This blog explores changes in the energy industry from an insider’s perspective as it transitions from the old centralized utility model to the new paradigm of distributed generation.
This blog was previously called Inside the Housing Evolution and focused on energy efficient homes. Ultimately, it’s all linked. Soon, every building will have the potential to generate, store, and sell energy. Welcome to the era of the transactive grid – the greatest shift the electricity sector has seen in over 100 years!

January 19, 2011 No Comments

The Challenges of Urban Intensification

I read a thought provoking article in last weeks Ottawa Citizen about a local infill project that has been nominated for an Ottawa Architectural Conservation Award.  The article says that the development of the School House Lofts at 19 Melrose Ave. is “…infill done right: Not too tall, not too dense, and not ugly.”  A City of Ottawa heritage planner remarked that “…the size and design and number of units was very appropriate for the site”, and a spokesman for the local Community Association praises the project by saying “This project was a definite benefit to the community, since it beautifully restored a heritage building and accomplished intensification that was compatible.”

So, is this the feel good story of the year?  An infill intensification project that’s actually supported by the city and the local community?  Not so fast… according to the Project Manager, Josh Kardish from the Regional Group, “That scale of project isn’t necessarily something we would replicate from a pure returns point of view.” 

For developers, it can be extremely difficult to make money on a small infill project.  To add to this, the city imposes restrictive zoning regulations, and everyone that lives within a four-block radius feels that they should have a say in your final design!  This is why we see the repeating pattern of developers requesting zoning changes from the city, (for example to build more stories or greater density), followed by the inevitable and predictable outcry from the local community that the development will ruin the charm and character of their neighbourhood.

To be fair, I do believe that there is a strong value in preserving architectural landmarks and ensuring that developments fit appropriately with the character of the existing community.  The School House that was renovated in this project was originally built in 1912 and designed by the only Canadian pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright, Francis Sullivan.  It’s very respectable that the developer was able to come up with a new design that enhanced the existing structure and protected that legacy.  My point is that developers won’t come forward to do these projects unless it is consistently profitable for them.  The City needs to understand this and to be more flexible with their zoning guidelines if they want to build up a higher density urban core.

There is a disconnect between the City of Ottawa’s long term planning and their existing policy.  Their planning calls for more intensification- a green vision that promotes urban living and limits sprawl.  Their policies however have the opposite effect by enforcing zoning that restricts profitable, high-density projects.  The City is scared to offend the local community that will instinctively oppose a high-density development in their backyard.  But a high-density development doesn’t need to destroy a community- if done right it should add to a community.  The City of Ottawa needs to show more vision in supporting high-density infill for the greater good, even at the risk of offending those who feel that intensification is only good when it happens somewhere else.

Posted by Matthew

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Matthew Sachs

P. Eng. LEED AP

  • COO of Peak Power since July 2016
  • General Manager of Urbandale Construction (May 2008 – Oct 2014)
  • Vice-Chair R-2000 Renewal Committee
  • Member of Energy Star Technical Advisory Committee
  • Greater Ottawa Homebuilders Green Committee
  • Recipient of Canadian Homebuilder’s Association 2009 R-2000 Builder of the Year Award
  • Participant in Natural Resources Canada’s Technology Roadmap for Sustainable Housing
  • Energy Consultant with Marbek Resource Consultants (Feb 2002 – May 2006)

ABOUT PEAK POWER

Peak Power is a Microgrid project development company focused on delivering innovative solutions to offset the most expensive hours of electric demand. We specialize in optimizing the revenue streams from energy storage, advanced building automation, and renewable technologies for customer sited and utility scale projects. Please visit www.peakpowerenergy.com.