The City Wants to Privatize the Remaining Public Space at Lansdowne Park

Lansdowne Park was developed on a sole-source contract basis and many thought this was illegal. The courts, after a lengthy battle, unexpectedly ruled in the City’s favour.

The private sector was supposed to develop an urban village with a unique experience. Many think that promise was broken.

Here we go again. The balance of the park could be outsourced as well. If you are at all concerned about the further loss of the public realm, sign Councillor Shawn Menard’s petition and join his rally November 5th.

More information is found here and the petition is here.

Appeals on Both Sides of the Chateau Laurier Development Proposal

Probably not a big surprise but both the Chateau’s owner and Heritage Ottawa are appealing the Committee of Adjustment’s decision to allow part and not allow part of the proponent’s variances.

A bit of legal positioning is underway and the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) hearing may be months away.

More here.

Having been before the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), the predecessor – or prototype – of the LPAT, ourselves, and having been a party to one side of a two-sided appeal, I hope Heritage Ottawa has the funding it needs.

The decision in our case was unqualified: the developer’s professional planning evidence, delivered “Perry Mason”-style, was more acceptable. Numerous well-researched and articulated concerns we raised at hearing were ignored, deemed irrelevant and pushed aside. We had a recognized heritage witness, and a written engineering opinion, but they had a high-priced lawyer and planner.

In consolation, we did get a cute little recognition of effort from the adjudicator as the hearing closed.

Ottawa’s New Official Plan – A Possible Single Point of Leverage

Reading Ottawa’s existing Official Plan shows how vague some provisions are.

This is an abridged assessment of how modifying one thing in the new Official Plan could be a game-changer.

In the current Official Plan, section 2 – Strategic Directions, sub-section 2.5 Building Liveable Communities, the preamble statements sound good. The Plan promotes livable communities featuring housing, employment, greenspace, history and culture and community design based on collaboration.

Design objectives for the built environment are articulated with a big caveat: that proponents can be creative and not be limited by the design objectives. Proponents need only “…to demonstrate how their proposal addresses the Design Objectives.”

Given the flexibility offered in the design objectives, it is difficult to prove that the earlier preamble about community design and collaborative community building is not being met by a specific development proposal.

So, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to rely upon if defending one of the Four Tests – the intent of the Official Plan.

What appears to be lacking is specificity of intent.

This means the new Official Plan needs clear wording that can be relied upon before the Committee of Adjustment, the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal, Planning Committee and even the courts.

Battles about variances, community development proposals, zoning and the like tend to become pretty technical and legalistic before these bodies.

By design, the new Official Plan must have language that articulates clearly the City of Ottawa’s intent to balance (or dare I say, favour) community and neighbourhood interests with developers’ interests.

Furthermore, greater clarity and urgency needs to be applied to protecting heritage properties.

We can’t go through another several years of Official Plan “testing” to find out that it is too vague to allow communities to exert greater influence over development proposals and in protecting heritage assets.

What the wording is remains to be determined. Certainly it can be more clear than it is now.

City Council Raises Development Fees

The City of Ottawa has raised development fees to finance the hiring of new planning staff to process development proposals.

It would seem that the number of development proposals in Ottawa is growing fast and the staff required to process them can’t keep up.

It is likely the developer community has been complaining about bottlenecks when obtaining approvals with the City. In return the City has added capacity – but at a cost to the users of the service (i.e., the developers).

And developers are complaining again.

See the full story in Ottawa Business Journal here.

This is what we want in the new Official Plan

Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper has suggested some great ideas for planning and zoning rules regarding infills.

The… process of building infill continues to be one that needs to be reined in. The new official plan is going to push for greater intensification, especially near transit, which is the right move. I want to make sure we put a line in the sand to say that the new normal is not going to become eight-to-one.

What the Councillor is referring to is demolishing a single home on a large lot, building two long semis, each with 2 units and a secondary unit and then severing the property.

We agree, this level of intensification is too much for mature neighbourhoods away from transit.

He has also embraces a rapid deployment of Vision Zero, an idea that designs roads to protect people from fatalities and serious injuries. This directly supports the notion in the new Official Plan that a majority of trips in one’s day can be accomplished by something other than the private automobile.

Yay Jeff.

Read the full article here.

Jon Willing Has Nicely Summarized the Chateau Laurier File Before the Committee of Adjustment

Check out the Ottawa Citizen’s Mr. Willing’s article about the Committee of Adjustment’s decision about minor variances if you’ve not seen it already. It clearly lays out the current situation, with a twist.

The piece raises some interesting points about the role of the NCC and Parks Canada.

Candidly, from experience, dealing with the NCC is at best hit and miss – at worst it’s like dealing with a bag of bricks. The NCC Ombudsman has been helpful in the past, thanks only to an overturned ankle at a messy construction site involving NCC land.

The lack of awareness about local concerns, until ankle-turning reality intervenes, shows how remote NCC management can be. Face-to-face meetings don’t necessarily clarify matters. Follow up, what’s that?

Occasionally engaged in development matters along the Rideau Canal, the NCC’s role can perhaps be best described as ephemeral.

Parks Canada is virtually invisible in development matters along the Canal. One might even imagine the 30 metre rule (beyond which the UNESCO heritage protection ends) on either side of the Canal was carefully measured….

Again, this perspective is only from personal experience. We would encourage greater participation from both the NCC and Parks Canada in heritage matters in Ottawa (not just focused on the Chateau). These institutions have the clout to preserve a lot of heritage should they choose to use it.

Committee of Adjustment Decides Against Chateau Laurier Addition

Ottawa’s Committee of Adjustment has decided the minor variances needed to advance the new addition to the Chateau Laurier do not meet the four tests.

The Committee said that some of the variances sought (how far the new building can be from the property line) were not minor and were not compatible with City planning rules.

“The approval … would allow for a new build that does not respect the landscape and character of the heritage features of the historic properties that surround the site,” reads the ruling.” Source: CBC.

Court Battle Begins Over the Chateau Laurier

CBC is reporting the following:

Heritage Ottawa is arguing in a court application filed Monday that the city did not have the legal authority to put staff in the position to approve the Château Laurier addition.

This is the latest in a move to try to put the new design on hold.

This is an interesting development and, if successful, would force City Council to vote on the addition, not Planning Staff. Politically this could be difficult for City Council given how unpopular the addition is.

The owner of the Chateau Laurier is also before Ottawa’s Committee of Adjustment for minor variances on Wednesday, September 18, 2019. More here.

More Feedback on My Thoughts on the New Official Plan

I was fortunate to receive some interesting and valuable feedback from a neighbour and community association planning and zoning committee member about my take on the new Official Plan.

Her succinct observations were:

Official Plan policies should encourage and promote adaptive reuse of existing buildings as the preferred option in residential infills. The embodied energy in existing buildings is an important factor when weighing climate friendly development options. energy retrofits can greatly improve the energy performance of existing building stock and the energy saved in demolition, disposal and the extraction, manufacturing, transport and construction of an entirely new building is substantial. Adaptive reuse mitigates some of the environmental costs of demolition and rebuilding as well. 

Depending on the quality of the retrofit, operating costs may be slightly less than those of the new build, but when all costs are considered,I believe that adaptive reuse is the better option. 

In addition to its other merits, adaptive reuse also encourages the reuse of familiar forms which are part of the character of our neighbourhoods while allowing for intensification within the structures. Additions to upgraded existing buildings can also increase their utility. 

This makes good sense to me. As one of my other neighbours chimed in:

There are two points that need to be raised in this regard when the existing housing stock is torn down to make way for a new larger concrete intensive building.

  1. The delimitation of an old building releases harmful particulates into the atmosphere, including some that can cause health concerns because they may be toxic.
  2. More importantly, the production, distribution and installation of concrete is a huge source of carbon dioxide. Some sources claim the concrete industry is responsible for 8% of world wide production of carbon dioxide. The production of just one cubic meter of concrete results in the release of 410kg of carbon dioxide.

The replacement of existing housing stock with larger concrete intensive structures that seem to be the norm for such replacements, is in some ways environmentally irresponsible.

Hmm. Sounds like a good idea to do some more research into the environmental impacts of replacing older buildings with new buildings. That’s one for the job jar!

Receipt Acknowledged – Comments Received by the City

After sending in my detailed comments on the new Official Plan, I received assurances from Mr. Alain Miguelez, Manager, Planning Policy and Resiliency, City of Ottawa that my input would be considered:

Thank you very much for taking the time to prepare these detailed comments. We will take them into serious consideration. Please stay connected throughout the OP process and don’t hesitate to follow up if you have more questions or feedback.

That is encouraging. My experience in matters like these (e.g., public consultations) is that with concerted efforts, policy makers can be influenced favourably towards community needs.

I was once part of a large coalition that got the Ontario and Quebec Mining Acts amended to make mining activities more “friendly” towards landowners and local communities. This experience is directly relevant to our mission at We Are the Neighbourhood.

Change is possible, it just takes a focussed effort, collaboration and a lot of time and energy.