Ottawa developer’s big vision for Manor Park gets committee nod

A developer-led vision for 3,900 new homes and apartments that would transform Ottawa’s central Manor Park area was unanimously endorsed by the city’s planning committee Thursday in a discussion that was far less fraught than others the committee has seen.

The Aggarwal family has owned buildings in Manor Park for three decades. Lalit Aggarwal was at committee seeking a secondary plan for a major redevelopment, to take place over 40 or 50 years, that includes highrise buildings, but also townhouses and a village square.

Aggarwal, who had been a member of the Ontario premier’s housing affordability task force, pointed to how the aging, poorly insulated buildings need to be replaced so they’re not a “culprit in the climate crisis.”

The 15-hectare area would see buildings up to nine stores tall north of the Beechwood Cemetery, and highrises in the southern section near St. Laurent Boulevard and Montreal Road. The plan is to start with buildings backing onto the Aviation Parkway.

“This has the family name on it,” said Aggarwal. “There’s a motivation here. This is a mom and pop shop, immigrants to Canada, who have been in Manor Park for 33 years. I know that gets discounted, but we’ve been in the community, too.”

Each of the 650 tenants had been contacted before he filed his application with city planners, and he held dozens of one-on-one meetings, the committee heard.

The developer has also signed a memorandum of understanding promising to move current tenants into other units of the same size and at the same or less rent, and to offer at least 10 per cent of units in future buildings at affordable rents for 20 years.

That social contract follows the path of the more controversial and trying Heron Gate redevelopment in Ottawa’s south end, and planning committee co-chair Coun. Glen Gower suggests it even set the bar higher.

Concerns over amenities, shadows cast

Many delegations thanked Aggarwal personally for his approach and “for trying to break the mold of the bad developer,” as former Manor Park Community Association president Elizabeth McAllister expressed it.

That’s not to say residents are entirely pleased.

“The stakes are high. We’re essentially building a small city within a community,” said McAllister, who worries the city wouldn’t provide the social gathering spaces and recreational amenities, especially for the lower income families in the neighborhood.

Others felt the decision should be delayed for a few months to sort out concerns over transit access and cycling, shadows from buildings, or loss of trees.

Their councilor, Rawlson King, shared their concerns and opposed the planning application because it would “dramatically alter Manor Park.” With no seat on planning committee, a colleague proposed deferring the decision on his behalf, but eight of the nine committee members voted to move ahead.

The north end of the Manor Park secondary plan, seen here in documents submitted to the City of Ottawa in fall 2021, would see buildings as high as nine storeys and a village green. (Fotenn/Manor Park Estates/City of Ottawa)

Ayse and André Comeau, who have rented in Aggarwal’s existing buildings for seven years, said their greatest fear was that Aggarwal’s plans would be blocked and he would sell to another builder.

“[We] would much prefer to work with Mr. Aggarwal than to deal with a big developer who won’t blink an eye before evicting tenants with minimum legal notice and compensation,” said Ayse.

For his part, Aggarwal told councilors he was open to all ideas, and would want to “future-proof” his buildings by integrating smart technology, for instance.

He had yet to hire an architect, but hoped to have such “exciting discussions” if the high-level plans are passed by council on March 30.

“We could actually lead in the country on how to make family units in urban settings,” Aggarwal said, but for now the project is in the “spring training” phase.

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