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Builders lead charge to green Ottawa’s urban heart


By Sheila Brady, Ottawa Citizen – Published on: March 30, 2016

You can almost feel the green seismic shift rumbling through Ottawa triggered by a deeply committed handful of developers and designers.

Their focus is on building sustainable, waterfront communities that blend homes with shops and pay tribute to the past while promoting bike and footpaths over gasoline-loving vehicles and double garages.

And a growing number of grandmothers to thirty-somethings are buying into the vision that has the power to green the capital’s urban heart.

Two ambitious communities, Zibi, which links two cities across the Ottawa River, and Greystone Village, located by the Rideau River in Old Ottawa East, gathered the lion’s share of sales in the final months of 2015, according to Urban Logic, a new firm monitoring condo sales.

“Sustainability is now a top priority with our buyer. That is indeed a shift,” says Rodney Wilts, a Windmill partner and the spark plug who first recognized the potential of Zibi while commuting from his Chelsea home to downtown Ottawa.

The love affair with sustainability doesn’t surprise Wendy Johnson, although living by the water and waking up to views of Parliament Hill helped stoke her affections for a $700,000 corner penthouse with parking on the sixth floor of the O building, the first condo to be built at Zibi.

The straight-talking 70-year-old grandmother of four, who has fought leukemia for more than a decade, plans to sell her car, substituting her two feet, Uber and a gleaming new electric bicycle once she settles into her decidedly modern condo in mid-2017.

The retired high-flying public servant currently rents a posh condo on the 25th floor in Westboro, and is ready to move on.

“I am too high. You are not part of the world. I do not want to be a spectator, I want to be a participant, hear the noises, smell the smells.”

Johnson readily admits the investment can’t miss and that the sustainability factor is a big consideration.

Wendy Johnson, 70, has purchased a penthouse corner unit in the O building, the first condo to be built at Zibi. She plans to sell her vehicle and use a bike and walk to get around. Photo: James Park / Ottawa Citizen Style
Wendy Johnson, 70, has purchased a penthouse corner unit in the O building, the first condo to be built at Zibi. She plans to sell her vehicle and use a bike and walk to get around. Photo: James Park / Ottawa Citizen Style

“We’ve made a horrible footprint on the world. We did not do it with intent, but it happened and we should do what we can to reverse that,” says Johnson, who moved across the country with two children, cultivating a “fantastic” career in health before retiring.

Johnson paid an extra $32,000 for a parking spot, but intends to sell her car. “Why would I drive? I can walk to museums, to restaurants and when needed, use Uber or an electric bike,” adding that she’ll either rent out her spot or store her bike there.

Three decades younger and from another generation of green advocates, actor and producer Matt Cassidy is equally committed to foot and pedal power. He and his family are impatiently waiting for construction, set to start in October, to finish on a townhome he and his wife and fellow actor, Sarah Cassidy, bought in Greystone Village last September.

Cassidy biked in the pre-dawn to the sales launch, unintentionally standing next to a dedicated green booster, David Wallace, president of eQ Homes and the building brawn behind the blend of condos, homes and shops spread over 26 acres along the Rideau River.

“I drank the green Kool-Aid a long time ago,” says Wallace.
The California native abandoned a financial career in his 20s because the company was clear-cutting old forests. He jumped into sustainable building, migrating to British Columbia for a leading green builder, hopping on a plane last fall when recruited by Steve Gordon and The Regional Group to turn the promise of Greystone into a reality of homes and streets.

A second conversation locked in the deal for the 40-year-old Cassidy.

“I was in line and overheard David Kardish (Regional’s vice-president of land development who put down money to buy his own house in Greystone) tell one of his sales representatives that a potential buyer could not buy two lots and build a huge home.

“I was impressed they have a vision for a community and are not morphing to get a couple of extra thousand dollars,” says Cassidy, who is working with Regional to promote the local arts community at Greystone.

In fact, Greystone Village sponsored Cassidy’s production of his family show, Freezing The Musical, at the Gladstone Theatre last Christmas. The show will be mounted at the Shenkman Arts Centre again in February 2017.

Dana Periard, a single, 30-year-old City of Ottawa health project officer and volunteer firefighter in Chelsea, is a Zibi fan.

Enamoured with the concept of a sustainable community, Periard, a dedicated cyclist, sold his large Gatineau home and bought a modest one-bedroom condo.

“I was sold as soon as I walked in the door at Zibi.”

It seems the line up to sample the Kool-Aid is getting longer.


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