Plans unveiled to transform Lone Star Plaza

Plans unveiled to transform Lone Star Plaza into three towers and retail over the next ten years.

[This story has been updated to correct an error. See the separate webpage (coming soon) that discusses the correction.]

A developer has unveiled a long-term plan to transform what is known at the Lone Star Plaza 780 Baseline Road at Baseline and Fisher, over the next 10-12 years into a primarily residential, high-rise complex. The developer is Joey Theberge of Theberge Homes —

The project as seen from Baseline in a south eastern direction

Coun Egli hosted a community Zoom meeting May 18, advertised in his weekly newsletter and through the FHACA email list of FHACA members, in which about 10 residents participated.

The project is in three phases.

The first phase, on the large parking lot on the southeast corner, adjacent to the homes on Fisher, is targeted for ground-breaking about two years from now. Construction of Phase 2, at the northwest corner, beside the homes on Baseline Road and including the west end of the retail, is targeted for 5 to 7 years from now. Work on Phase 3, at the corner of Baseline and Fisher, is some years after Phase 2.

The developer wants to retain all the current retail tenants, and he says all the current retail tenants want to stay, without have to geographically relocate for some years. So the project is phased to allow as many tenants as possible to stay in their current spaces as long as they can and then move to the phases as they are constructed.

The first phase will likely be rental, but subsequent phases may be rental or condo, depending on market conditions far closer to construction.

Phase 1 is a 25-storey building (259 units) with two podiums (shorter elements on which the larger building is constructed) of six storeys to the south, adjacent to Fisher Ave homes, and three-storeys to the west, adjacent to Hilliard.

Phase 2 is a 25-storey building, with three podiums – two at four storeys to the south, so the building forms a U shape, and six-storeys to the west adjacent to the Baseline Road homes.

Phase 3 is a 29-storey building with an L-shaped 6-storey podium and a three-storey podium.

A total of 868 units is proposed.

All parking, except for some retail and visitor use, would be underground.

The overall project was subject to a confidential pre-consultation review, before plans were released, where pre-selected community members provided comments trying to reflect community history and expectations. Coun. Egli then held a private Zoom briefing that included others on the FHACA board.

This project requires zoning changes to allow the increased heights on this property. The participants at the Zoom meeting (and your FHACA board members too) generally accepted the overall rationale of the project, given the city’s need to intensify housing, especially when Baseline Road is intended to become a bus rapid corridor in the future. Because this corner has Experimental Farm lands on two sides, longstanding low-rise residential on the third, and similar single or double residential surrounding it, there is no risk of the immediate area becoming a canyon of high-rise towers. This will be a stand-alone project. (Although the city’s new official plan calls for residential of up to four storeys along Baseline and up to 400 metres in from Baseline.) It will also retain retail stores and services that have served the community for many years.

The city claims that the current Official Plan allows buildings up to 30 storeys; and that the new OP allows buildings up to 40 storeys,

However, a secondary plan for Carleton Heights (between Fisher and the Rideau Canal-River, south of Baseline), outlining detailed land uses, was approved in 1996. Before amalgamation in 2000, the Ottawa-Nepean border ran along the rear property lines of the houses on the west side of Fisher and the south side of Baseline. Hence part of the site was in Carleton Heights and was included in the secondary plan.

The area was identified as a minor shopping area with residential of “medium” density, namely predominantly row housing from 150 to 248 persons per hectare, and apartment buildings from 248 to 300 persons per hectare, “subject to certain height restrictions.”

This designation extended along Baseline to Marson, the first intersection west of Farlane.

The project seeks to build 875 apartment units. Assuming for an example that each apartment will house 2 people, that density is 1,225 persons per hectare.

During preliminary discussions the city considered that this secondary plan applied to the project. Subsequently, however, according to the city planner on the file, Laurel McCreight, the city’s “Policy Team” determined that “an Official Plan Amendment [regarding the Carleton Heights secondary plan] is not required.”  That decision was “based on some text amendments to the Secondary Plan that is being carried over into the New OP. There is wording in the Secondary Plan that states that mid and high-rise buildings are permitted subject to an appropriate transition.  This transition must be demonstrated in the zoning by-law materials.”

Therefore, the city’s position is that the 30/40-storey height limits apply.

Despite acceptance of the overall rationale, Zoom participants and board members have identified a number of issues with the plan.

1) The impact of the six-story podiums adjacent to housing. One suggestion was that no such podium should be higher than three storeys to minimize the impact on the adjacent homes. This would reduce shadows and loss of sunlight, increase resident privacy, and reduce the social and psychological impact of such buildings looming over homes. The developer said he is open to discussion on that issue. (The height of the three buildings will exacerbate these issues over a wider area.)

2) The provision of useful, effective public parkland. A minimum of 10 per cent of a development’s surface area can be allocated to public park use; in the alternative, the developer pays 10% of the market value of the land (reflecting the approved development on it, the value determined by an independent process, and known as cash-in-lieu) to the city. Of that amount, 60% stays in the ward and 40% is allocated to a citywide fund.

Originally, the developer planned a small park, meeting the 10% criteria. But preconsultation participants, and ultimately the city also, felt that that park, located in the extreme corner of the ward and of our community, and surrounded by the highrises, would not be effective as a public park serving the community. It would de-facto really only serve the project residents.

The developer has agreed, and will provide the same greenspace open to the public in the development, but will also pay the 10% cash-in-lieu. This amount may well end up in seven figures before the 60:40 split.

The city can also negotiate what is known as a Section 37 community benefits cash contribution, which stays entirely within the ward.

In our community, there is essentially no capacity – barring unforeseen land-use changes – to acquire more parkland. We can only use the parkland we have. But the money can be used to upgrade and extend existing park facilities – splash pads and play structures and benches and picnic tables and basketball courts among other items.

It is also true than the councillor can spend the money anywhere in the ward.

3) The need to significantly rebuild Fisher between Baseline and Dynes/Deer Park, given the extra traffic this development will create. The current section is a two-lane, ditched anomaly with poor bicycle access and inadequate or no sidewalks. The transportation consultants told the Zoom meeting that it analyzed likely traffic patterns immediately adjacent to the site, but did not study the impact on the rest of that part of Fisher.

They felt that this project would not by itself require changes to the rest of Fisher, but that it might well be a “catalyst” to the city deciding to do the work anyway.

4) Ensure that the existing secure pedestrian and bicycle link between Hilliard/Sunnycrest and the development, and to Fisher Avenue, and to OC Transpo, is maintained or improved. And, for example, removal of the brick wall fencing along Hilliard would make the development and its green space a natural part of the community. Tge developer said these links would be improved as the plan developed.

5) Concerns that the green space to be provided in the development will end up as windy, sun-parched dead zones because of the height of the buildings surrounding it and the natural wind patterns there.

6) Architectural appearance – suggestions for a “more spectacular design with stronger podiums,” and that the roofline have an attractive, distinctive profile from the Experimental Farm.

7) Ways to reduce the loss of birds, plentiful in the farm and our community, due to the new buildings. Bird-friendly windows and no glass balconies. This is a major issue of bird survival in urban areas. This was the first issue raise at the Zoom meeting, and the developer said it is well aware of this issue and the city is quite assertive in requiring such mitigation.

8) Provision for social housing, “affordable” housing, and larger units (3-bedrooms plus). The developer is open to these elements. He has made contact with Nepean Housing Corp to investigate a role it might play.

9) The most recent diagrams suggest Phase 3, in particular, is quite flush to Baseline and Fisher, Community members questioned that tight layout, saying the building must be set back from Baseline to allow the whole area to “breathe,” to avoid the tunnel effect such as along Richmond Road west of Island Park. in fact, it was stated that there is a 30-foot buffer between the edge of the building and the future Baseline Road bus transitway.

10) One resident who lives very near the site expressed concern about excess traffic, dust, noise, and blasting damage to foundations. The developer said there is a standard process required by the city to take photos of all nearby homes before construction starts, to document conditions at that point. Any damage can be pinpointed. He committed to close consultation, by means of an onsite project manager, with neighbours about the various impacts as construction proceeded.