A sustainable community in Canada’s capital

Windmill Development is pursuing Canada's first One Planet Community designation
Friday, July 25, 2014
By Ilan Mester

An abandoned industrial site in the backdrop of Canada’s Parliament Buildings could transform into a sustainable mixed-use community midstream in the Ottawa River.

Earlier this spring, Ottawa-based Windmill Development Group submitted a rezoning application to begin an ambitious brownfield redevelopment of the 37-acre former Domtar lands on the Chaudiere and Albert islands (between Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.).

At $1 billion, the plan is quite an undertaking. Windmill estimates the islands, where a pulp and paper mill first began operating in the late 1800s, now contain 87,000 cubic metres of contaminated soil.

A longstanding proponent of LEED, Windmill is now pursuing Canada’s first One Planet Community (OPC) designation for the project. The company was drawn to OPC’s focus on ecological footprint reduction, which sets the tone for the planning strategy and building standards on the site.

“It wasn’t about getting points for a specific kind of streetscape, or reaching a particular energy efficiency with a building,” says Rodney Wilts, Windmill’s senior partner. “It was about thinking broadly about how you enable dramatic ecological footprint reduction so that people can truly live sustainable lifestyles.”

OPC is a European standard featuring 10 principles: zero carbon; zero waste; sustainable materials; sustainable water; sustainable transport; local and sustainable food; land use and wildlife; culture and heritage; equity and local economy; and health and happiness.

All One Planet Communities are 100 per cent accessible by foot or bike, grow some of their own food, produce enough energy on-site for their inhabitants and use sustainable materials during construction stages.

Windmill’s untitled project (a contest is underway to name it) boasts a number of green initiatives that comply with OPC. Among them is the project’s defining green feature: a renewable-base district energy system (DES), which will supply heating and cooling for the new community.

Other project highlights include:

  • preservation and repurposing of heritage buildings
  • public access to the Chaudière Falls
  • urban parks and plazas
  • on-site stormwater management

The goal is to create a complete community where residents live, work and play. Social gathering spaces will be situated at 500-metre intervals among residential and office space. Similarly, the number of on-site residences will match the number of projected local jobs. Once the project is finished, residents could theoretically fulfill all living requirements within a one-kilometre radius of their homes for up to a month.

Short blocks with more intersections, pedestrian-only routes, cycle lanes and related infrastructure are meant to encourage residents to walk and cycle. The project aims for a 90 per cent Walk Score, which is calculated through a point-based algorithm, for every home.

Windmill aims for the community to become a true destination: one that people visit from across the Capital Region. To accomplish this, the company has partnered with Dream Developments, best known for its work on Toronto’s Distillery District.

“We liked Dream’s experience (in the Distillery District) and particularly the retail strategy that they were able to bring to the table,” Wilts says. “We’ve done mixed-use developments and we’ve done retail as part of mixed-use developments, but this is really taking it to the next scale in terms of a true retail destination.”

“These islands are physically disconnected from both cities by river channels and present an opportunity to create a unique sense of place amongst the heritage buildings on both islands,” reads the rezoning submission’s executive summary. “In Gatineau, the lands are within the downtown core of the city and provide an opportunity to extend the urban fabric of the city into the site and out to the banks of the river.”

Windmill is now awaiting approval of the rezoning application submitted on April 22 to coincide with Earth Day. Government response is expected this fall. Since the islands straddle the Ontario-Quebec boundary, the developer requires approval from the Cities of Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., to move forward with the plan. The developer says it will take 20 years until the community is completely carbon neutral. But the company is certainly up for the challenge.

Ilan Mester is the online editor of Building Strategies & Sustainability.