Fitting In(fill) in Centretown


Centretown, Development, Ottawa / Saturday, January 16th, 2016
90-96 Flora St. Infill has changed over the years. Image: January 2016.
90-98 Flora St. Infill has changed over the years. Image: January 2016.

I was walking back home from campus the other day and these brightly-coloured homes (90-98 Flora) caught my eye. As is so often the case, beauty results from conflict and limitation, rather than from whole-cloth design.

90, 94, 98 Flora, as they appear on the 1902 (1912 Revision) Goad's Insurance Atlas.
90, 94, 98 Flora, as they appear on the 1902 (1912 Revision) Goad’s Insurance Atlas.

Located a short distance north of what were then railway tracks (and now the Queensway), these three diminutive frame cottages were most likely constructed by railway workers or those employed at one of the numerous industrial outfits that were located along the rails. 90 and 94 Flora were constructed no later than 18951Note: Flora experienced more than one wave of renumbering previous to 1900 making the tracking of more exact dates take more time. and 98 was constructed no later than 1900.

The three cottages, as they appeared from above in 1933. Image: NAPL A4570-60 May 5, 1933.
The three cottages, as they appeared from above in 1933. Image: NAPL A4570-60 May 5, 1933.

Such inexpensive frame homes were, generally speaking, intended as a first step on to the property ladder.2If not owned, at least rented. Although this was doubtlessly aspirational for some, browsing the city directories demonstrates that the homes were occupied by a range of individuals over the years. By 1923, it does appear that occupancy/ownership had stabilized somewhat. No. 90 was home to Frederick Woods, a salesman for the Ottawa Dairy up the road, 94 was home to Frederick Dunn, an elderly military veteran, and 98 was home to John Sorell, a cleaner for James Mitchell.3Might’s City Directory, 1923; Dunn was killed in 1925 when at 88, he was hit by a car near his home. See “Tribute to Memory of Frederick Dunn,” Ottawa Citizen, May 26, 1925, p. 9.

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By the time the late 1980s hit, there remained a few parts of Centretown that had yet to receive much in the way of attention for redevelopment. The larger players weren’t interested in such small projects, but smaller developers and investors began to look around for opportunities. One such investor was local engineer Carmen Argentina, who purchased 90 Flora during the Fall of 1989 and drew up plans to construct a 3-storey, 6-unit apartment building. Suffice to say, this plan was strongly opposed by residents of Flora street, especially those who lived in the other two cottages.4Anne Tolson. “Housing crisis: Owner’s plan to build apartments sparks protest,” Ottawa Citizen, April 4, 1990, B6. As buildings in Centretown weren’t up for heritage consideration by city staff until “at least 1993,” the home was vulnerable.5Ibid. For any number of reasons, council declined at that evening’s meeting to freeze development on the lot.6Development on the three homes was frozen in February though 90 Flora was exempted due to the understanding that it would not be previous to that. The following morning, it was reported that Argentina had reduced his project to two storeys with four apartment units but Flora street residents remained unimpressed and vowed to take their case to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).7Ron Eade. “Neighbors plan appeal to OMB to save old house,” Ottawa Citizen, April 5, 1990, F14.

Given the remainder of the weekend to consider his options, Argentina stated to Citizen reporter Janis Hass that he’d be willing to abandon the project if the neighbours would purchase the house from him for the asking price of $165,000 “that day.” The short-term offer was declined and the neighbours remained dedicated the taking the case to the OMB. At that point, neither Argentina’s Site Control Plan nor Demolition Permit were approved by the city, and the homes weren’t put up for heritage protection, though staff recommended the three be preserved.8Janis Hass. “Doomed old house offered to neighbors,” Ottawa Citizen, April 9, 1990, C1. The following day it was reported that Argentina had paid $133,000 for it and the neighbours were willing to offer him $140,000: a figure refused as too low.9All-in, the price reflected what Argentina claimed that he put into the property and wasn’t keen to take a loss. See “Neighbors want old house, but not at developer’s price,” Ottawa Citizen, April 10, 1990, B4.

“I’m not prepared to take a loss on their behalf,” he said. “If they are interested in the place, what they need is $165,000. And if they’re not prepared to do that, I’m not prepared to take a loss, so I’m not prepared to make a deal.

– Ottawa Citizen, April 10, 1990, B4

With a week extension on the purchase offer, neither side was keen to budge. The neighbours, whose spokesperson came to be architect Anthony Leaning,10Heritage Ottawa Vice-President and son of John Leaning. He lived in and had restored the adjacent home at 94 Flora. Having lived there since 1981, his renovations were profiled in the Citizen in 1988. See Sharon Trottier, “Fine fixes Series: Renovations,” Ottawa Citizen, June 11, 1988, D1. remained adamant that the homes needed to be preserved, while Argentina remained adamant that he either goes forward or the neighbours can pay him the $165,000 (value of home, plus legal, permit, and architectural costs). Flora street residents even held a garage sale that weekend to raise funds in support of their OMB appeal,11They raised $187. See “Flora Street residents fight for house,” Ottawa Citizen, April 15, 1990, D11. which was filed the following week.12Joanne Laucius. “OMB to decide future of Flora Street house,” Ottawa Citizen, April 24, 1990, B6.

1991 Aerial. Source: geoOttawa.
1991 Aerial. Source: geoOttawa.

Only two weeks after the appeal was filed, the Citizen reported that Argentina and the neighbours had begin to work on a bargain and end the hostilities. Leaning had drawn up plans that would see a home inserted in between 90 Flora and his own at 94.13”Developer, neighbors seek deal on 90-year-old house,” Ottawa Citizen, May 8, 1990, F13. In the end, the project did grow a little, but it was with the addition of a second small home, slotted between 94 and 98 Flora and Charlesfort was brought in on the development.

A success. Source: Heritage Ottawa Newsletter, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Winter 1991), p. 4.
A success. Source: Heritage Ottawa Newsletter, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Winter 1991), p. 4.

The above excerpt from the Heritage Ottawa Newsletter offers a few more details about the episode, but it does appear to be the case that both sides were satisfied by the outcome. The Flora street residents retained a beautiful row of homes that maintained the heritage character of the neighbourhood, while Argentina appears to have been satisfied.14He rented out his units in 90 and 92 Flora. Overall, it couldn’t have been too traumatic as he remains in development to this day, best known for small-scale urban infill no less. Leaning, Argentina, and Charlesfort, for the effort, received a City of Ottawa Heritage Award.15Jennifer Jackson, “HERITAGE DESIGN AWARDS; In-fill project model of co-operation among property owners, community and city hall,” Ottawa Citizen, February 22, 1992, D1.

Keen, successfil infill. Image: Google Maps, April 2015.
Keen, successfil infill. Image: Google Maps, April 2015.

In my own opinion, it’s a tremendous example of infill development.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Note: Flora experienced more than one wave of renumbering previous to 1900 making the tracking of more exact dates take more time.
2. If not owned, at least rented.
3. Might’s City Directory, 1923; Dunn was killed in 1925 when at 88, he was hit by a car near his home. See “Tribute to Memory of Frederick Dunn,” Ottawa Citizen, May 26, 1925, p. 9.
4. Anne Tolson. “Housing crisis: Owner’s plan to build apartments sparks protest,” Ottawa Citizen, April 4, 1990, B6.
5. Ibid.
6. Development on the three homes was frozen in February though 90 Flora was exempted due to the understanding that it would not be previous to that.
7. Ron Eade. “Neighbors plan appeal to OMB to save old house,” Ottawa Citizen, April 5, 1990, F14.
8. Janis Hass. “Doomed old house offered to neighbors,” Ottawa Citizen, April 9, 1990, C1.
9. All-in, the price reflected what Argentina claimed that he put into the property and wasn’t keen to take a loss. See “Neighbors want old house, but not at developer’s price,” Ottawa Citizen, April 10, 1990, B4.
10. Heritage Ottawa Vice-President and son of John Leaning. He lived in and had restored the adjacent home at 94 Flora. Having lived there since 1981, his renovations were profiled in the Citizen in 1988. See Sharon Trottier, “Fine fixes Series: Renovations,” Ottawa Citizen, June 11, 1988, D1.
11. They raised $187. See “Flora Street residents fight for house,” Ottawa Citizen, April 15, 1990, D11.
12. Joanne Laucius. “OMB to decide future of Flora Street house,” Ottawa Citizen, April 24, 1990, B6.
13. ”Developer, neighbors seek deal on 90-year-old house,” Ottawa Citizen, May 8, 1990, F13.
14. He rented out his units in 90 and 92 Flora. Overall, it couldn’t have been too traumatic as he remains in development to this day, best known for small-scale urban infill no less.
15. Jennifer Jackson, “HERITAGE DESIGN AWARDS; In-fill project model of co-operation among property owners, community and city hall,” Ottawa Citizen, February 22, 1992, D1.

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