A pioneer and leader of infill development and true custom home builder in Ottawa – Al Bateman is a builder at heart. As owner of Bateman Development, he knows a thing or two about creating unique and exclusive properties.
For over 40 years of being a custom home builder in Ottawa, he has delivered high-design residential projects that inspire clients and communities. We got a chance to catch up with Bateman to talk about Ottawa’s robust housing market, the benefits and challenges on infill development, his latest project on Lyon street, and the journey to find the missing middle.
From the foundation to the final touches, what is the best thing about your job?
I enjoy the creative process. You have to be creative with infill developments in particular since every project is a prototype and you never do the same thing twice. Municipalities have moved towards a more efficient use of land, and it is up to developers, designers, architects, planners, and all those involved to continue to make it happen as it moves forward. Over the years infill has provided people with the opportunity to live and experience the inner city. It is a great feeling to hear people compliment you about a project that you did 30-40 years ago.
What is your background, and why did you go into home building as a profession?
I was born and raised on a farm in Southwestern Ontario. My father, brothers and I would build drive sheds, corn cribs, and any other farm buildings. In 1963 our family built a Service Centre on 401 highway when the highway opened between Windsor and Toronto. In 1970, our family built a 43 unit motel on the property across the highway from the Service Centre.
I was fortunate to gain experience in a variety of projects at a young age and I like it. I went to school at Western University from 1969 to 1974. Every summer I came back into the building business. I started my own company after my third year in university, doing renovations and additions. I went to York University to get an MBA in 1975. After graduation I went back to run my construction company. In 1981, I moved to Ottawa to expand my business and that is when I started building infill projects.
As a true custom home builder in Ottawa, you that have delivered some leading edge projects, what are the hallmarks of a Bateman Development? What is it that helps you stand out from other builders in your market?
With Bateman Development you’re going to get a well-built and well-designed product. We have a great reputation for quality and service. Our projects speak for themselves. We have been at it for a long time. It takes a team of architects, subcontractors, engineers, consultants, and material suppliers to produce a quality home. We have some companies that have continued to work with us for over 30 years.
How could you define your architectural approach?
Our architectural approach depends on the site, the neighbourhood and community that we are working in. We use several talented architects who are able to do any type of architectural design that feels right for the site. Compatibility is important but the architectural style should fit the era. A neighbourhood where all the homes look the same isn’t very exciting.
What’s the average time your team takes to build a home?
Typically it takes anywhere from 12-18 months for the actual construction. The approval process can take the same length of time once you purchase the property, retain an architect, and obtain the necessary permits. It is a process that can take two to three years from idea to completion.
What type of warranty does Bateman Development provide?
Warranties are overseen by the regulatory body of Tarion in Ontario. Every infill and custom home builder in Ottawa thats building new homes must be registered with Tarion, so there is a standard warranty for every homeowner. Bateman Developments has an outstanding service record.
Is Bateman Developments an energy conscious builder?
We are an energy conscious builder. If you aren’t you will be left behind in our industry. Buyers are demanding energy efficient homes. You need to build beyond the building code to match the competition.
Does building custom homes in Ottawa have any challenges?
It does. Like most cities there are numerous obstacles to overcome to build infill housing. I am sure it is not unique to Ottawa, but we have had numerous senior officials within the planning and permit departments retire over the last several years. The new generation doesn’t have the experience, nor were given sufficient mentoring to take over so it is taking much longer to get approvals. As a result, the time spent waiting costs money, and adds to the short supply of housing.
Are you happy with the progress the city has made in developing areas of high density over the past few years?
It’s an ongoing process. On one hand the city wants to increase density because it is significantly cheaper to build homes in existing neighbourhoods. On the other hand, the neighbours and communities don’t want things to change. Planning departments must answer to politicians and councillors which is typical of the process. Infill development has surged over the past two decades in Ottawa and communities feel bombarded by the changes. A good infill and custom home builder communicates with neighbours and builds exemplary homes. It is remarkable when you look back and see what can be accomplished when communities and developers work together.
What was the biggest challenge a project gave you, and how did you handle it?
Our last project completed in 2020 was challenging because of the site conditions. The lot was sloped to such a degree that the back of the property abutting our neighbours was 20 feet higher than the front. We had to shore the entire back of the site to be able to build the 4-unit project. A number of trades and engineers participated in the design and construction. It was quite a challenge to say the least.
What is a common misconception about infill?
That increased density is not good for neighbourhoods. The majority of infill projects get pushed back because most people do not want to see their neighbourhood’s change. Change is inevitable and healthy for all communities. Successful infill can be accomplished when communities, developers and city planners work together.
Why are infill homes important for the Ottawa community?
Infill homes are important for the benefits that they bring to communities. It is the most efficient way to increase the number of homes for any municipality. Existing infrastructure is used. Water, sewer, hydro, streets, are already in place. While there is a place for suburban development the benefits of infill are substantial. By bringing new families into existing neighbourhoods, infill not only revitalizes the physical built infrastructure, it also supports the social well-being of the area. Over the 40 years that we have been doing it we have seen older neighbourhoods transition to diverse, vibrant communities. It is a natural cycle that continues from generation to generation. We have seen tired, rundown neighbourhoods with poor housing stock greatly improved through infill developments.
What do you think are some of the top benefits of infill?
The benefits of infill are widespread. From an economic perspective it is very efficient. Infill uses existing services that are already in place. From a supply perspective it is much faster to provide homes in these neighbourhoods for the same reasons. From an environmental perspective it is much more environmentally friendly because it doesn’t take architectural land out of circulation and people aren’t dependent on their cars for transportation. A City’s downtown and inner-city communities can be revitalized with infill homes. Infill provides better transportation systems and public health improvements when integrated with good city planning.
What are some of Bateman Development’s current and upcoming projects?
We are just finishing up 2 semi-detached luxury units in the Glebe on Lyon Street. The main living floor is an open concept with the kitchen at the core of the room. We installed elevators for an aging population to be able to live comfortably. We are marketing the units at 1.8 million. Our next project will be two single family homes on the Rideau Canal in the Golden Triangle neighbourhood of Ottawa. They are high-end properties on a high-end site. We have another property on Bank Street in the Glebe that is currently one storey retail. Our plan is to build a four-storey structure with 12 apartments above the retail space.
After over 40 years of building, do you have any interest in retiring?
Absolutely not. There’s a group of us, all in our 70’s that are still working in our industry in either infill, or as a custom home builder in Ottawa, I won’t take credit for it but one of our group when asked about retirement replied “if you do something that you have been doing for 40 plus years, you must be good at it because you’ve been able to make a living out of it, and you must like it, so why would you quit.” Besides, as long as I’ve been doing this, I’m continuously learning because nothing ever stays the same in this industry.