Somerset House, with no timeline in sight

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The April 2017 concept for Somerset House by architect Richard Chmiel. The historic building is at Somerset and Bank streets.

Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

The latest renovation concept for the historic Somerset House received approval from the city's heritage panel Thursday, but members walked away, again, with no indication of when the work would be done.

"Maybe our grandchildren will be here discussing this," said subcommittee member Sandy Smallwood during a built-heritage subcommittee meeting at city hall.

There's no rule forcing TKS Holdings to reconstruct the building at Somerset and Bank streets by a specific time. The company owner has said he's worried about how much the redevelopment would cost.

The city has watched the building deteriorate over the past nine years, ever since a partial collapse in October 2007. Last year, council had to approve dismantling the three easternmost bays on Somerset Street West because of the wear and tear.

The heritage subcommittee, planning committee and council have little power to make construction happen. They can only make sure the heritage attributes are respected and the building conforms to zoning.

The owner has hired a new architect, Chmiel Architects, to pick up where the last one left off.

For the most part, the subcommittee was fine with the latest drawings. The planning committee and council will also need to approve the concept.

The one hiccup was the new design doesn't replicate the demolished fourth bay on Somerset Street West, as required by council. City heritage staff forgot about that order when they supported the new design, and when they realized the mistake, they decided to forge ahead with the concept anyway.

That didn't fly with the heritage subcommittee, which asked the architect to fix it. Architect Richard Chmiel, who was hired for the project in December and didn't know about the council direction, said he would be willing to revisit the design to make sure it conforms to council's wishes.

"We all make mistakes and at this stage we really need to move forward," said Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum, the chair of the subcommittee.

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney said she receives more calls about Somerset House than any other project in her downtown ward.

"Residents of Somerset ward and beyond are frustrated by this project," McKenney said.

McKenney repeated her idea for the city to expropriate the property, "because at some point we have to take matters into our own hands."

Heritage Ottawa president David Jeanes said he doesn't understand why the fourth-bay requirement wasn't met in the new design. He openly wondered if the heritage department is understaffed and overloaded, considering its ongoing work on the mayor's heritage task force and other projects, like the proposed Château Laurier development.

The subcommittee learned the city recently hired two additional heritage planners.

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Transportation committee to review rules for free on-street parking

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Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Sun

Free parking has prevailed on Westboro and Hintonburg's main drag — for now — but the transportation committee on Wednesday vowed to review criteria for introducing paid parking and consider scrapping the veto currently held by neighbourhood business and community associations.

An exhaustive two-year parking study of Somerset, Wellington West and Richmond concluded that adding parking meters along the corridor would be one way to solve parking woes along the popular shopping and dining strip.

On-street parking often exceeds practical capacity, the study found, meaning more than 85 per cent of available spots are taken. The situation causes congestion and forces drivers to hunt for spaces on residential side streets. In particular, Richmond Road west of Tweedsmuir Avenue and Wellington Street west of Parkdale Avenue are among the highest demand locations for on-street parking in Ottawa.

Relying on a "good body of literature" on how pricing can alleviate some of the pressure caused by parking demand, the ward's councillor, Jeff Leiper, was open to introducing paid on-street parking, which is already a reality on Bank Street, Preston Street and in the ByWard Market.

The committee heard the lack of paid parking in one part of the city is hurting businesses in another.

"You guys have a freebie and we don't," said Andre Schad. "It's costing us."

Schad, who owns Schad Boutique on Sussex Drive, said several businesses have moved to Westboro from the ByWard Market, where he claims enforcement of on-street parking is stiffer. He added the proliferation of bars and restaurants in the market, which has been raised as a concern by some, is due to the departure of retail shops who can no longer afford the rents.

"We're just looking for an equal playing field for all retailers in the city."

Proposed 8-storey seniors' block in Glebe draws fire

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A rendering of the building designed by Barry Hobin that Canderel hopes to build on Bank Street in the Glebe. (City of Ottawa)

Ward councillor slams plan that would double allowable height

CBC News

A proposal for an eight-storey building in the Glebe is coming under fire from the area's councillor and residents who worry the development's height is out of step with the traditional main street character of the area, and could set a precedent for more taller-than-allowed buildings on Bank Street.

The project, which already has the backing of the city's planning staff, will be discussed at next week's planning committee.

The proposal calls for a 160-unit building for seniors to replace a Beer Store and Mister Muffler. The building's main floor would be reserved for commercial tenants, including a new Beer Store.

The developer is asking for a number of changes to current rules, including permission to build to a height of 26 metres instead of the prescribed 15 metres, and to build closer to the sidewalk than planning rules allow.

"This project is not compatible with the traditional main street zoning, nor with the existing character of the street," Coun. David Chernushenko stated in his written comments submitted with the planning report.

'Massive presence'

Coun. David Chernushenko says the 8-storey building proposed for Bank Street is out of character for the Glebe's traditional mainstreet zoning. (CBC/Kate Porter)

Chernushenko's main issue is the "massive presence" resulting from the proposed height. In his written comments, he pointed out that a community-wide initiative completed in 2016 recommended preserving a 15-metre height limit.

He also wrote that council "formally acknowledged" that the "taller-than-normal" buildings at nearby Lansdowne Park were an exception, not a permanent change to the zoning rule book.

Local residents also expressed their displeasure with the project, and more than 500 people have signed an online petition opposing the project.

Rideau Canal repairs and contaminant testing

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Parks Canada

Parks Canada began work on repairs to the Rideau Canal walls between Bank Street and Pig Island in November 2016. Repairs have progressed well and concrete refacing of the walls inside the canal is now complete. The next phase of work will be on the top portion of the wall, known as the coping, before shifting to address the trail, railings, and light standards in May. This phase of the project to repair the Rideau Canal walls in downtown Ottawa is expected to be complete in spring 2017.

In January 2017, Parks Canada provided notice that contaminants had been identified in the canal bed sediment in the area of the construction site. A contract to conduct additional testing in the Rideau Canal in downtown Ottawa, from Hartwells Locks to the Ottawa Locks, has now been finalized. The tests will seek to identify the scope and extent of contaminants within the Rideau Canal, begin the process of risk assessment, and inform the appropriate environmental protection measures for any future work that might disturb the sediment within the canal. These tests are expected to take place in late April when the ice has cleared from the canal. Once the testing is complete, Parks Canada will take all necessary steps to update the Federal Contaminated Sites Inventory.

The Ottawa stretch of the Rideau Canal has a rich history of commercial and industrial uses and is also in the middle of a heavily populated urban area. As a result of this legacy, precautions are always taken when conducting repairs because of the potential presence of contaminates associated with the canal's past use and its location. Contaminated sediment presents a very low risk to the public as this type of contamination is generally only a concern if there is dermal contact or ingestion. Additionally, Parks Canada is taking a precautionary approach to ensure that the repairs are conducted in the most responsible manner.

For up-to-date news on infrastructure work along the Rideau Canal, please visit www.pc.gc.ca/rcInfrastructure. If you would like to be added to Parks Canada's community engagement list and receive updates on this project, please e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..