Bank & Riverside: Project Design Process

Updated: Aug 27, 2020

The site at 1335 Bank Street has been of interest to me personally since I first came across it in 2013 when it was listed for sale. The site itself faced many challenges due to overall size of the site and the depth of the site made parking very challenging. Adding complexity to the site was the contamination of soils on site from the historical uses of the property.

Ultimately, at the time, I was not in a position to move forward pursuing the opportunity, despite knowing the opportunity that exists to transform this particular segment of Bank Street. The site was acquired by a developer who planned a 16-storey condominium apartment building with 2 levels of above grade parking and 2 levels of below grade parking. The project was nearing site plan approval at the time. I felt the design of the building was very well executed, and made the best use of the site, given some of the challenges that existed. When the site become available for sale again in 2018,  the timing was right to acquire and plan to develop the property.

The site at 1335 Bank Street was originally purchased with the possibility of developing the site on its own, or as part of a larger development combined with 1345 Bank Street. On it's own, 1335 Bank Street faced many challenges, mostly related to parking, and the at grade interaction (cars vs. pedestrians). The difficulty with parking is that Ottawa is in a period of transition where the market demand for parking remains relatively high, as Ottawa progresses towards a more urban environment that can provide the lifestyle benefits of car-free living. In order to make the project marketable, the previous developer needed to satisfy a projected parking demand, which justified the 2 levels of above grade parking. While this solution was done in a way that preserved the design of the building, it was not an ideal solution.

The site is strategically located along the Rideau River, creating a natural gateway from the established Old Ottawa South neighbourhood to the relatively underdeveloped section of Bank Street in Billings Bridge. I am attracted to the fact that you get the best of both worlds with this site - including the traditional main street feel of Old Ottawa South, with access to all of your day-to-day amenities located at Billings Bridge. Further, when I look at the convenient access to several major employments nodes and universities, I envision the site being attractive to a wide range of residents.

The initial redesign of the single tower at 1335 Bank Street reviewed all parking solutions including mechanical parking solutions, valet parking, and elevators. While some of these solutions were practical (and some were not), it was determined that the adjacent site would alleviate some of these issues and provide a better overall project. Through some prolonged negotiations, an agreement was structured to acquire the site at 1345 Bank Street, adding a lot more possibilities for the design team to develop a more attractive and functional project.

An initial review of the permitted density was conducted to determine parameters for allowable scale of the project. Once this review was completed, it was determined that there would not be a need to seek variances to add our target number of units for the project. These designs included a single building across the entire site that respected the existing height restrictions, and a two tower concept with a podium design that connected both towers that also conformed to the existing zoning bylaws. Overall, the design team felt that both designs did not provide the best results from a practical or design perspective.

Following this exercise, a single tower concept was developed that redistributed the same number of units into a different built-form that provided for a "landmark" building that enhanced the Bank Street experience for residents and from a traffic flow perspective, by directing all traffic coming to and from the site to a rear lane to access visitor parking and the underground parking for residents. This was the clear favourite for all members of the design team.

On this basis, a more detailed concept was developed and presented to the City of Ottawa at a pre-consultation meeting. This was a promising discussion with lots of constructive criticism that has led to an improved design that put a significant focus on making sure the entire Bank Street frontage was animated to enhance the pedestrian experience.

One of the key elements in the design is the introduction of a lay-by area for pick-up and drop-off for residents and guests. This provides residents and guests with an easily identifiable address for the building that will make pick-up and drop-off much easier and safer. Given the address of the building is 1335-1345 Bank Street, residents and guests will inevitably use Bank Street for pick-up and drop-off. Without this lay-by it makes alternative transportation like Uber and Lyft less safe and much less functional for residents and guests. Given the fact that the design provides for less than the required number of parking stalls based on current zoning, this lay-by is a really important element of the design. This will provide a natural transition from the arterial nature of Bank Street south of the Rideau River to Bank Street north of the Rideau River. The alternative solution involves a pick-up and drop-off area accessed from Bank Street, which requires traffic to drive over the sidewalk and bike lane, which is not an ideal solution for anyone.

The engagement of our development team, the extended design team, and city officials has led to a design that I am particularly proud of. Further involvement and engagement with the residents of Ottawa will undoubtedly lead to enhancements that will help make this site a transformational project for this section of Bank Street, and one that I look forward to being a part of for the long-term.

- Kevin McMahon - Park River Properties

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