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First things first

Updated: Apr 22, 2020


Common sense would suggest that first things come first. This argument was put to the Committee of Adjustment (COA) during a hearing on Minor Variances for 179 Carleton held September 5. A mature tree on the property (a Bur Oak some 120 years old) requires a Tree Permit under the Urban Tree Conservation Bylaw because there is a risk of damage due to excavation of the site for redevelopment. How much damage depends on how much is excavated. Conditions that come with a Tree Permit could have a direct impact on the building plans, for example by requiring that the excavation start where the current house sits. This would be reasonable given the set-back of neighbouring houses and would reduce the risk of seriously harming the tree (which also happens to be characteristic of the neighbourhood).

These were the details under consideration by the COA, and the reason why members of the public requested a delay in the hearing until the Tree Permit process was complete.

The request was denied, despite a letter to the COA from the Forestry Services Branch which states: “It is imperative that this privately-own distinctive tree is retained and properly protected throughout the entire construction process.”

The case reflects a deeper malaise and misunderstanding in the way infill development occurs in Ottawa. It reminds me of the arrogance of plant breeders of the 1950s who decided to modify the environment to fit the plants they had developed by dumping tons of fertilizers and pesticides onto the soil. Builders in Ottawa, armed with their cookie cutter designs, count on modifying the building site to fit their fixed design instead of designing to the conditions of the site. The result? Boring buildings pumped out like widgets on a factory line and stacked like shipping containers on the fine features of existing neighbourhoods.

Despite many platitudes regarding the concept of “design with nature" Ottawa builders consistently fail to innovate or tap into the ingenuity needed to walk the talk. Off-the shelf structures, like genetically modified organisms, not only obliterate the biodiversity of the landscape they also leave buyers with little real taste for what is possible and desirable in a home that fits the place. --Daniel Buckles

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