Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday & Tuesday: Charlesfort 20-storey Lisgar tower proposal

Charlesfort Developments is going to the Committee of Adjustment on February 17th, 2010, to seek 'minor variances' for a 20-storey residential tower across from City Hall.

Doug Casey, President of Charlesfort, wants to speak to the CCCA at tonight's meeting of the CCCA's Planning & Development Review Committee (5:30pm at Second Cup on Elgin and Lisgar). There will also be a broader community consultation tomorrow (Tuesday, February 9, 2010) at 5:30 p.m. in the Billings Room at City Hall.

As shown in the diagram below, the proposed building is nearly 2/3 heigher than the maximum allowed 37.0 metres. Casey says that the total floorspace approximates that of a big box that fills the entire permitted building envelope, citing the many such boxes in the neighbourhood. But that's just the theoretical box if you build to the maximum dimensions--one is not obliged to build to the maximum, and one is not entitled to exceed one limit merely for staying within another.

As for the site, it's the parking lots at the corner of Lisgar and Cartier, directly across from City Hall and the Heritage Building of City Hall. There's a two-storey red brick house (now serving as offices) next door.

The submission also says that the stepped nature of the building helps to break up its massing. This it does, to an extent, but it does so by reducing the minimum east and west side lot setbacks from 1.5m to zero for the first 13 metres of the site, and by reducing the rear (southerly) setback to 3.5 metres. The red brick house next door will be dwarfed.

The flatness of the front of the building is also evident in the elevation diagram:

I set up some diagrams of my own, based on how the surrounding context would look with this building nearby. The scale is approximate.

Here, for example, is a photo I took this summer of the trees in the island in front of City Hall's Lisgar street entrance. The lot in question is behind it

And here's how it would look (approximately) with the proposed Charlesfort building:

As for the height, I tried to approximate how it would fit into this scene taken from Albert Street. I think the building would actually be a bit taller than how I set it up here, but even so it's clearly taller than anything else in the Golden Triangle.

There are a few opportunities to learn more and get involved:

  • Tonight: CCCA Planning & Development Review Committee meeting, 5:30 p.m., Second Cup, Elgin & Lisgar

  • Tomorrow, Tuesday, February 9: Community meeting to present/discuss the proposal (organized by Coun. Holmes and Charlesfort). 5:30 p.m. at City Hall (Billings Room - second floor)

  • Now to February 16th: Send your comments to the Committee of Adjustment (, to Councillor Holmes (, and to the CCCA

  • February 17th: Make a presentation at the Committee of Adjustment's Public Hearings at Ben Franklin Place Client Service Centre, 101 Centrepoint Drive.


  1. I want to say, however, that this building is much much nicer looking than any of the other buildings in those photos. So that, at least, is an encouraging sign

  2. This would immediately become the best looking tower in the golden triangle, and far superior to that ugly slab recently put up on Somerset Street.

    It echoes the historic 188 Metcalfe building, but I have a feeling that such a striking urban design will be too much for milquetoast ottawa. Safer to build a short ugly slab.

  3. This kind of knee-jerk reaction "OH NO ITS TALL" "OH NO IT FILLS THE BLOCK" is what drives development toward the giant box model.

    As a result, it would be more useful if community associations could judge projects on their merits more holistically. This kind of thinking must change if we're to have a vibrant, beautiful and dense city centre.

  4. That's a very attractive building, and it fits the area quite nicely.

  5. So what if it is the tallest building in the Golden Triange? How boring would the city be if every building was *exactly* the same height?

    I like it!!

  6. Could we have something in the same style, but a smaller height instead?

    Yeah, I'm somewhat worried about the foliage at that particular City Hall entrance. I like a good mixture of cool-looking buildings and healthy greenery in the summer months.

  7. Love it....go Charlesfort. I think it will fit quite well at that location in the height submitted.

  8. I don't personally like tall buildings either - they block out nature, create wind tunnels and weird little microclimates, etc.. but it IS an attractive building for what it is. And, a growing vibrant city needs to expand upwards not sprawled out into rural areas. Ideally some of these taller buildings will be residential as well as commercial

  9. It's definitely a good design, and it ought to be built somewhere in Ottawa. Just not that particular spot, I'm thinking. Maybe over on Elgin where they were talking about putting the concert hall?

  10. This building would be a great addition to Centretown and the Golden Triangle, and easily one of the best looking buildings in the area. There are also very few smaller houses in the immediate vicinity, with the back of the project bordering hotels and the front side facing City Hall.

    As for it dwarfing the red brick house, I'm not sure that a vibrant residential core is achievable in Ottawa if we only build to two or three stories and nix projects like this because of one house.

    The project also shows a retail space (cafe?) on the ground floor facing Lisgar. I hope Councillor Holmes supports this project.

  11. Looks good, I like the height. Lisgar is going to be booming over the next few years with all these major projects. Too bad Charlesfort doesn't seem to own the lot at the corner of Lisgar/Cartier; it would be nicer to have the garage entrance off of Cartier instead of facing City Hall.

  12. I am trying to think of a good reason why anyone would oppose this nice-looking, nicely-situated proposal.

  13. Sorry I haven't responded to the comments yet.

    The main concern is not the design itself, nor even the height, but the process. This application is seeking to change the height as a "minor variance"--the type of application usually used for things like balconies and bay windows. Only the immediately neighbouring property owners (not tenants) were notified of the application, except for those who received the special mailing sent out by Councillor Holmes.

    By contrast, a zoning by-law amendment is a more thorough process. It has a wider circle notification, and would come to the City's Planning & Environment Committee. Most importantly, the City's planning staff would do thorough and independent review of the assumptions made in the application (for example, Mr. Casey says that the floor space would be the same as one that fit the zoning, and the Committee of Adjustment has to just take him at his word.)

    While this particular building looks nice, the approval of its increased zoning through this process (and I hear that the variance was granted) could open the floodgates for lots of other, uglier, larger buildings that don't conform to the zoning. It's a dangerous precedent.

  14. I think the city should be much less concerned about height (other than a few key viewplanes), mass, ratios, or any other such things, and instead be concerned about how proposed buildings would interact with the street.

    (For that matter, the city should start excercising some muscle about the very layout of streets, in new developments, in the first place.)

  15. One thing is for sure: When Charlesfort sets out to do a project, you will get what they say you are going to get.... This company has graced our City streets with many fabulous large and small developments. As said before, it's not about the height, it's about what it will bring to the neighbourhood in general and elegance it will bring to the city core. Yes, someone will always be affected but one needs to look at the overall "what is proposed" against "what is allowed" and compare THOSE options against each other: it could be so much worse! Bravo to doug Casey!

  16. Doug Casey is doing everything possible to build attractive architecture, and he has to fight against ridiculous bylaws that encourage ugliness, mediocrity and complacency. Compare any Charlesfort development to its neighbors and it's blatantly clear that if Doug was put in charge of city planning, the city would be more attractive, lively, interesting, green, and dynamic. Doug's principles are so high that for Hudson Place he spent $1M of his own money to revise the plans twice. The first time he designed a great building. It was voted down. So he designed a building that fit within the bylaw. Then everyone realized that would be a blight, so they finally gave him the green light on a third plan, similar to the first. The result, a million dollars of wasted money later, is another Charlesfort signature piece, a building we can be proud of, and a landmark that will be, in 100 years, a heritage building that Ottawa can be proud of. Have we not learned our lesson about Charlesfort yet? Just let Doug do what Doug does best... make great buildings.

  17. And for every Doug Casey out there willing to put resources into nice-looking buildings, there are plenty of Claridges who want to build the biggest, boxiest ugly buildings they can find to maximize their profit.