Barrhaven's 'final piece' could be a new downtown core

Barrhaven's city councillor has spearheaded a plan to create a downtown for the Ottawa suburb, and she sees a new performing arts facility and library at its heart.

Staff are recommending the city's planning committee, which Coun. Jan Harder chairs, approve the updated document at its meeting Thursday in a bid to stimulate activity on a large tract of land near the Jock River.

"It's just time," said Harder, explaining the current plan from 2006 has yet to give her community of nearly 100,000 a proper core.

That plan, she said, revolved around condo buildings springing up around the north-south rail line project that was cancelled a decade ago.

Thirteen years later, the area north of the Jock River and south of Strandherd Drive near Greenbank Road remains a field with some big box stores.

Developer-led secondary plan

Harder said that area needs to be Barrhaven's heart as it's set to become an intersection of two rapid transit lines — the existing north-south bus line on Riocan Avenue, and a future bus Transitway line in the middle of Chapman Mills Drive when that road is eventually extended.

Secondary plans are usually led by a municipality, but they can take years to be enacted. This one was led by developers Richcraft and Minto.

"Somebody had to pay for the process and somebody had to get it going," Harder said, adding she was the one to approach the area's two main landowners.

"It was about two years ago I was in touch with Richcraft and Minto and I said, 'You know what folks? We've got to get this thing going. It's not going to get going with the deal that was put into place and approved by council back in 2006.'" 

Idil Mussa/CBC

Richcraft and Minto held a couple of meetings in 2017 with local businesses and the community, and then this past June ran the plan past other area developers including Caivan, Claridge, Mattamy and RioCan.

If the new secondary plan is approved, minimum building heights would be lowered to two storeys and maximum heights raised to 30 storeys.

While the old plan broke the area up into city blocks divided by streets, the new plan leaves large blocks with their layouts to be determined later.

City of Ottawa

It also lays out Riocan Avenue as a walkable main street featuring buildings with ground-floor uses, and Harder sees the big box retail parking lots eventually being built up with denser developments.

The plan also includes a large park on the Jock River floodplain, as well as a linear park.

'Hallmark movie' downtown

The suburb's future downtown should be one where residents can go for a night out and visit local stores and residents, said Jason MacDonald, a local realtor who chairs Barrhaven's business improvement area.

"When I say a downtown core, I mean like [one from] a Hallmark movie," said MacDonald.

"Barrhaven is a 100,000 people now. We need that central gathering spot,."

The plan also includes space for a civic building in the middle of the tract of land, which Harder now envisions as a performing arts facility and library with an outdoor plaza for events.

Harder said residents have told her they want something like the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orléans.

"This is a final piece. It's like a puzzle. I'm taking that piece and I'm putting it on the board and I'm very excited to be able to have a downtown in what is, really, a large Ontario city," said Harder.

Harder expects the City of Ottawa will need help from the private sector to make Barrhaven's planned downtown a reality, even if she is not the councillor to see it through — she plans for this term to be her final one on city council.