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Keeping the village way of life

Locals hope Manotick's growth will be slow enough to retain the small-town feel

By Richard Starnes, The Ottawa Citizen June 29, 2012

Manotick is predominantly a community with a central core dating to the late 1800s and surrounded by mostly single-family homes on generous lots, some lining the banks of the Rideau River. But change is coming.
Photograph by: Jean Levac, Ottawa Citizen

Resigned to the inevitable growth, former Rideau Township mayor Jim Stewart is now concerned with traffic. The two main streets are a designated truck route and believes the new Strandherd Bridge will do little to divert the traffic.
Photograph by: Julie Oliver, Ottawa Citizen

?Walkability? is a key factor for sustaining the village core, says the community association.

When you step through the front door of The Miller's Oven in Manotick you discover a microcosm of village life as it has been for 100 years. There's a full house of smiling faces and happy chatterboxes taking a lunch break and discussing events of the day.

It used to be that the locals would gather at the old firehall. They were the ones who watched over growth in their village and made decisions on a handshake. No red tape to be found anywhere.

Their meetings morphed into The Miller's Oven at 1137 Mill St., run predominantly by volunteers. It's where we find the likes of Jim Stewart, Richard McDonald and Chuck Parent sharing a coffee as they wistfully recall the past and mull over the future.

This trio used to be on Rideau Township council, with Stewart the mayor. That was before amalgamation, when Manotick was swallowed by Ottawa in 2001.

Back in the day, Stewart recalls, people would be at his door morning, noon and night. “It was a way of village life,” he says. “They had a problem and they wanted it fixed. We didn't have to study anything.

“We'd say to the road superintendent, ‘we would appreciate it if this could be done' and it was done.”

Today, this trio crosses its fingers when the conversation turns to Mahogany Harbour, a 1,400-unit Minto development that will sit on the edge of the village going south on Main Street.

Manotick is predominantly a community with a central core dating to the late 1800s and surrounded by mostly single-family homes on generous lots. A good many far larger homes litter the area, some stretching along the banks of the Rideau River, others sitting on acreage on the fringes of town.

The 2006 census put Manotick's population at 4,623. So, in April 2007, when Minto announced plans to build 1,800 homes, residents felt like a bomb had been dropped on them.

Watson's Mill and the Rideau River in Manotick
Photograph by: Jean Levac, Ottawa Citizen

Minto's 1,400-home development Mahogany Harbour, will be built slowly so that there's time for the growth to be absorbed.

                Rideau Forest is an upscale development just east of
                the village boundary where homes can reach the
                6,000-square-foot range.
                Photograph by: Jean Levac, Ottawa Citizen

Five years and a lengthy Ontario Municipal Board hearing later, the dust has settled. Most now accept the inevitable. But they are holding their breath in hopes construction can be slow enough to gradually assimilate growth without destroying their beloved village ambience.

Jack Stirling, Minto's vice-president of development, is well-versed in this concern. Getting to this stage — OMB approval and action on the site — has taken upwards of eight years.

“We have branded this a ‘Signature' community,” he says. “In our lexicon that means a high-end community where we do a number of things to reflect it, like design elements, streetscapes and architecture.”

The official Signature designation is a first for Minto, as are a number of concessions made since the business of getting approvals began.

Stirling likes to think what has taken place has warmed relationships between the company and village folk. “We had months and months of meetings and learned a lot from them,” he says. “We revised our plans several times based on information and suggestions we received.”

Brian Tansley, president of the Manotick Village and Community Association, can speak to that. He and many others admit to “apoplexy” when the Minto plan was first revealed. They fought it at the OMB and lost, although Tansley does not see it as a defeat.

“My perception is of good news because Minto listened,” he says. “We did not argue about how many houses were planned but how fast Minto planned to do it. There has to be growth to maintain vitality of a place. But managing growth, that's the trick.”

Minto, perhaps mindful of the importance of retaining the village feel to attract buyers, has helped in this by agreeing to build a total of 1,400 homes at a rate of around 75 a year, half the original suggestion.

They will stick to single-family homes and medium-density townhomes, although what, exactly, they will look like remains a closed door. “We have a couple of models under construction,” Stirling says. “But we are not ready to release them just yet.”

While Minto will be the biggest development in town, the community of Maple Creek Estates is considerable by Manotick standards. It features 104 half-acre lots located west of the village between Mud Creek and First Line Road. Uniform Urban Developments (uniformdevelopments.com) owns 60 of them, with 17 homes constructed and 12 of which have been sold. The remaining lots are owned by Bravar Custom Builders Inc. (bravar.com), which sells lots and builds to suit.

In addition, Leimerk Developments owns around 30 lots close to Maple Creek Estates and builds to suit.

East of Manotick, but not inside the village boundary, is Rideau Forest, an upscale development where homes can reach the 6,000-square-foot range. “Where you can't see the homes for the trees” is how the website describes Rideau Forest, which is just the way developer Ken Gordon likes it. A Manotick man all his life, he says about 300 homes on lots of two acres or more have been built and sold since the project began decades ago. “There will be 450 by the time we are done,” he says.

With the Minto development underway, concern has turned to traffic troubles. Villagers particularly loathe the jams where the two main village streets — Main, running north-south and Bridge, running east off Main — meet.

This is a designated truck route, but is almost at capacity and not built to handle the 18-wheelers, cement trucks and the like that rumble by all day.

Tansley suggests that 1,400 new homes and two-car families would add 3,000 vehicles.

“Ours is a perfect traffic storm situation,” he says. “Semi-trailers going through the village is dangerous and for us there is nothing good about it at all. It may not be the truckers' favourite route, but it is the least expensive. With traffic usually comes commerce, but not if that traffic is only through traffic.”

Tansley says Minto cannot be blamed since the traffic was there before the builder showed up. But the concerns are still there and Minto is well aware of it.

“We are trying to direct traffic away from the village,” Stirling says. “But we ran into nasty things called truck routes, which means we can only send trucks on certain roads and two of them are Bridge and Main.”

Stirling says a good deal of the foundation materials for his site can come from east of Manotick, which is why Minto has informed these contractors they cannot use Main and Bridge streets. That way, when they bid on a job, they are aware of the need to allow additional costs for using longer routes.

“We are trying as best we can to reduce traffic,” he says.

Pedestrian traffic is a different matter. Tansley suggests “walkability” is a key factor for sustaining the village core and maintaining the atmosphere that drew people to Manotick in the first place.

The Manotick Village and Community Association is in favour of downtown intensification as a way of increasing the number of people living within walking distance of what is offered. “It needs to be a place you come to, not go from,” Tansley says.

Builder Joe Princiotta agrees. Now 52, he has lived here since he was a boy.

“I still see teachers today who taught me at St Leonard's (elementary school) in Grade 4,” he says. “Everything is so much more personalized.

“I know I am biased, but my research says Manotick is one of the top three places in Canada to live in terms of quality of life. There are a lot more amenities than there used to be, but it still keeps the village charm.”

    Builder Joe Princiotta's latest endeavour is a seniors' residence on
    four acres in the centre of Manotick, called Orchard View on the Rideau.

Princiotta's latest endeavour promises to increase downtown walking traffic and the critical mass he believes will sustain the village core into the future.

His company (princiotta.com) already owns and operates Orchard View Living Centre for seniors east of town in Manotick Station. Now he has acquired four acres of land on Bridge Street, in the centre of Manotick, where he is planning an imposing second centre to be called Orchard View on the Rideau. It's a 120-unit, three-storey building of around 100,000 square feet. That certainly promises increased walking traffic.

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