Committee asks Windmill to reduce height on Southminster Church redevelopment

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Staff asked to work with developer to lower the proposed height in order to maintain scenic surroundings of the nearby Rideau Canal

Craig Lord, Ottawa Business Journal

Windmill Development Group has passed through planning committee on its path to redeveloping a portion of Bank Street’s Southminster United Church into condos, though a change in height may be necessary before council is ready to give its seal of approval.

The city’s planning committee evaluated a zoning bylaw amendment this week that would see a six-storey tower and four townhouses rise out of the church. The finished product would retain the church’s facade and main building but demolish the assembly hall at the rear, a piece that was added two decades after its initial construction.

The 85-year-old church in question sits at Bank and Aylmer streets, across from the Ottawa Library Sunnyside branch. It’s also located next to the Rideau Canal and across the bridge from Lansdowne.

Southminster says the decision to sell a portion of the church’s real estate to Windmill will see the congregation complete “long-awaited maintenance work” on the aging church.

The new condominium complex would have 18 units with underground parking. The committee’s amendment grants the project an additional four metres in height above the 15-metre standard for developments on a traditional mainstreet.

Fears of creeping height precedents are often a concern with infill, and the Southminster United Church was no different. David Chernushenko, councilor for the ward, expressed his opposition to the height extension in a report prepared by city staff.

“I cannot support the rezoning amendment, with the precedent which will be set for the traditional mainstreet character as a whole. Spot rezoning should not, and is never supposed to be used as a precedent, and yet over and over across the city, it is used successfully by project developers,” he wrote, echoing the concerns of fellow Ottawa South residents noted in the report.

Though the church is outside of the jurisdiction of the National Capital Commission, the organization tasked with preserving the Rideau Canal’s heritage value also made comments in the report.

The NCC’s chief desire was to keep the development’s height below that of the forested area that separates views of the church from the canal. As it stands, the planned height would surpass those of the surrounding trees.

Members of planning committee concurred, instructing staff to work with Windmill on attempts to lower the maximum height of 19 metres outlined in the report.

Other residents’ concerns revolved around the loss of reserved parking at the back of the church on Galt Street, as the area has struggled already with parking as of late since the Lansdowne development came online. City staff indicated in the report that they did not anticipate significant parking overflow as a result of the development.

City staff felt Windmill’s proposal “is a well-designed, sensitive and modest infill that respects and preserves the existing place of worship.” The zoning amendment decision was referred on to city council on Dec. 13.