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Dickinson Square Plans 2012

Mill quarter board reveals
Dickinson Square plan

by Emma Jackson, EMC Manotick, May 31, 2012

Dickinson square plans. City planner Dave Powers explains the Manotick Mill Quarter board's proposal to residents at an open house on Thursday, May 24. Emma Jackson

A proposal to develop Manotick's Dickinson Square while preserving the heritage buildings around it was met with mixed reaction at an open house on Thursday, May 24.

The Manotick Mill Quarter Community Development Corporation, a private corporation wholly owned by the City of Ottawa, revealed a detailed proposal to protect the square's heritage buildings and surrounding open space "in perpetuity" while putting restrictions on the kinds of development city planners would like to see in the immediate area.

The first pillar of the plan is the creation of a protective easement over the green space where popular community events like Dickinson Days are held. While it will be up for sale to a private landowner, the city has created a "special events easement" that would basically require the owner to keep the space as green space forever, city planner Dave Powers said.

No buildings or additions can be built within the easement, which loops itself around Dickinson House, Weaver House and the carriage shed along Mill and Dickinson Streets. The space will be made available to Watson's Mill and other community groups to host events.

This is more cost effective than turning the green space into an official city park, because the city won't have to maintain it, Powers said. Plus, the city would get revenue from the sale.

A second pillar is a number of architectural design controls on any development that could take place outside the easement once the heritage buildings are sold. These design controls would dictate the character and design of additions onto heritage buildings and any development of a new mixed use building at 1125 Clapp Lane.

Zoning amendments would allow a greater range of commercial, institutional and residential uses in the additions and new developments, from banks and personal service businesses to boutique shops, restaurants and bed and breakfasts.

Each use would be limited to 120 square metres, which Powers said will be a disincentive to more mundane uses like banks, pharmacies and other services that would create traffic and parking problems and take away from the heritage feel of the square.

While the plan is to attract boutique-style shops, Powers admitted the city can't specifically zone for that. Instead, they will use disincentives like the space restriction and marketing to find developers who want to work inside the city's plan.

"It's how we're going to market the site, what groups we'll target," he said.

A mixed use development at 1125 Clapp Lane on the corner of Dickinson Street is a major part of the plan, and the city has a clear idea of what it would like to see on that site: likely a three or four-storey building designed to fit with the heritage feel of the square, with commercial mixed use on the ground floor and residential or institutional uses on the upper floors, such as seniors' housing, condos or a boutique hotel.

Resident reaction

The biggest pushback from residents during the open house came from new traffic reconfigurations that accompany the Clapp Lane development.

A traffic study identified a high amount of cut-through traffic that uses Clapp Lane and Dickinson Street to avoid the Manotick Main and Bridge Street intersection when going east on Bridge Street.

With that in mind, traffic planners recommended three traffic options, including a preferred option that Dickinson Street become a southbound one-way street between Bridge and Clapp. But residents and business owners at the meeting were not happy with the plan. One resident called all three traffic options "absurd" and Mill Street Florist owner Joanne Plummer said the traffic planners had it wrong -- that cut-through traffic comes from further south, not along Clapp and Mill Street.

Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt said there was enough pushback from residents that the one-way option was now off the table, and he would likely consider another two-way configuration or the status quo as the best course of action.

"It's strong enough on the two-way that it's not worth the time and effort to go with the one-way," he said.

Residents' reactions to the overall plans were mixed.

Kris Schultz, vice president of the Manotick Culture, Parks and Recreation Association, said she was pleased with the amount of protection for the square.

"I think it's great. We're protected. They're not going to take the buildings down, they're going to maintain them," she said. "A change is good. People don't like change, but I think (the city has) done an amazing job."

Resident Klaus Beltzner was more skeptical of the plans.

"For me, the key issue is to maintain the public spaces. I'd rather (the green space) be designated an official public park," he said. "As long as it's in someone else's hands there's always an opportunity to apply for the easement to be removed, and to me that's not good enough."

He was also skeptical that the suggested look and feel of the Clapp Lane development and any additions will actually turn out the way they're presented.

"This is a hook to get us to say 'that's ok' and then they come back with something completely different," he said.

In the same vein, heritage volunteer Ted Ross said he worries the Clapp Lane development could end up a five-story building, which would overshadow the 11-metre tall mill.

"I don't think anything in the square should be taller than the mill," he said.

Powers, however, said the building will be zoned for three or four storeys only, and that any suggestion it could be five -- including a reference in the traffic study - is incorrect.

Cultural space

Several residents lamented the lack of cultural space in the plan, noting that the Clapp development plan could have provided more specified space for a theatre and cultural centre for the community.

"We've got nothing in Manotick," said Sheila King, a member of the Manotick Art Association.

Moffatt said a developer is welcome to present a plan that includes such spaces, but he will not push for the city to enter into a partnership to run one.

"There are a few people who want a cultural centre, but it's not on my agenda to get it done," he told a resident.

Moffat said all of the proposed ideas are merely suggestions, and are subject to feedback from residents.

"It's essentially a progress report on what the MMQCDC is doing. They're all suggestions," he said.


Dickinson Square tenants face
uncertain future

by Emma Jackson, EMC Manotick, June 7, 2012

Still waiting. The Carriage Shed, Dickinson House, Ayres House and Weaver House in Dickinson Square are all up for sale to private owners, which could mean some of the non-profit groups that currently use the buildings may have to find a new home. Emma Jackson

An already lengthy wait is far from over for the tenants of Manotick's Dickinson Square.

Three non-profit groups -- Watson's Mill, Rideau Township Historical Society and Rural Ottawa South Support Services - have been walking on eggshells for years while they wait for the final verdict on what will happen to the heritage spaces where they operate their community programs.

On May 24, the city hosted an open house to update the public on their ongoing plans to sell five buildings in the square and encourage tasteful development in the area, in an effort to protect the community space and recoup the $2.4 million it spent to acquire the buildings in the first place.

The meeting outlined proposed heritage protections, architectural design controls and traffic configurations the city would like to see when the buildings are eventually sold to private owners -- some of which was met with delight, particularly from Watson's Mill and Dickinson House staff.

What wasn't made clear at the meeting, however, was how the city-owned Manotick Mill Quarter Community Development Corporation (MMQCDC) plans to go about selling the five buildings in question, and what this means for the tenants who currently work from some of the spaces.

"It could be the whole thing is put up for sale at the same time, or maybe the strategy is to hopefully put two properties up for sale to start with and see what kind of revenue comes in," said Isabelle Geoffrion, manager of the mill. "Those are the kinds of things that were not discussed (at the public meeting)."

She said the city has made an effort to accommodate their concerns so far, but the sooner the tenants know what's happening, the better.

"We do need a plan and it will be better to have a timeline so we can prepare. Up until now it just feels like we always have to react," she said.

Watson's Mill has a lease agreement with the city that allows staff to work out of the Carriage Shed, one of the heritage buildings up for sale. Rideau Township Historical Society sublets at low cost from the mill to operate its programming from Dickinson House nearby, and this year the society is offering more public hours than ever before.

Rural Ottawa South Support Services (ROSSS) employees also work in Ayres House, one of the five buildings up for sale, and store some equipment in Weaver House.

The current zoning amendment proposal would broaden the commercial uses allowed in the buildings, potentially making it less attractive for a new owner to continue renting to non-profit tenants.

Having to leave the square could be devastating for an organization like the mill.

"If we don't have offices or space to work from, that makes it more challenging," Geoffrion said.

Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt, chairman of the MMQCDC, said the final sale decision rests with the board, and it will take the heritage groups' situations into consideration.

"The current tenants will to play a factor in the decision that we make. They're not guaranteed to stay there, but there's not a whole lot in this world that's guaranteed. I'd like to still see them there, particularly (those at) Dickinson House," Moffatt said.

The board doesn't have a finalized timeline for selling the buildings, but hopes to take its current zoning amendment application to the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee for approval in August. From there, it would start soliciting "expressions of interest" from potential buyers.

Historical society president Bill Tupper said he's hoping the board has a "hidden agenda" to sell 1125 Clapp Lane, a virtually vacant piece of prime development land, first.

"I hope the sale of some of the houses, the Clapp house and the adjacent land, might bring enough money in to offset the $2.4 million," Tupper said. While the city would still want to sell the other buildings, it may be in a better position to make creative arrangements in favour of the heritage groups, he said.

Moffatt said that decision will depend on the expressions of interest the board receives.

"Until we do the expression of interest on all the properties, there's no plan (on how to sell the buildings). The expressions of interest will determine what properties go for sale," he said.

That said, the Clapp property already has a number of interested buyers, because that property is by far the most marketable.

"It's the only one with no extensive restrictions. The others are ‘as is,' they're heritage buildings," Moffatt said. He said the permanent heritage easement on the square's open space also brings down the value of the buildings.

He added that it may not be as feasible today as it was three years ago to recoup the $2.4 million -- and that's ok.

"That could be the potential reality from some of the things we're doing. The main goal was to protect the heritage nature and protect the public space," he said. "Maybe the first and foremost priority isn't necessarily recouping the money."

If the heritage buildings don't sell, the board will have to deal with it at that time, Moffatt said, noting he's open to an agreement that would sell the buildings to the heritage organizations for a nominal amount, much like Watson's Mill which was sold for $1.

A separate public meeting will be held to discuss the city's rezoning application sometime this summer.

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