West end residents blast 'bait and switch' student housing

Glabar Park residents and their city councillor were expecting eight families to move into eight new townhouses on Woodroffe Avenue. But unbeknownst to all of them, the property was sold to a new developer who's doubled the number of units and more than tripled the total number of bedrooms.

Rental building with 97 bedrooms planned for site where neighbours had expected 8 townhomes

Neighbours of this new development in Glabar Park, on Woodroffe Avenue near the Queensway, are upset after a plan for eight townhouses was scrapped in favour of a 16-unit development with 97 bedrooms. (Susan Burgess)

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  • On July 11, Coun. Mark Taylor asked city staff to review the approval process for the building.

Glabar Park residents and their city councillor have been caught off guard by plans for a 97-bedroom rental building for students on the site of a former bungalow.

In 2013, a developer sought approval to build eight townhouses on the parcel of land at Woodroffe Avenue near the Queensway, and discussed the plan at a community meeting that same year.

However, that developer sold the property to Smart Living Properties before building the units, and the townhouses with three bedrooms each plus a den have morphed into 16 rental units with four, five and eight bedrooms apiece.

"I was just floored when I saw it was going to be eight-bedroom units," said Catharine Nedd, who lives nearby with her husband and two children.

Nedd learned about the new plan by accident last weekend, she said, when she saw units advertised for rent this September. Wondering if they might be suitable for a family member moving to the city, she visited the website for the development called Algonquin Place and discovered the new layouts.

"I think the city has really let us down," said Nedd, who attended the 2013 community meeting about the original plan.

David Maxwell, who lives near the new 97-bedroom rental development aimed at students, said residents should have been consulted before changes were made to the original plan. (Susan Burgess)

David Maxwell, Nedd's neighbour across the street, called it a "bait and switch."

"If a property switches like this, I think the new developer is beholden to the plan that was there before," Maxwell said. "If they're going to change it there should be a new consultation process put in place so the surrounding neighbours are made aware of it."

Both Maxwell and Nedd said they were fine with the original plan, but worry the new development will dramatically increase traffic in the neighbourhood.

Change of plans breaks no rules: developer

Smart Living Properties, which owns the new development, confirmed the units are being marketed to Algonquin College students.

The former owner's plan fell apart because there wasn't a market for the townhomes that were planned, said Jeremy Silburt, senior consultant for developments at Smart Living Properties. Reconfiguring the plan for the building didn't require additional community consultation, he said, and made the venture financially sound.

"This was something that was a viable solution to a piece of property that was kind of an oddball," Silburt said, noting the site's proximity to a Queensway off-ramp, a church and a school.

The new development will have only 10 parking spaces, but Silburt said he expects few students will have cars because of nearby access to public transit and the popularity of ride-hailing services such as Uber.

Jeremy Silburt of Smart Living Properties said that, properly managed, student housing can be an asset to the community. He's pictured here in front of one of the company's buildings in Sandy Hill, which contains 58 bachelor units aimed at students and millennials.

Having developed other student housing in Sandy Hill, Silburt said he's well aware of the controversy that frequently dogs it, but argued that as a purpose-built development, Algonquin Place will be free of the problems associated with single-family homes converted to student residences.

Garbage will be collected in dumpsters and picked up by a private service, Silburt said, while noise from student parties will be unlikely to trouble the neighbours since the nearby church and school aren't likely to be occupied in the evenings.

Councillor 'completely opposed' to plan

Mark Taylor, the Ottawa city councillor for the area, said he's "completely opposed" to it and agreed with residents' accusations of a bait and switch.

"We seemed to be playing fair ball with a fair developer who wasn't going to turn around and try to sneak something through the back door," Taylor said. "Unfortunately, it seems they sold it to somebody and that is exactly what they did."

Taylor's comments echo those made last fall by his colleague David Chernushenko, who fought a similar battle over a ballooning number of bedrooms in a development in Old Ottawa South, and who complained of developers finding loopholes faster than city council could close them.

In the case of Algonquin Place, the development was approved before new rules passed by city council just last month. Those rules cap the number of bedrooms in a single dwelling at four bedrooms, unless a developer applies for an "oversize dwelling" designation which permits up to eight bedrooms in a detached home.

Taylor said he intends to take his concerns about Algonquin Place to the city's general manager of planning and its legal department to see if there's any way to stop it, but suggested it was unlikely given that no rules have been broken.

Glabar Park's experience highlights the need for a mechanism at city hall to alert the public to big changes in a developer's plan, Taylor said.

"There wasn't any kind of internal city process to flag this, and say wait a minute, this needs to at least come back to the ward councillor to make them aware that the changes are taking place," Taylor said. "So there's an opportunity to engage with the community."

About the Author

Susan Burgess

Associate Producer

Susan Burgess is an associate producer on CBC Radio's All In A Day. You can reach her at Susan.Burgess@cbc.ca or on Twitter @susanmburgess.

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