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When core values conflict

A downtown condo pleases majority, but there is still opposition

Charlesfort Development's Doug Casey has redesigned the Hudson, winning support from the city. However, there is still some opposition.

Ted Fobert knows his way around Ottawa's development jungle, so it's smart to listen when he describes the changing face of a sophisticated condo planned for a parking lot across from Saint Patrick's Basilica.

At this moment, Fobert is connecting the dots on Doug Casey's campaign to build the Hudson, a decidedly upscale condo worth a cool $67 million and with design links to Art Deco and New York City.

Two years ago, Casey, the president of Charlesfort Development and the likable brain trust behind several innovative condo buildings in the downtown core, offered to buy the McEvoy-Shields Funeral Homes site and the adjoining parking lot on Kent Street, with a plan to keep the funeral home and build two 25- storey condos.

The scheme didn't get far with municipal politicians or city staff, says Fobert, who thought it made more sense to drop the funeral home and go with two slim 18-storey towers and a large park with views of the limestone church.

The second plan ran smack into another concrete wall, when councillor Diane Holmes and residents living in a neighbouring condo yelled, no. It wasn't surprising when the city's committee of adjustment ignored the advice of city planners and turned down the twin tower proposal last spring, sending Casey and his design team back to the drawing table.

Casey knew full well that current zoning allowed for 12-storey buildings on the site, but thought the promise of an urban park would win over city hall and neighbours.

The developer, who thinks fast and talks even faster, explains that the twin towers didn't increase the density downtown as much as “shifted the density” into a smaller footprint and added a green park to the centre of a concrete city.

Casey is also a financial realist, deciding toplay by the zoning rules and do what he does best — build interesting condos. Even that didn't work.

There was another fracas when he came back with a 12- storey proposal that obeyed all of the rules, but completely filled the site and effectively blocked all views for neighbours in the Everett, an 11-storey condo on Lisgar Street. The angry residents called on Holmes to find a solution and open up the urban views for which they had paid big dollars.

A series of phone calls between Holmes and Casey quickly followed and the design team, led by Barry Hobin and Gord Lorimer, crafted a compromise that looks strangely familiar: two towers and an urban park. This time one tower is 15 floors and the second 17 floors and the park will have sculptures, not water.

It is an elegant compromise that won approval from the committee of adjustment in June, and has the backing of Holmes and an overwhelming majority of residents in the Everett.

“This is a compromise,” says Holmes, who adds she is generally opposed to spot rezoning. “I believe in communities working with the city to establish a zoning area.

“But I agreed with the compromise because people in the back of the Everett will get their view back,” says Holmes. The view comes thanks to the park that will sit at street level and be partially open to pedestrians.

It seems you can't please all the folks, because two separate appeals have been filed with the Ontario Municipal Board and a hearing is set for late September or early October.

“It's probably a little messier then usual,” says Fobert, who is the founding partner of FoTenn Consultants and a 30-year-veteran of urban planning.

“Unfortunately, it is the cost of infilling in the urban core,” says a philosophical Fobert. “People don't like change and any change creates anxiety in the community.”

Remember this is the downtown core, ground zero where the city is committed to increasing density and reducing the high cost of suburban sprawl. Density means highrise condos.

For his part, Casey is still hopeful meetings may calm his six neighbours and avoid the OMB hearing, which likely will last for three days and include a four- to six-week waiting period for a decision.

Right now, the developer estimates the delays and impending hearing will cost him $1 million.

“It's part of the cost of developing downtown,” replies Holmes, who adds smart developers always build in a safety factor to cover these costs.

Casey is also a smart man, who has won design honours with condos and townhomes he has built in the urban core during the past 25 years. This time, he is so hopeful the OMB will back his design he has ordered in demolition crews to bring down the funeral home and set up an October schedule to start digging the hole for underground parking for the Hudson.

Over at his 22nd-storey penthouse on Laurier Avenue, lawyer Michael Flavell says that he “is not grievously affected” by construction of the Hudson, but is opposed and will fight at the OMB.

Flavell is active in his condo and says neighbours living on lower levels will lose their views. He is also a firm believer in playing by the rules.

“It is my theory, as a lawyer, that the law should be obeyed. If we can vary a bylaw by the committee of adjustment, it is a bad thing.”

Lawyer Randy Marusyk will also be at the OMB, fighting against the loss of his downtown view. He lives in a 11thfloor penthouse on the top of the Everett.

“It is about the obstruction of his view,” says Marusyk's law partner Scott Miller.

The whole thing is about light, confirms Gord Lorimer, a senior partner in the offices of Barry Hobin & Associates and the lead architect with the responsibility to essentially renovate a building that hasn't even been built.

And it is about money. During this exercise, Casey launched sales last May when the Hudson was configured into three phases over 12 floors. Interest was high and there were 30 sales, to urbanites who bought a view of Kent Street and the basilica.

It was Lorimer's job to make sure the designs and views were part of the newest plan. Lorimer slightly reduced the size of the garden and curved walls to deliver the view lines.

Right now the Charlesfort team is drafting new marketing material and getting ready for a September launch of the newlook Hudson.

A couple of years from now, Casey may sip coffee on a bench in Hudson park, admiring the basilica, looking for new sites to develop. All he needs is enough money, patience and, most important, the vision to know when it makes good design sense to break some rules.

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