By ANITA MURRAY, OTTAWA CITIZEN – Published on: May 29, 2015
Zibi — pronounced ZEEbee, the Algonquin word for river — is a massive 37-acre redevelopment project by Windmill Development Group and Dream Unlimited Corp. that will see the dilapidated former Domtar property on the Ottawa River cleaned up and transformed into a mixed-use community of residential, commercial and retail spaces. It includes Chaudière and Albert islands on the Ottawa side and a chunk of the Gatineau shoreline, and, for the first time in many generations, it will provide public access to the impressive Chaudière Falls.
Calling it a “sustainability showpiece,” Windmill partner Rodney Wilts says the project is the first in Canada to be endorsed by One Planet Community, a growing global network of über-green neighbourhoods that are the cutting edge of sustainable development. The initiative, which aims for improved stewardship of the Earth’s resources, was developed by U.K.-based charity BioRegional and the World Wide Fund for Nature (the panda group) and so far only a handful of communities worldwide have met the rigorous standards.
Not only will the project promote alternatives to cars and working and playing where you live, but care will be taken to return the extensive shoreline to a natural state, all buildings will be built to LEED platinum levels (the highest level under the stringent Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, an industry-recognized rating system for green homes and other structures), and all units will be heated by capturing heat that’s already being generated in the area, but not used, and distributing it through a warm water loop system. A similar method will cool units.
The $1.2-billion project will see 1,200 condos built in the next 12 to 15 years, along with the restoration of about 30 per cent of the site’s buildings and construction of commercial and cultural spaces and centres that support the development of small business. Almost one-quarter of the site will be parks, plazas or other green space, with an extensive network of trails, bike paths and cycling routes, creating a city within the city.
The ambitious project has generated much buzz, both for its responsible approach to community building and for how it clashes with the desire by some to return the land to a natural state because of its importance to the First Nations.
A challenge to the Ontario Municipal Board by, among others, architect Douglas Cardinal, who designed the nearby Canadian Museum of History, is part of the reason Windmill has chosen to launch its first phase in Gatineau. But, along with that, slightly more than half the site is on the Quebec side and Windmill felt by launching there first, “we could take some of this great pent-up interest (in the project) and at least have people take a look at Gatineau who might not otherwise think about living in downtown Hull,” Wilts says.
The intention for Phase One is to be a microcosm of all the things that we’ve been promising in this master plan.
That means it will include a mix of old and new — two repurposed “cool old industrial buildings” and two new six-storey waterfront condo buildings —retail and commercial space, as well as starting on one of the plazas beside the condos.
It also means that a good chunk of the site cleanup that needs to take place will happen right away. “A little less than half of it we’ll be remediating right out of the gate, so starting to build parks and plazas and those kinds of things,” all on the Quebec side, Wilts says.
The first condo building to be launched will have 66 units, ranging from a 478-square-foot studio to a 1,393-square-foot, three-bedroom unit, and about 5,000 square feet of ground-floor retail. The second building, with 75 units, will follow.
The building names, “O” and “O2”, symbolize — literally and figuratively — Windmill’s approach to the project. First, O works in both French and English, as well as sounding like the French word for water (eau), Wilts says. Plus, the company liked the “story” of O representing a circle. When it comes to sustainability, there is talk of closed-loop systems and it’s representative of the Earth, he says.
“We’ve been always talking about this development as being the evolution in terms of the National Capital Region’s story and so you have this kind of circle about this site being reborn.”
As for O2, it’s the second building, so a natural choice for a name, and it happens to be the symbol for oxygen.
“You’ve got oxygen and water,” Wilts pauses, then says, “We never do things the usual way.”
Despite the heritage setting of the project, these condo buildings will have a clean, modern look.
“We’re not interested in faux anything,” Wilts says. “We want the old to be old and we want the new to be new and we’re not trying to trick or disguise anyone with the new buildings.”
All units have a balcony and standard features will include engineered wood floors (from responsibly managed forests and formaldehyde-free), five stainless-steel appliances and granite or quartz counters. Upgrade options will include home automation systems, window treatments, upgraded floors and cabinets.
O will have a gym, but an amenity centre will also be built once 30 per cent of all the condo units in Gatineau are done. The centre will have a gym, pool, spa with hot tub, sauna and steam room, plus a lounge.
Although Wilts would not reveal what commercial and retail tenants might already be on board, he did say Windmill was aiming for locally owned, independent businesses “that are good to the community.” Initially, that will likely include some food and beverage companies, which should start opening next year.
“We’re not expecting to roll out with any kind of major chains; you won’t be seeing McDonald’s and Walmart.”
Windmill is hoping to launch on the Ontario side by the fall, depending on the outcome of the OMB hearing, which is scheduled for a pre-hearing June 3.
Occupancy for Phase One is expected in late spring 2017.
What: Redevelopment of 37 acres of former Domtar lands along the Ottawa River. Phase One, in Gatineau, includes a six-storey condo building with 66 units ranging from studio to three bedrooms and ground-floor retail. A second six-storey building with 75 units will follow. This phase will also see about 100,000 square feet of commercial and retail space in restored buildings on either side of rue Eddy.
Builder: Windmill Development Group; and Toronto-based Dream Unlimited Corp., making its first foray into the Ottawa residential market
Prices: Starting from $183,900 for a 478-square-foot studio to a starting price of $752,900 for a three-bedroom unit with 1,393 square feet. Underground parking is $32,000; lockers and bike parking provided. Condo fees are 34 cents a square foot.
Sales centre: 3 rue Eddy
Hours: Monday to Thursday, noon to 6 p.m.; weekends, noon to 5 p.m. Closed Fridays.
Information: 613-614-2999; zibi.ca
Creating the vision
Although he stresses that the scope of the project is thanks to the hard work of many, it’s fair to say Windmill partner Rodney Wilts is the spark that got the idea going.
“I was biking across (the Chaudière) bridge and, as you come across that bridge, the surroundings are so amazing … the falls, the views of Parliament, the river, these amazing old heritage buildings. The potential is so amazing, but the actual condition is so terrible,” he remembers, thinking somebody needed to do something about that. “So that’s when I came back and started a conversation with my business partners … It felt like a longshot, but here we are on the cusp of launching. It’s quite exciting.”
He points to early and frequent community input from diverse sources such as the Ottawa Riverkeeper and Ecology Ottawa to Heritage Canada The National Trust and the First Nations.
The master plan was created by San Francisco-based Perkins+Will’s, led by Canadian Peter Busby, who was also a consultant on Windmill’s innovative Dockside Green project in Victoria, B.C. Then Wilts and his partners at Windmill scouted great examples of green communities in Europe.
“One of the things we found was that just like nature is much more interesting if it’s diverse, it’s no different for communities … Communities that have all the same architecture, even if it’s good architecture, come off smelling a bit like Communist-era Russia,” he says, prompting the company to commit to using as many different architects as they could on the project. (The two condo buildings in Phase One were designed by Rubin & Rotman Architects of Montreal.)
“We all had a vision for a sustainability showpiece and so many people have put so much blood, sweat and tears into this thing,” says Wilts, who used to run The Healthiest Home and Building Supplies before selling and joining Windmill. “It’s been amazing.”
By the numbers
$1.2 billion: Estimated cost of the project
3 million: Square footage of new development (60% residential, 20% commercial, 20% retail)
200,000+: Square footage of retail space
100,000: Estimated commercial and retail space in Phase One
22%: Green or open space
$125 million: Estimated cost of remediating the site
66: Number of condo units initially released for sale
1,200: Estimated total number of condo units for the site
3,500: Estimated number of residents
11: Estimated number of buildings that can be restored