by lower level plans. Neither the OP nor the CDP for the area call for high rises at the south end of Preston Street. Indeed, the zoning for the Carling and O-Train corridors was recently revised by the City as part of the CDP. And the CDP itself is still ongoing, a work in progress. Surely the correct planning procedure would be for the developer to request an amendment to the OP or similar neighborhood wide rezoning if they desire to promote a “Vancouver style” collection of tall condo towers. Instead, they are asking for a one-off rezoning, which will unleash speculation frenzy in this area. Lacking a persuasive case for spot rezoning, the City must maintain its current zoning for the area and entertain rezoning only through its normal neighborhood planning procedures.

Second, the proposal for a 35 storey tower built right up to the very edges of the sidewalk with no setbacks (indeed, the proponent calls for his building to overhang the public sidewalk) is totally contradictory to the Traditional Mainstreet designation in the OP and zoning, as well as the intent and letter of the on-going Bayview-Carling CDP. What is the purpose of gathering the citizens and land owners and planners together for multi-year planning processes if everything can be overturned based on the lobbying of a single developer? (Recall too that this site was spot rezoned from six to 20+ stories just a few years ago). The City has seen numerous challenges to its planning process in recent years. Public confidence has been shaken about the validity of the strategic planning process and its results. Approving such a drastic challenge to the planning process will further destroy the City’s reputation.

We have not yet found a planner to support the idea that a 350’ wall rising straight up from the sidewalk edge constitutes good mainstreet development.

Third, the proposal for the tallest building in Ottawa needs to be assessed in a neighborhood context, not just as a one-site anomaly. What will the impact of this -- and other -- tall buildings be on the pedestrian environment, sidewalk patios, and two-storey traditional homes immediately adjacent the site? What will be the impact of these buildings on on-street parking for the restaurant trade? We note that the balconies of the proposed Soho Italia building extend to within 12” of the lot line; how then will adjacent lots be developable? Note that this community association is not opposed to high rise developments per se. We support intensification, especially along transit corridors, and for the conversion of brownfields to urban mixed-use spaces. Just because Starwood is a late-comer to the Ottawa condo market does not mean the city must inappropriately upzone lands or trash its neighborhood plans for the developer. Neighborhoods last forever, developers come and go. Will Council go for short-term buzz or leave a legacy of long-term vital neighborhoods?

Fourth, the City’s intensification goals can be reached by building within its current planned growth areas. The proposed 35 storey tower is merely the equivalent of 3 eight to ten storey mid-rise buildings, which are much more compatible with their neighbors and for which there is an abundance of appropriate lands. We question why the developer wants to build such a huge building on such a small lot in an area not zoned for that.

We urge our City to show resilience and support for the OP strategic and neighborhood planning processes. This development proposal by Starwood is very high profile. It will be watched closely. The proponent’s planning rationale is sufficiently broad as to be applicable to any and every current and future rapid transit corridor. While approval of this Soho Italia project will not establish a de jure precedent for intensification, it will certainly be a de facto one.

The City’s decision will send a clear message to citizens, associations, and developers.

Does the City jump to rezone at the behest of developers, or does it plan for a rational city that works for all citizens?

Send this project back to the drawing boards. A better building is desirable and viable.

Eric Darwin


  1. I am a resident of the neighborhood and my opinion is than whether it is 20-odd stories (for what it is already zoned) or if it is 33 stories, it will look out of place regardless. The damage has already done in the OMB decision a few years ago to increase the height from 6 to 20 floors. To me as a pedestrian walking down the street, a 20 storey building is still MASSIVE in this context, but it's what's included in the first few floors that matters most to me - because that's what you interact with.

    If the decision comes down to 20 floors or 33, it's going to be really out of place either way. On a site that small, anything over 6 floors will look weird and was a colossal mistake to increase the height. May as well try to put as many people next to transit as possible at this point. We're already screwed from a streetscaping perspective no matter what happens, so forget about that. Lets try to focus on the other priorities such as high density adjacent to rapid transit. We have to face the facts - Starwood owns the property and WILL build something there that will yeild a substantial profit. I guess let's just try to capitalize on any benefits that it will bring and demand that they give us neighbors something huge as a compromise.


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