Event Recap: Spring Walk and Talk

Event Recap: Spring Walk and Talk

Better South Keys Centre held its first public event since its creation last fall — a Spring walk and talk tour around the South Keys Centre property. While we had a wonderfully huge turnout and had to split into two groups, we know that many of you weren’t able to make it so we wanted to share a recap.

Matt and Laura from Better South Keys Centre kick off the introductions.

If you’re new to the Better South Keys Centre group — welcome! We are a community coalition advocating for the enhancement of South Keys Centre. Our all-volunteer executive team is comprised of interested individuals who live, transit, and shop in the South Keys area.

Stop #1: South Keys Station

The group gets a good view of the ongoing construction at South Keys station as part of the expansion of the O-Train.

Our morning tour began at South Keys Station where we walked through the station tunnel to the west side where it connects to the multi-use pathway. From here neighbours had a great view of the ongoing construction of the O-Train extension.

The Trillium Line South Extension project will be transformative for this neighbourhood. While the old O-Train line used to end at Greenboro, it will now be extended all the way to Barrhaven, with stops at South Keys, and further south at Leitrim, Bowesville, and Limebank. Leitrim and Bowesville will have large Park & Ride lots allowing rural residents of Ottawa easy access to the system, while Limebank is planned to be a new “complete community” built around the transit station. The four-kilometre-long airport rail link will also operate from this station, giving residents of this area a direct train connection to Ottawa International Airport.

Better South Keys Centre’s Guy presents to the group about the plans for the transit expansion.

Combined with the existing great level of bus service provided to this station, South Keys Station is set to become a major transit hub for the area. Adding such high-quality transit service is a key ingredient for transforming the South Keys mall into a complete community where people live, work, and play.

The latest estimate for the opening date for the line is May 2023.

Stop #2: 2200 Bank redevelopment

An aerial drawing of the proposed redevelopment at the south end of the property

Mall redevelopments and transit-oriented living is increasingly common elsewhere but is just getting started in Ottawa which is part of what makes this development exciting. It could serve as a model for future mall redevelopments in Ottawa. One of the mall’s owners, SmartCentres REIT, is the prime developer of Vaughan Metropolitan Centre in the GTA, a massive project to build a new downtown from scratch around a new subway station expected to ultimately house 45,000 people.

The redevelopment of the whole South Keys Centre site could be a 30-year endeavour. The next 10 years or so will focus on the “South Phase” — the area south of Walmart, west of Daze, and north of the office tower on Hunt Club.

Better South Keys Centre’s Neil presents to the group about the south phase plans.

The south phase includes eight 21-storey mixed-use towers and 1,710 new dwelling units, replacing the vacant stores, and eventually the Cineplex, and Montana’s. Phase 1 of 4 of the south phase is currently proposed for development, including two towers next to the South Keys station entrance. It includes 446 dwelling units, including 40 three-bedroom units. In total there are 649 “bedrooms” included between the two towers. Parking is proposed at less than one space per unit, meaning that many people living here will not drive cars on a regular basis — and being right next to the transit station, this makes sense. Phase 1 also includes two ground-floor commercial units, both of which will face the transit station. 

Finally, Phase 1 includes the dedication of 0.6 hectares of land — equivalent to one and a half football fields — to the City as parkland for a “transit plaza”. We’ll come back to that at the end of the tour recap.

Stop #3: Cahill and Daze intersection

Looking west along Cahill Road towards the Cahill/Bank/Dazé intersection, showing alignment for a protected intersection with a two-way bicycle crossing.

Members of Better South Keys Centre’s technical committee, Farid and Luke, presented to the group about our vision for an improved intersection at Bank and Daze/Cahill. Changing this to a protected intersection means introducing a separated bi-directional bike lane and separate sidewalks that are set back from the vehicular traffic at the crossing to improve visibility and reduce collisions.

Luke and Farid from the technical committee discussing the possibilities of the intersection behind them.

This intersection proposal also includes our vision for solving the ‘missing link’ as the Greenboro pathway network ends less than one kilometre away. If these areas were connected with improved safety the existing nearby neighbourhoods would have better access to the mall and transit. The future residents of this area would also have a better connection to the surrounding communities where they will be able to access schools, community centres, parks and multi-use pathways. This intersection and area are also key because the future transit plaza will bring people out to this road, so improving the connections and safety only makes sense.

For more details on this area head to our earlier blog post.

Stop #4: Sawmill Creek

One of the groups gathers at a rare visible point of the creek by Daze Road.

If you’re not paying attention it’s easy to miss the incredible Sawmill Creek that runs through the South Keys Centre property. Guest speaker Jennifer Lamoureux from Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) joined us for this stop to share more expertise on the creek. Beginning at the Leitrim Road area, this unique cold water creek feeds into the Rideau River near Billings Bridge. Did you know that there are 25 different species of fish that live in this creek? But as Jennifer shared, the creek is often at risk due to many issues — and therefore putting the Rideau River and more at risk, as the waterways are the ultimate definition of ‘connection’! 

Jennifer from RVCA shared her expertise on Sawmill Creek.

Businesses that are along the creek often have their snow piles (which include garbage, salt and other ice-deterring products) right next to, or even pushed into, the creek. Garbage blows and collects in the creek as well. The creek has also physically been moved over the years and setbacks from developments aren’t always as far back as the RVCA would like to see for the preservation and enjoyment of the creek. Better South Keys Centre hopes to partner with the RVCA and its Stream Watch program in the future, so stay tuned if this is of interest. The community can have a big impact in this area.

Stop #5: Secondary plan

Part of an aerial look at the South Keys area as covered by the Secondary Plan.

For the non-urbanist nerds out there, a Secondary Plan is basically a more deep-dive into a specific area of the city. So while the City has an overall plan for the entire region, secondary plans allow for a deeper level of detail, without being too prescriptive, for particular areas of high interest and potential to the City. The one for South Keys (PDF) includes plans for more mixed-use and active transportation options, as well as special attention for Sawmill Creek to be protected and enhanced. South Keys is considered a hub due to it being bookended by two major transit stations and a key connection to other areas around the south end of the city including the airport.

In the centre in orange, Ben Cool-Fergus from the City of Ottawa’s Planning department joined us to speak of the City’s Secondary Plan for South Keys.

The redevelopment of South Keys, while far from set in stone, should incorporate mixed-use buildings with residential, offices, and retail — all built around a new main street made through what is currently the parking lot running north-south (not Bank Street). It should also incorporate green spaces and civic uses as well, even though the majority of the 50-acres is privately owned.

For more details and plans see our website’s Further Reading section.

A partial look at the vast parking area around Greenboro station.

The Greenboro Park & Ride is one of 29 City-owned Park & Ride lots. It has 766 parking spaces, most of which are free of charge. Prior to the pandemic, it was full by 8 a.m. or earlier. According to the Community Design Plan, approximately 575 transit users are generated each day by the Park & Ride. Since the onset of the pandemic, however, the Park & Ride has been highly underused, remaining nearly empty most days.

As part of the Trillium line extension, new Park & Rides are being built at Leitrim (330 spaces) and Bowesville (800 spaces) to the south, and are expected to provide more convenient access to those beyond the greenbelt.

The City’s draft Transportation Master Plan and new Official Plan identify that where large parking lots exist next to major transit stations, the City will come up with a strategy to redevelop them, especially where the redevelopment is expected to result in more transit riders.

Nat, from Better South Keys Centre, spoke to the group about the potential plans for the vast parking area.

The secondary plan identifies the Park & Ride as an opportunity for future intensification, with a new park along the north edge. It’s possible that 1,000 new residents could one day live in the place of the Park & Ride in the future.

This being a City-owned property already means it could also be a great spot for adding more affordable housing. With close access to transit and other amenities, Greenboro could be a fantastic opportunity to offer affordable options that are accessible and convenient for most.

Stop #7: Retail

One of the groups gathers outside one of the many vacant retail stores to have a discussion on the future of these spaces.

Retail is a key function of this area of the city today and will need to remain so in the future. Today we have grocery stores, shopping, banking, entertainment, and restaurants here. In the future, the addition of thousands of new residents will only add more demand for services. 

While some retail appears on the decline, with brick and mortar being replaced by online shopping, other forms of retail will always be needed. Think about the value of a corner cafe here as a gathering place, a local pub with a patio, or community spaces.

Better South Keys Centre’s Janet led the discussions on what people would like to see as retail or services in the redevelopment.

As these big box stores are replaced with towers, the retail uses are expected to remain — they’ll just look a bit different, integrated into the base of the buildings and with smaller footprints.

One thing we’ve heard from the community during our conversations so far, and which were largely echoed on the walk, are concerns that new development will result in the loss of retail that we depend on today. As a group, we plan to take a keen focus on making sure the most valuable amenities are maintained and integrated into the new development.

Stop #8: Transit plaza

The orange represents the parcel of land that will be turned over to the city for the development of a transit plaza – public space fronting the station and future buildings with a lot of potential for the community to weigh in on what they’d like to see in that space.

As the mall redevelops, the developers are required to allocate new public park space to the City. The first one of these is the South Keys Transit Plaza, a linear park stretching from South Keys Station to Daze Street. Currently private land, this approximately 0.6-hectare area is expected to be turned over to the City as part of the Site Plan Approval for 2200 Bank sometime this year. When/if the north side of the plaza redevelops, the size of the transit plaza will be doubled to 1.2 hectares, nearly three football fields. 

The transit plaza will be a key amenity for the first residents of South Keys Centre, but also for those who already pass through this area to access transit or the pathways and bridge on the other side of the station.

Matt spoke to the groups about the transit plaza details and invited them to imagine the possibilities. The community can play a big part in the plaza plans.

The Community Design Plan (CDP) (PDF) envisions the plaza will provide a pleasurable and safe experience for day-to-day users and those accessing public transit, with ground-floor retail on adjacent properties, a pickup/dropoff area, and public art. In addition, the CDP envisions playground equipment and a minimum 30% tree canopy.

The City is currently in the early design phase for this space and will be seeking public input sometime later this year. Better South Keys Centre aims to be as proactive as possible about this space, collecting community input and engaging with the City as a key stakeholder. This is where you come in too!

Finally, we would like to see some low-cost, near-term efforts to improve this space before the final redesign which could be years away — things like planters, tables, benches, and maybe even gardens. This space could even host small gatherings, markets, or food trucks.

Next steps

Based on community feedback we’ve gathered so far as well as the feedback and discussions from attendees at the walk, there are areas for future community involvement and input into the redevelopment of South Keys.

The most imminent will likely be the transit plaza, which could be turned over to the city this year. Better South Keys Centre will be holding future sessions on the short- and long-term plans for this plaza area and how the community’s ideas can be incorporated.

We also know the community can have a big say in helping to conserve and enjoy Sawmill Creek and will be working with RVCA for future events around this crucial area.

Do you like our proposal for the Greenboro Pathway missing link and the protected intersection at Daze/Cahill and Bank? Please let Councillor Deans know!

While it’s true that we won’t be able to influence all aspects of the future, Better South Keys Centre has been building relationships with the developer, architects, various departments and councillors at the City of Ottawa, the surrounding community associations, and more stakeholders already. We really do feel that the more voices that come together the stronger influence we can have.

Thank you again to our guest speakers, and everyone who showed interest or came out to the event. Stay tuned for the next one!

If you want to join us, hear about opportunities to have your say, or just get updates, please join our mailing list. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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