Friday, September 14, 2012

Infill development: Where will all the dogs go?

Maybe you've seen these containers pop up here and there around town. They look like garbage receptacles with a plastic bag dispenser. This one's behind the new condos on LeBreton Flats, along the tailrace:

The building manager of the Gladstone Sports and Health Centre first brought this to my attention. Since the giant Bell Street Apartments are surrounded by concrete and asphalt all around, the residents of that building let their dogs go on the GSHC lawns. The owners tend to leave the dogs' leavings where the dogs left them, with disgusting results come springtime:

Confronted with this infiltration of defecation, the building manager asked how to get enforcement of the stoop-and-scoop by-laws. These regulations are posted on signs around the city, usually in public parks.

Unfortunately, the poop-and-scoop by-law only applies to public property--i.e. city parks and streets. The lawn in question is all on the GSHC's property, so they were out of luck. Lacking a stick with which to address the problem, private property owners are trying a carrot in the form of the Dog Waste System, each costing around $500 plus installation (not to mention bag refills and maintenance). This is one of two on the Centre's property, one on the Arlington Avenue side, and this one on the Louisa Street side:

This is not to say that the rule works perfectly for the City. Since the dog park at Jack Purcell reopened last year, the garbage receptacle there has been filled with plastic bags of dog poop. For sanitary reasons, you're supposed to bring it home to dispose in the wastewater system (i.e. the toilet). A one-off remedy for this park is not easy, as it would require changing the entire city-wide by-law. Various options have been, and are being, discussed internally in the parks department to find a good resolution.

Meanwhile, back on private property, there is a trend of hardscaping—replacing lawns, gardens and other soft landscaping with concrete, asphalt, and paving stones, usually for more parking or to store garbage.

As a case in point, here are the Regency Towers apartments at Cooper and Metcalfe. Between the front entrance and the parking (both surface and underground), there was a stretch of a few metres that had remained in grass. Even then, though, it was parked on.

The patch of ground, rather than being maintained and given a fence to discourage parking, was paved over this summer. It could have been worse—asphalt instead of a permeable surface, car parking instead of bicycle racks—but as it stands it makes for one fewer place to park your dog.

With property owners paving over their yards, greenspace in the public right-of-way becomes more and more important. This too is threatened: all over Centretown, City-owned (i.e. belongs to everybody) land alongside roads and sidewalks has been taken over bit by bit by private property owners to store their cars. Here's a map from the draft Centretown Community Design Plan (section 4.4 - PDF) that shows where public space has been paved over, most of it for private parking.

At the CDP open houses, George Dark called this 'vanscaping'. This is happening at all scales, from single detached houses in the Golden Triangle, to townhouses and lowrises around McNabb, all the way to larger apartment and condo buildings like Regency Towers above. (The map doesn't show all of centretown because they did the survey back when the study was limited to 'mid-Centretown')

Neither is this limited to gradual overtaking by existing buildings built during or before the Automobile Dynasty, but also in new developments approved by the City's planning department.

There are over a dozen tall condo buildings either under construction or recently approved by the City for future construction. Here is a map from the CDP (section 2.10 - PDF) highlighting developments that were built, approved, or planned between 2000 and 2011.

Most of these are very recent. Here's a similar diagram that the CDP consultants presented at the June 2010 public open house:

Tall condo buildings in established neighbourhoods aren't in and of themselves a problem, but they must be designed and situated sensitively to balance the impact they have on the surrounding community. The City of Ottawa has Urban Design Guidelines for High-Rise housing which, while not binding, reflect the kinds of things developers should include in their proposals if they want approval from the City's planning department. Things like putting enough space between tall towers, having a good interaction at the street level, and so on. There are similar giudelines in the draft Centretown Community Design Plan that apply these principles to Centretown (specifically section 6.4, Built Form Guidelines - PDF).

New developments, be they far-flung subdivisions or downtown condo towers, are required to provide a certain amount of greenspace. Condo towers are often squeezed onto lots where they can't fit the required amount of parkspace, so the difference takes the form of a fee called Cash-in-Lieu of Parkland (for more background, see the staff report that was approved by City Council to implement the most recent version of this policy). Sixty percent of this money goes into special funds which are to be used by the City to build or upgrade parkland within the ward. The remaining 40% goes into a citywide fund which for the time being is essentially dedicated to paying for Lansdowne Park.

The planning department doesn't seem too concerned about its own guidelines, because the planners often recommend that Council approve large, tall buildings that take up the entire lot, and Council obliges (usually with the lone dissent of Councillor Holmes, in the case of Centretown proposals). Vancouver, by contrast, stringently plans and controls developments to ensure that towers are spaced far enough apart to give privacy to the residents and to avoid having wall-to-wall hirises (like what was built on Cooper Street east of Elgin in the 1960s). Ottawa developers, with the full support of the City of Ottawa's planning department, point to the height of Vancouver's towers and say "me too", disregarding the deliberate planning context in which they were built.

Not shown on the 2011 map is 96 Nepean, which is virtually a carbon copy of 89-91 Nepean (and the latter's conjoined twin, 70 Gloucester). The lot on which the proposed 27-storey building would sit is just a couple metres larger than the footprint of the building. The Centretown Citizens Community Association, which wasn't incorporated at the time the previous two were approved, is appealing Council's approval of the 96 Nepean rezoning to the OMB.

So what's the point of all this? The point is supply and demand. There will be about 200 units in each of the three 27-storey towers proposed on Nepean and Gloucester (not counting the other two on the block east of Metcalfe). Many of these people will have dogs, and while these lots weren't excatly manicured lawns beforehand, the owners of these dogs will likely take their pets to the nearest patch of grass to do their business. Someone will have to maintain this grass, and since it's not on their property, it won't be the dog owners. Lawn-possessing private property owners, frustrated with a permanently yellow lawn, might follow Regency Towers' lead and pave it over, or at least fence it off. This compounds the problem, concentrating dog pee and poo on whatever grass is left.

This leaves public greenspace, paid for by taxpayers. Over time, even this too gets destroyed and paved over: in June, the strip of grass along Elgin near the Human Rights Monument was replaced with unit pavers after the grass kept dying (not just from dogs, of course; inadequate sidewalk width is also to blame).

At least it's still a public use. As for the 'vanscaping' of the public right-of-way taken over by private parking, there are some things that can be done to reclaim this public space.

When roads are reconstructed, the City has a policy of reclaiming the public space and reducing the curb cuts along the sidewalks and curbs to what is legally on title for driveways, instead of restoring the illegal full-front yard parking that encroached over the years. Residents and business owners will often oppose anything but concrete in front of their property for fear that anything green might become a dog toilet.
It can be controversial, but when it's done the results are a big improvement. Compare the Google Maps view of Preston and Louisa with what's in there now (this WSA post tipped me off to this particular instance):

That's only possible when a road is reconstructed, which is of limited help. The [Mid-]Centretown CDP includes other recommendations for reclaiming the public right of way for the use of everyone, not just to store one person's car.

With pressure, the community can get the city to implement these types of measures, and the benefit is for all users, not just pooches. The community outcry wasn't enough to get Bronson Avenue narrowed to three lanes (which would have provided space for a lot more landscaping) but there will nevertheless be many trees and shrubbery going in to make it at least look more hospitable. The little dead-end stub of Florence Street between Bronson and McNabb Park will be closed as a road at the end of the reconstruction and turned into parkspace. That little section won't have much done to it until McNabb is redeveloped (design work for that is still at least a couple years off), however the square of grass in McNabb Park right next to it is approved for a new community garden.

As for building condos with Rover's toilet habits in mind, that's still on the wish list. In the meantime, maybe condo dwellers will invest in these things.

1 comment:

  1. For a concentrated spot like the purcell dog run, the city could install a dog-poop incinerator/composter. One was developed at MIT. This works really well when dog owners are already trained -- as here -- to put the poop into a receptacle.

    I have, in my travels, seen dog poop stations built like shallow puddle with apost in the middle and a flush foot pedal that washes the stuff down a drain into the san sewer. Like a human squat toilet, but for dogs.