Chestnut Street at tipping point of over-development

New rental units tower above a decades-old bungalow on Chestnut Street. Some residents are unhappy with development on the street.

New rental units tower above a decades-old bungalow on Chestnut Street. Some residents are unhappy with development on the street.

By Betsy Kitchen

Summer is synonymous with construction. Now, Old Ottawa East is synonymous with development.  There’s nary a block in our corner of the city not dotted with ‘For Sale’ signs and slick billboards touting the latest infill condo offerings.

While the impending addition of hundreds of residential units on the Oblates land at Saint Paul University is getting much of the attention, there’s another development hotbed that, until recently, has flown under the radar.

Running north-south between Lees and Springhust Avenues, Chestnut Street has gone from a quiet, two-block haven to one of Old Ottawa East’s fastest-growing real-estate targets.

Bordering Springhurst Park, just steps from the Rideau River and a recreational pathway, Chestnut is ideally suited to families with kids, young professionals needing quick access to downtown, and seniors preferring a peaceful park setting.

What sets Chestnut apart from the three other streets in this unique enclave of Old Ottawa East is also what makes it so attractive to developers.

Constructed in the late 1940s, the properties on Chestnut were initially identical modest bungalows.  Several near-original bungalows remain today. This gives Chestnut the kind of rare urban potential that makes developers salivate.

We couldn’t have anticipated the tsunami of real estate attention headed our way. Change on Chestnut initially came in the ’90s as a series of tasteful, two-storey brick townhouses.

The size and esthetics of these units made a compatible and welcome enhancement to our shared neighbourhood.

But 2011 marked a dramatic departure from this trend.

Three already-renovated bungalows were bulldozed to build two behemoth structures. Neighbours accustomed to homes reflecting the scale of the street were dismayed.  These developments now loom over the corner of Chestnut at Evelyn Street, dwarfing surrounding homes and dominating the skyline.

Most disturbingly, these structures — clear deviations from the size and character of the neighbourhood — were allowed to proceed, despite written pleas from nearby property owners and strong opposition by the Old Ottawa East Community Association.

Next, another three properties were flipped into big, bland and boxy three-storey buildings. Artificial turf replaced grass, basements were built above grade, and units were put up for rent to people with little stake in the neighbourhood’s long-term future.

Now, with news of the destruction of 32 Simcoe St. and other local lots earmarked for flipping, our part of Old Ottawa East is teetering at the tipping point of over-development.

At last count there are eight properties on Chestnut alone either up for sale, already sold or primed for sale to a developer, having fallen into disrepair over the years.

With these properties ripe for redevelopment into rental apartments, the fear of becoming the next Sandy Hill student street is real. The time to take action is now.

Number 43 Chestnut was recently sold to a developer who submitted plans to the city to put up yet another three-storey block of rental apartments.

The effect on the house’s next-door neighbour, Christine Honsl, will be particularly appalling. She has already endured the construction of a massive rental building just inches from her front door.

With a new development on her south side, she will be sandwiched between two towering rental buildings. They promise to block much of the sun and surround her with eight air conditioning units and parking for at least six vehicles.

Relocation is not an option for Christine. She depends on a wheelchair to get around and her home was custom-built to meet her physical challenges.

In response to such ‘infill invasion’, residents from all four streets have banded together to quash any infill construction not in keeping with the size, scale and character of Chestnut or the other streets in this family-focused neighbourhood.

They have written many letters to the city’s committee of Adjustment and residents have appeared at hearings to oppose property variance proposals deemed unreasonable and undesirable.

We have learned that attending committee meetings greatly strengthens a case for rejecting variance requests for overdevelopment.  While letters of protest certainly help, it is the physical presence of a united front of neighbours speaking with one voice that makes the real difference.

Collaborating with the OOECA Planning committee has also been vital.  They provide respected advice and act as a liaison between the community and developers.

We are evaluating whether a Streetscape Character Analysis could help protect Chestnut in the face of future development.

We also intend to inform the media of this lopsided ‘David vs. Goliath’ approach to neighbourhood infill. Teams will go door-to-door to secure support for efforts to limit infill development to existing zoning rules.

We would like to invite residents from all corners of OOE to join together.  It’s a great way to help shape the future of your street, and a chance to meet others who share your love of this wonderful, yet unsung, part of Ottawa.

For more information and what you can do to help, please email us care of the Mainstreeter at editor@mainstreeter.ca.

Betsy Kitchen is Principal of KitchenSync PR & Marketing, and a resident of Chestnut Street since 2006.

 

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