The venerable Westgate Shopping Centre will disappear in phases under a plan unveiled by landowner RioCan.
A Dec. 16 public meeting revealed a conceptual vision of a mixed-use site with tall rental towers bracketing public green space in the centre. RioCan, Canada’s largest real estate investment trust, intends to roll out the plan over a period of about 15 to 25 years, segmented into four distinct phases.
No application has yet been submitted to the city in support of the redevelopment.
The changes to the Carling Avenue site – home to Ottawa’s first shopping mall in 1955 – would create “a precedent for sustainable, mixed-use development within the city,” according to RioCan.
The first phase would occupy the southeast corner of the site, where Monkey Joe’s now exists, and could be expected in two to three years, said Matthew McElligott of Fotenn Planning and Urban Design. A second phase of ground-level commercial use topped by rental apartments would sprout from the west side of the site within five to 10 years.
“We’re submitting an Official Plan amendment for the adoption of a secondary plan … and a zoning amendment,” he said.
Architect Rod Lahey was brought on board to craft a vision for the site. He said that three RioCan-owned sites in the city will undergo redevelopment – Elmvale Acres and SilverCity being the others.
Lahey referenced the age of the site, the changing nature of the retail scene, and city planning direction as being the major forces at work in the plan.
“We’ve been promoting the idea of mixed-use buildings, and now there’s mixed-use centres,” said Lahey. “You get the synergy of the two going together, and there’s real benefits to it from a social, economic, environmental and lifestyle angle. There are a lot of things that make this a positive move.”
UP TO 22 STOREYS
The two towers fronting Carling would be around 20 to 22 storeys in height, said Lahey, the same as the apartment tower located across the street from the site. The final phases of the plan would see the remaining sections of the mall removed and replaced by taller towers.
The provincially-owned hydro corridor that runs between the back of the mall and adjacent Highway 417 would have to be respected when it comes to placement.
Drawings displayed at the open house provided little detail of what type of commercial would call the new Westgate home. Given that the site will have to sustain a large influx of new residents while also serving several underserved neighbouring communities, the type of retail makeup was a big concern for local residents.
“One of the things (RioCan) would love to acquire would be a grocery store,” said Lahey. “There is a possibility that we could do a mid-size grocery store in the 30,000 square foot range.”
A grocery component would be a major selling point for future tenants, he said.
The residential component, unlike most other developments, would be strictly high-end rental units, given that RioCan can’t sell condominiums.
River Coun. Riley Brockington, who represents the adjacent Carlington community, organized the joint open house with Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper so that no resident would be taken by surprise by a zoning amendment submitted in the coming months.
Public meetings would follow any such application.
Brockington said that the loss of Westgate’s grocery store a decade ago had a big impact on Carlington, and the proposal could have re-opened some old wounds.
“People rely on services within Westgate, so they want to make sure that if they do banking there, or Shoppers Drug Mart or other services, they’ll still be available to them,” said Brockington.
“That really is not clear to me. I think I’ve heard that they want Shoppers to be retained, but this is a project that will be up to 20 years in the making. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Cameron Ketchum, president of the Carlington Community Association, said that overall, there’s been some enthusiasm for the potential of a project of this type.
“We live in a community that is lacking in some key resources, like grocery stores and neighbourhood coffee shops, things like that. Whether or not a project of this scale and style can fill some of those gaps remains to be seen, but I think that’s where people get excited about the potential.
“Westgate is technically outside the borders of our neighbourhood but it’s certainly one of the key resources for our neighbourhood. It’s busy, well-frequented, but also, I think, under-resourced in itself, as a plaza. I think people have always used the mall but wished there was a little more to it.”
Concerns do exist, added Ketchum, especially from residents who have lived in the area for a long time and fear being impacted negatively by side-effects of the development.
For Leiper, the response to the plan has been predictable – in this case, meaning openness to the proposed height, but worry about the traffic flow in the vicinity of the site.
Though Carling has much excess capacity, to the immediate north of the site Merivale Road connects to Island Park Drive – a notoriously crowded two-lane artery at peak times.
“What I hope (the plan) does, is with the Civic hospital potentially moving and potentially expanding programming, this development would probably spur a few more in the area, and I think as a city we need to look at accelerating the spur line of LRT,” said Leiper, referring to a future Carling-only light rail line identified in the city’s transit master plan.
“When we reopen the transportation master plan, I think they will be open to looking at the numbers. If federal and provincial infrastructure dollars can be brought to bear … I would hope that we could put together the type of partnership we need to build that spur line. It’s going to be critical – this is where intensification is going to happen, and where it appropriately happens.”
A big part of making a new development work, especially one of this size, means “getting ahead of the curve” on transit planning in order to properly serve it, said Leiper.