U of Ottawa Planning Large and Small Off-Campus Student Residences

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[12-July-2013] Click here to view original article.

Ottawa Citizen by Neco Cockburn – Plans for four large student housing developments are in the early stages as the University of Ottawa looks to ease pressure that has come with a growing population, says Sandy Hill’s community association.

What appear to be the firmest plans for potential development come from the university itself. It has said it intends to seek someone to build an off-campus residence for about 700 students, said Christopher Collmorgen, president of Action Sandy Hill.

The university also expects to build a 165-bed residence on its property on Henderson Avenue north of Templeton Street, said Collmorgen, who has met with university officials.

The university is seeking community input and might issue a formal request-for-proposals for the off-campus housing this fall, Collmorgen said.

The university estimates it needs about 1,000 more beds over the next three to four years, said university spokesman Patrick Charette. About 900 residence spaces have been added since the early 2000s, while the university’s population of undergraduates has increased by 10,000.

Charette confirmed there’s a plan to build a residence on Henderson, but said details had not been finalized. There will also be a request for proposals, he said, but further information won’t be made public until that is released.

Action Sandy Hill plans to consult residents about proposals from the university and others, said Collmorgen. The community wants to see the university’s vision for growth and development on campus over the next few decades, he said, “so that we feel satisfied that the university’s desire to put something off-campus isn’t just a convenient way to save better spots on campus for some project down the road.”

Many residents don’t understand why the university doesn’t build more on campus when it seems there’s room there, Collmorgen said.

Charette said the university is “looking at all the options” to address housing needs in the near future and beyond.

“In the long-term (after the city’s light-rail project starts running in 2018), we will probably have some opportunities to build residences on campus. Before (then), how we address the situation, how we address the issue — this is what we’re looking at now,” he said.

“Whatever we do, there will be a process, there will be an RFP, we will be open,” said Charette, and community feedback will be sought.

Action Sandy Hill has also been approached by two separate property owners to “test the waters” on some ideas, said Collmorgen, adding it’s good that opinions from the community are being solicited early on.

Viner Assets Ltd. is exploring the possibility of bringing “private purpose-built student housing” for between 600 and 750 students to a row of properties it owns at 261, 265, 271, 275 and 281 Laurier Ave., and 400 Friel St., just east of the campus.

There’s a need for off-campus housing and the low-rise rental apartment buildings there now are aging and expensive to maintain, said Robert Viner, the company’s chief executive.

“We thought maybe this would be an appropriate place for a building that consolidated and brought together students in a safe, secure, supervised and professionally-managed environment,” Viner said Thursday.

It would also eliminate some of the pressure that has students scattered across Sandy Hill in converted homes, he said. Several buildings have been converted from single-family homes and duplexes into multi-unit apartments with numerous bedrooms and little common space, something that has led to a temporary city ban on such projects.

Viner Assets is working on potential plans with architect Barry Hobin and consultant Graham Bird, Viner said.

The company is in the very early stages but is checking the potential for a nine-storey building with ground-floor retail and space for studying and recreation, similar to privately-run student residences in other North American cities, Viner said. Zoning changes and other approvals would be required if it decided to proceed, he said.

“We’re still going through viability and feasibility analysis.”

The other potential development involves 45 Mann Ave., a low-rise apartment building near King Edward Avenue, according to Collmorgen. That owner has floated the idea of building a taller “purpose-built student residence” on that site, he said. The owner could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury said he has heard about all of the proposals, though with limited details because they’re preliminary and applications for any city approvals that might be required have not been submitted.

Residents want to see the university build residences on its campus, Fleury said. He would oppose any move by the university to establish a residence in Sandy Hill’s core, he said, noting that initiatives like the U-Pass make it easier for students to reach the campus from farther away.