Homes

Where to Buy Now: How LRT will change Ottawa’s real estate market

The arrival of light rail brings many changes. What will LRT do to property values, established neighbourhoods, and the vibe of downtown?

That’s the multi-million-dollar question on the minds of everyone from developers and city planners to homeowners.

For a more detailed analysis, see Life on Track: How LRT will change Ottawa

Those who would like to move to those established areas but can’t currently afford to do so may have some reason for optimism. For instance, the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (a non-profit organization that manages housing for low- and moderate-income people) is a partner in the RVL proposal; that plan includes 1,100 affordable housing units on LeBreton Flats. That will put a small but welcome dent in the city’s waiting list for affordable housing, which stood at some 10,000 households in late 2016.

Suburban empty nesters may also be cautiously hopeful. Many want to free up cash by moving to a smaller property without stairs. However, if the available condos cost as much as their current digs — and they have to pay land transfer taxes and condo fees — the Freedom 55 set may just stay put, says blogger and former Transport Canada planner Eric Darwin.

So here’s another big question: How will the LRT affect Ottawa property values?

In general, values rise around rapid-transit stations, says Rachel MacCleery, senior vice-president of the Urban Land Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. However, she cautions, “A lot of the property value effects will depend on how much of an improvement in service and quality, reliability, frequency … happens as a result of the light rail.” The bottom line is that transit development doesn’t just happen; maximizing the value of transit takes a concerted effort.

OC Transpo estimates that the LRT will eventually shave five to 15 minutes off the average commute. Studies have shown that the average distance people are willing to commute in major cities hovers around 30 minutes, so even a five-minute difference could make a neighbourhood more appealing to homebuyers.

So if we build these dream communities of tomorrow, will enough people come? Maybe — if we can make them economically feasible for empty nesters, if traditional neighbourhoods embrace change, if companies lease offices outside the core, if developers build a range of housing stock, and if city rules make all that possible. And, yes, if the trains run on time.

Looks like we have our work cut out for us.

Where to Buy Now

Laura Byrne Paquet looks at the neighbourhoods that have the most to gain (and lose) when Confederation Line opens in 2018

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Photos by Dwayne Brown

The ‘Hoods

Blair Station
Serving the area around Gloucester Centre
Price range:
$212,000 to $758,000

Pimisi Station
Serving the area around Booth Street and Albert/Slater street
Price range:
$384,900 to $639,000

Tunney’s Pasture Station
Serving the area around Scott Street at Holland Avenue
Price range:
$239,900 to $879,000

University of Ottawa Station
Serving Sandy Hill and the University of Ottawa campus
Price range:
$268,800 to $2,350,000

*Note: Walk Scores are included for each of the stations. To better understand the concept of a Walk Score, visit here.

Blair Station
1980 Ogilvie Rd. (Gloucester Centre)

Price range: $212,000 to $758,000

Photo by Dwayne Brown
A wide range of housing and access to retail makes the area around the future Blair Station appealing to home buyers. Photo by Dwayne Brown

MLS listings
$274,900
4473 Harper Ave.
Two-storey condo, two bedrooms, two baths
Walk to station: 650 m/ 8 min.
Walk Score: 70
Transit Score: 71
Survey says: 83% of homes in this microhood were built between 1991 and 2000

$419,000
1559 Meadowbrook Rd.
Detached bungalow, two bedrooms, two baths
Walk to station: 1.1 km/ 14 min.
Walk Score: 49
Transit Score: 65
Survey says: Median age 48.4

$758,000
1151 Elmlea Dr.
Two-storey detached, four bedrooms, four baths
Walk to station: 1.2 km/ 16 min.
Walk Score: 54
Transit Score: 69
Survey says: 44% anglophone, 29% francophone, 27% other

Currently, cars are king around Blair. The city has zoned much of the land for more intensive mixed-use development, but its plan concedes that only 20 percent of the available land will likely be developed within the next 20 years.

However, if history and recent proposals are any guide, intensification may happen more quickly. The Transitway itself was a catalyst back in the day: Gloucester Centre opened in 1988, a year before the station. In the decade or so that followed, a cinema multiplex and six office buildings were built nearby.

Looking into the future, RioCan is proposing to construct a 30-storey residential tower right next to the LRT station and at least 10 other residential, retail, and office buildings on its Silver City property. That office space might not materialize, though, since vacancy rates in east Ottawa are 2.5 percentage points higher than the city average, according to Colliers International.

What is opening soon is as far from transit-oriented development as you can imagine. Costco is setting up shop on the old Shoppers City East property, right across Blair Road from the LRT, surrounded by a sea of almost 800 parking spaces. (Shoppers lugging home giant flats of tomato sauce and dog food aren’t likely to take the LRT.)

For those who want to live away from Costco but near the LRT, don’t forget the Pineview area on the south side of the Queensway. An existing pedestrian bridge will connect the ’hood to the new station.

What’s There
Taqueria La Bonita
1128 Cadboro Rd.
It’s worth the 15-minute walk from the LRT station to find an alternative to the fast-food joints along Ogilvie. Overlook the strip-mall exterior: inside, bright walls and tiled floors — along with such dishes as cochinita pibil tacos (stuffed with citrus-marinated pork) — make it easy to imagine you’re in Mexico.

Pine View Golf Course
1471 Blair Rd.
This affordable spot offers two 18-hole courses, a 250-seat clubhouse, lessons, summer golf camps for kids, and a variety of adult leagues, as well as indoor golf on high-definition simulators generating images of Banff Springs, Pebble Beach, and other famous courses.

Gloucester Centre
1980 Ogilvie Rd.
Proposed developments aside, this mall and nearby free-standing buildings already offer the basics, including Loblaws, Walmart, Chapters, LCBO, Mr. Gas, and a Scotiabank Theatre, as well as a Big Rig Kitchen and Brewery.

 

Pimisi Station
160 Booth St. (current LeBreton Station)

Price range:
$384,900 to $639,000

Photo by Dwayne Brown
Booth Street, just south of LeBreton Flats, will see dramatic change if the proposed condos and other dweeling styles come to fruition. Photo by Dwayne Brown


MLS listings
$384,900
250 Lett St., Ste. 608
Condo apartment, two bedrooms, two baths
Walk to station: 500 m/ 6 min.
Walk Score: 33
Transit Score: 92
Survey says: 66% of households are without children

$519,000
49 Preston St.
Three-storey duplex, two bedrooms, two baths
Walk to station: 600 m/ 8 min.
Walk Score: 90
Transit Score: 90
Survey says: 54% of adults are single, separated, divorced, or widowed

Within our lifetimes (depending on how old you are), the empty stretches of LeBreton Flats and nearby islands on the Ottawa River may become home to as many people as the Glebe.

RendezVous LeBreton (RVL) alone plans to build 4,400 housing units, mostly in mid-rise or high-rise buildings, including about 400 high-end luxury properties, 1,100 affordable housing units, student residences and, possibly, seniors’ housing. The project also has 2.8 million square feet of office and retail space on the drawing board.

But the RVL development isn’t the only site Pimisi Station will serve: there’s also the Canadian War Museum, the existing neighbourhood on the north edge of Chinatown, the 1,200-unit Zibi project overlooking Chaudière Falls, the $168-million central library near Wellington and Bronson, and the 1,650-unit Claridge development on the eastern half of the Flats — which may include a 55-storey tower, affordable and seniors’ housing, retail, and a park. Whew!

This all sounds intriguing, but new residents may feel like they are living in the hinterland, since it could take as long as 30 years to build everything. For the time being, much of the area is empty or under construction; the nearest full-service grocery store is two kilometres away at Bank and Somerset. The Pimisi area may become a pedestrian paradise in the future, but for the next few years, you might want to invest in a sturdy bundle buggy — or a car — for errands that aren’t well connected to transit routes.

What’s There
Canadian War Museum
1 Vimy Pl.
To work for peace, we first need to understand war, and there’s no better place in Ottawa to learn. After viewing artifacts such as Sir Isaac Brock’s tunic and a First World War soldier’s teddy bear, enjoy some quiet time in Memorial Hall or on the green roof.

Ottawa Mill Street Brew Pub
555 Wellington St.
You can’t beat the setting — a 19th-century stone gristmill on the Ottawa River. The beer, from Toronto-based Mill Street, is pretty good too. The menu of pub-style favourites includes a few surprises: for instance, a Kanata Elk Ranch burger.

Bluesfest
LeBreton Flats, July 6 to 16
Music fans, rejoice: you can walk to the burgeoning party that is Bluesfest. Non-music fans: perhaps early July is a great time to take a vacation and list your condo on Airbnb.

Tunney’s Pasture Station
Scott Street at Holland Avenue

Price range:
$239,900 to $879,000

Photo by Dwayne Brown
This photo of Mechanicsville, just east of the future Tunney’s Pasture Station, shows a quiet residential street — something that is sure to change once the LRT station opens. Photo by Dwayne Brown

MLS listings
$239,900
201 Parkdale Ave., Ste. 404
Condo apartment, one bedroom, one bath
Walk to station: 450 m/ 5 min.
Walk Score: 85
Transit Score: 82
Survey says: Average household size 1.61 people

$499,900
3 Smirle Ave.
Two-storey detached, three bedrooms, one bath
Walk to station: 270 m/ 3 min.
Walk Score: 90
Transit Score: 82
Survey says: Population expected to rise by 23% by 2024

$879,000
254 Northwestern Ave.
Two-storey semi-detached, four bedrooms, four baths
Walk to station: 700 m/ 8 min.
Walk Score: 80
Transit Score: 79
Survey says: 66% of adults are married or common law

When journalist Allan Fotheringham infamously dubbed Ottawa “the town that fun forgot” in the 1960s, he might well have been thinking of Tunney’s Pasture. With its bland mid-century office buildings sprouting up from vast windswept swaths of asphalt and lawn, it’s like something out of 1984. It’s certainly not the sort of place where anyone lingers after the workday is done.

Public Services and Procurement Canada is hoping to change that, with plans to build office space for up to 15,000 additional employees, along with retail space and some 3,700 residential units along Parkdale Avenue. The thought of thousands of additional cars jamming Parkdale and Holland has many residents on edge, although the hopes are that many new residents and workers will use the LRT. (Just in case, though, there are plans to connect the Sir Frederick Banting Driveway on the west side of Tunney’s to the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway.)

The real hub of the ’hood, however, is a few blocks south on pedestrian-friendly Wellington Street, home to restaurants and independent retail (although, recently, more chain outlets are setting up shop). Arguably, the Wellington vibe is more of a draw than either Tunney’s Pasture employment or a Transitway/LRT stop. After all, the median assessed value of properties in Kitchissippi Ward (of which the Tunney’s area is one small part) rose by seven percent between mid-2012 and mid-2016, in the midst of LRT construction disruption.

What’s There
Remic Rapids Park
Ottawa River between Carleton Avenue and Parkdale Avenue
Ever wondered about those cool rock “formations” in the Ottawa River, just north of Tunney’s Pasture? They’re actually rock balance sculptures created by local artist John Felice Ceprano. Music, dance, and other performances take place annually in warm weather as part of the Art on the Rocks festival.

The Table
1230 Wellington St. W.
This unpretentious vegetarian buffet has been around since 2000, long before kale was trendy. Pick what you like from the huge choices of salads, mains, and desserts; pay by your plate’s weight at the cash; then dig into a tasty yet virtuous meal.

1st Thursdays Art Walk
Five galleries along Wellington Street West
On the first Thursday of each month, five neighbourhood galleries welcome visitors from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. with a little something extra — perhaps a talk, munchies, or music.

University of Ottawa Station
9 Nicholas St.

Price range, early 2017: $268,800 to $2,350,000

Sandy_Hill_DwayneBrown
Infill housing is emerging in Sandy Hill, which many see as a sign of gentrification. Sandy Hill is just east of the University of Ottawa campus, which will be home to a Confederation Line LRT station. Photo by Dwayne Brown

 

MLS listings
$533,100
347 Chapel St.
Semi-detached, three bedrooms, two baths
Walk to station: 850 m/ 11 min.
Walk Score: 87
Transit Score: 85
Survey says: 51% of households have a combined income of less than $60,000 

$799,900
107 Blackburn Ave.
Three-storey detached, four bedrooms, three baths
Walk to station: 850 m/ 11 min.
Walk Score: 81
Transit Score: 81
Survey says: 62% of homes were built before 1960 

$1,129,900
279 Somerset St. E.
Three-storey triplex
Walk to station: 600 m/ 7 min.
Walk Score: 84
Transit Score: 85
Survey says: 74% of residents are single, separated, divorced, or widowed

Sandy Hill is one of those neighbourhoods that always seem to be on the cusp of change. In this respect, it’s reminiscent of Hintonburg, another central neighbourhood that changed little for years, then suddenly gentrified with a vengeance.

Some trace Hintonburg’s renaissance, at least in part, to the arrival of the Great Canadian Theatre Company in 2007. Perhaps the opening of the Ottawa Art Gallery’s new digs will provide similar fuel for Sandy Hill’s rebirth and you won’t be able to throw a stone on Laurier Avenue East without hitting an artisanal cocktail.

The neighbourhood is already richly diverse, with the University of Ottawa on its western edge, bordered by some rooming houses and social services, such as the Ottawa Mission. Next comes a mixed neighbourhood of row houses, large Victorian singles, infill houses, small apartments, co-ops, triplexes, and social and affordable housing. On the eastern edge are some posh streets where you’ll find several embassies. Overall, Sandy Hill residents are younger and more transient than most of Ottawa’s ’hoods: one-third of residents are in their 20s, and almost two-thirds have moved within or into the ’hood in the past five years.

Intensification is underway, with a nine-storey private student residence under construction at Laurier and Friel. However, that project met with stiff opposition from community groups, and future densification proposals may prove similarly unpopular.

If you’re looking for convenient access to the LRT in a less student-oriented neighbourhood, the Golden Triangle lies directly across the canal via the pedestrian-cyclist bridge. A recent MLS listing offered a one-bedroom condo on Somerset — just a 10-minute walk from the station — for $268,800.

What’s There
Ottawa Art Gallery
2 Daly Ave. (until fall 2017)
The Ottawa Art Gallery is set to open its new 80,000-square-foot home this fall at the eastern end of the Mackenzie King Bridge, and the adjacent Le Germain hotel (topped by nine floors of condos) is due to open within the following year.

Strathcona Park
Range Road at Somerset Street
With its fountain and towering trees, this Edwardian park along the Rideau River is a popular spot for picnics and games. It’s also the hub of a cycling and pedestrian network: take the Adàwe Crossing across the river to Overbrook, or follow riverside paths to the VIA Rail station.

Centre for Continuing Education, University of Ottawa
55 Laurier Ave. E.
Just because you’ve moved far beyond the Kraft Dinner stage doesn’t mean you can’t go back to school — or that you have to sign up for a master’s. The university’s extensive and affordable continuing education program offers short courses in everything from Buddhism to insomnia.