BUILT UP: Increasing density both a positive and a challenge

Aerial photo of Fairwinds. Photo by @TwitchxB

(Photo: Aerial photo of Fairwinds. Photo by @TwitchxB)

With a couple of proposals for low-rise apartment buildings along Robert Grant (Haliburton Heights, Livery Street), and a multi-story retirement complex along Hazeldean (Wellings), we wanted to find out what Stittsville could look like with more high-density developments.

According to urbanist and Carleton University professor Benjamin Gianni, more density could mean a shift to how residents get around town.

Because high-density developments put everything closer together, people are more inclined to leave the car in favour of walking or taking transit.

“Your ability or your desire to take transit has a lot to do with whether or not you can walk to it… there’s a magic radius of about 600 meters around a transit stop, and beyond that people simply won’t walk.”

“And that’s true not only of whether or not they’ll walk to a transit stop… that contributes greatly to whether or not they’ll walk to a grocery store or walk to any kind of other thing as well.”

He says the buck doesn’t stop at just density – infrastructure would need to be less car-focused as well.

According to Gianni, the city encourages higher density along transit corridors, to make it easier for riders to walk to a stop. The development at Robert Grant Avenue happens to be located less than the 600 meter walking threshold from a future bus rapid transit station, but Gianni doesn’t think the city is urgently looking for more density in Stittsville at the present time.

Regardless of what the city wants to see in Stittsville or any other suburb, its development planning is beholden in every way to provincial standards, which discourage urban sprawl and demand more density. Even then, Gianni said the developers will not build anything they don’t think the market will support.

Speaking of that market – it’s not doing too well. According to Century 21 John DeVries sales rep Matt Robinson, the Stittsville market for high-density housing in general is considered a buyers’ market, meaning low demand for them.

Since 2011, there have been 160 listings for units, but only 72 sales. We have an excellent example of what happens when they don’t sell – take a look at Stittsville Walk, a condo development at 1419 Stittsville Main Street. Its noble marketing goal to create a walkable neighbourhood fell flat. Only one of six buildings in the development were constructed, and the entire project has been stalled since 2013 due to lack of sales.

“The condo market [in Ottawa] as a whole is very saturated. Many people are thrown away because of the lack of control and liability issues,” said Robinson, “…all over the place we’re seeing lower resale values and longer days on market.”

(Data from recent property assessments shows that the city-wide value of condos is down 5%, whereas single family, semi-detached and townhomes have increased in value by 4.6%.  A drop in value is likely partly due to a decrease in demand.)

Lower prices and more transportation options sounds like a good deal for apartment and condo dwellers, but what about those living nearby in traditional houses? It’s commonly thought higher density brings down property values while increasing crime rates, but Gianni said neither is necessarily true.

As for Robinson, he doesn’t believe the market is unlikely to improve much for the foreseeable future. Stittsville won’t have to brace for a density boom anytime soon.


6 thoughts on “BUILT UP: Increasing density both a positive and a challenge”

  1. Fernbank’s density requirements differ from old Stittsville because it is a Greenfield development. Old Stittsville density increases are being driven by general Infill intensification policies, and by the Stittsville Main Street TM and Hazeldean Road AM designations. The transit policies have not been coordinated or integrated with the planning policies – these transit policies require Transit Priority streets (Stittsville Main and Hazeldean), as well as LRT/BRT (Robert Grant) routes to have high density – they use 800m. The City rarely mentions the density requirements in staff reports or the impact on infrastructure. In the 5 years I have been monitoring development, there has never been an overall look at the impact of these disjointed policies on specific communities or their infrastructure, amenities, public service facilities or quality of life

  2. I don’t think I would say the market is not doing well is it slower yes but to say its not doing well I think that is not really a true picture.

  3. We need to stop obsessing with residential property values going up. They shouldn’t go up. They’ve been rising faster than the rate of inflation for decades now and it’s only getting worse.

    We chastise Millennials for wanting a big salary in their first full time job. We chastise Millennials for living at home with their parents until they’re in their 30s.

    Gee, maybe if affordable housing still existed they wouldn’t need either of those things!

  4. Susan

    The issue with some Millennials is they don’t want cheap housing they want a massive house/cottage and in some cases a private plane.

    1. What?!? This is the most idiotic comment I’ve read in a while about Millenials. Did you want a simple house in which to love your life or a massive house, cottage and a private plane! Ridiculous.

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