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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

NCC, city continue their "public conversation"

First up, Mayor Watson. From the Citizen:

No other Canadian city faces the kind of federal interference that Ottawa does at the hands of the National Capital Commission, a frustrated Mayor Jim Watson said Monday.

The Ottawa mayor's comments come just days after the NCC announced that its board of directors believes Rochester Field on Richmond Road in Westboro, which it owns, is a better option for light rail than along the Ottawa River, unless the city is prepared to dig a deep tunnel for the trains in order to preserve its proposed route along the river.

"No other city in the country has an organization like the NCC who micromanages and meddles. You can't give me one example of any other city that has that kind of duplication of activity and meddlesome behaviour," Watson said.

He added that most NCC board members don't live in Ottawa and "don't have to live with the consequences" of their decisions.

"No one holds them accountable, so I think the public should be outraged at this kind of behaviour by a group that is constantly poking a stick in our plans to improve transit for the future of our city," he said.

Nothing revelatory here, but it is nice to have it said out loud now and then.

In an op-ed in the Citizen, meanwhile, CEO Kristmanson styles the NCC's "meddling" as "expanding the options":

Following a detailed review of documents and data provided by the city, the NCC's experts concluded that the only way our shoreline objectives can be achieved is if the transit line is constructed as a tunnel.

Last week, when the NCC's Board examined the latest evidence [at an in camera meeting], it concluded that the public and the city should be informed right away of its conclusions. The sooner the city is made aware of our analysis the better able it will be to complete its environmental assessment.

Preserving access to the extraordinary beauty of the riverfront has significance for our children and grandchildren. Its ecological and recreational potential cannot be readily reclaimed if an imposing infrastructure is given priority [and they should know - ed.].

As the city densifies and grows, protecting the best of our capital becomes all the more important. In fact, hundreds of residents and experts have joined us to envision a waterfront linear park extending from the Canadian War Museum to Britannia. Enhancing this world-class gem can only unfold in harmony with light rail submerged in a tunnel configuration.

The city has other options. This includes moving light rail away from the shoreline by turning into Rochester Field. This crucial open area is owned by the NCC, which will make the land available.

If the line moves inland, the city can determine a route that best meets its overall objectives, including the opportunity to place transit stops close to where people live. It would be up to the city to determine if a transit line that extends up from Rochester Field would be a tunnel, buried below grade, or run on grade.

By making Rochester Field available to the city the NCC is expanding the options, which we ask be fully compared in the ongoing environmental assessment.

Studying only the shoreline option, with partially buried configurations, as the city is doing today, will not move an effective light rail solution closer to reality.

In short, forget the waterfront, we've already done enough on that score.

And we leave you with this audacious thought from Peter Raaymakers at Public Transit in Ottawa: what if Kristmanson's offhand reference to the NCC's blue sky plans for a grand linear park along the waterfront involve actually taking out their freeway?

In an opinion article in the Citizen explaining the NCC's position, Kristmanson mentioned - almost in passing - the possibility of establishing a waterfront linear park where the Parkway currently runs. The "Sir John A. Macdonald waterfront park," as Kristmanson called it, would run from the War Museum on Lebreton Flats to Britannia Beach, incorporating the many existing beaches, rapids, and lookouts along the way.

In order to make it a waterfront park in any meaningful way, the parkway itself would have to be removed. Jacquelin Holzman, the former mayor of Ottawa and current member of the NCC Board of Directors, told me that the park "is front and centre in the vision of the NCC and the Board" and said that the NCC has engaged stakeholders and neighbours on the subject.

The fact that the NCC didn't explicitly outline these plans while explaining their position to the city is a massive failure of communications on their part. Refusing to allow public transit parallel to their existing freeway is a nonsensical decision, but if they are actively considering the removal of, or major changes to, that freeway then it makes more sense. A waterfront parkway is no place for a light-rail line - even if it's a segment of only 1.2 kilometres, and even if it's partially buried.

Establishing the Sir John A. Macdonald Park could be the most ambitious conservation project of the National Capital Commission since Gatineau Park was created in 1938. The NCC's mandate is to take part in projects like this one, conserving key lands for uses that couldn't otherwise be envisioned in order to improve quality of life in the National Capital Region. They've wasted these waterfront lands for over 50 years by turning them into a commuter corridor, but at least they are finally making larger plans for them.

But does it count if we have to wait for flying cars before it happens?

Citizen: Ottawa mayor bemoans NCC's 'meddlesome behaviour' [24 November 2014]
Citizen: Mark Kristmanson: The NCC is expanding the options for light rail [25 November 2014]
Sun: Watson vs. NCC round two [25 November 2014]
Citizen: Peter Raaymakers: The NCC finally has a vision for the waterfront [25 November 2014]

Saturday, November 22, 2014

NCC pisses off mayor, city

The NCC, still holding out for "unimpeded, continuous access" to the freeway that runs by the river, has demanded changes to the city's LRT plan at a news conference that seems to have caught everyone else off guard. Joanne Chianello in the Citizen:

NCC officials phoned Mayor Jim Watson and city manager Kent Kirkpatrick a mere half hour before the news conference to tell them what was happening. Not only were city officials not invited, the city's manager of media relations was actively stopped from simply sitting in on the event to take notes.

[...]The NCC demanded two things: that the city reconsider running light rail across (or perhaps under) Rochester Field in Westboro instead of along the parkway; and that the city provide a proper estimate for fully burying that 1.2-kilometre stretch along the parkway.

These sounds like reasonable requests, until you realize they are not.

Let's take the last request first. City staff was already working on an estimate for the tunnel - which will surely run in the hundreds of millions - and planning to report the findings to the NCC at the board's January meeting. Why should the NCC make this demand now when it knows full well it will get an answer in two months' time?

As for the Rochester Field option, the NCC claims it wouldn't cost any more than the city's current budget of $980 million for the western LRT extension. But that can only be the case if the city runs light rail along the surface of Richmond Road or the Byron Linear Park, both of which are complete non-starters in the Westboro community. Burying the train underground would have almost doubled the price of the western extension to $1.7 billion, according to city estimates.

It's nice to know that the NCC is worried about "impeding" the sightlines along its own roads, with apparent disregard for the sightlines along city streets in established neighbourhoods.

The NCC is also being somewhat disingenuous with its demands for "unimpeded public access to the shoreline" of the Ottawa River. What is a four-lane freeway - known as the parkway - if not an impediment to shoreline access? In fact, the city is planning to partially bury 700 metres of the planned 1.2-kilometre stretch near the parkway, with the aim of having only one metre of the train be above ground. And that will be covered by a grassy berm over which people could walk. Indeed, according to city officials who say they've been meeting regularly with NCC staff, there was talk of partially burying more of the track.

The oddest thing about Friday's announcement is the timing. The NCC and the city had agreed to review the options and additional data at its January meeting. Why this hastily planned, poorly executed news conference?

Not surprisingly, the Mayor had a few choice words for the NCC. From the CBC:

Ottawa's mayor says an "unaccountable, unelected" National Capital Commission shouldn't be discussing important city issues at "secret" meetings, after the NCC announced Friday that a partially buried stretch of the western LRT line is not an option.

The city hasn't received analysis from the NCC about its decision to reject a proposal for a partial burial of the line along the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, Mayor Jim Watson said in an emailed statement late Friday.

"I am disappointed the NCC would not even permit a city staff member into their building to listen to their announcement," Watson is quoted saying in the statement.

"We were promised a chance to appear before the NCC board in early 2015 to present a progress report. The NCC simply ignored their commitment to this and held a closed-door meeting, jeopardizing our city's transit plans."

Meanwhile, the Public Transit In Ottawa blog takes the unusual tack of actually considering the people riding transit:

The city's preferred plan involves a partially buried line along the Parkway, and it takes our transit vehicles - and the people within them - and pushes them underground. The NCC's two options would take it one step further, forcing them even deeper underground and out of sight.

One of the NCC's conditions was that the city achieve "minimal visual impact" and maintain the "user experience" of the Parkway corridor. Their recommendations fail to acknowledge that OC Transpo riders are also users of the corridor, and they should be allowed to enjoy it as well. Although it's easy to forget, there are people inside the OC Transpo vehicles. They are at least as entitled to the Parkway's scenery as private automobiles that also use it-and perhaps more entitled, since drivers must remain focused on the road while riders are free to take in the sights.

Citizen: Mayor Watson slams NCC over LRT demands [21 November 2014]
Citizen: NCC's bizarre LRT grandstanding smacks of politics [22 November 2014]
Sun: Watson slams NCC's secrecy [22 November 2014]
CBC: Mayor 'disappointed' by 'secret' NCC meeting on west LRT burial [21 November 2014]
PTIO: Burying transit, and the people who use it [21 November 2014]

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Flats: 'Good luck with that'

Every few years, the NCC makes some announcement grandiose enough to rouse the national media to have a laugh at the NCC's expense. And so it is with the NCC's latest call for help with building something truly grand on the Flats. From the Globe and Mail:

Hear ye, Hear ye.

The National Capital Commission, much-maligned steward of federal lands in the Ottawa region, is calling on the "world's best" to transform one of the last patches of undeveloped downtown real estate into a new signature destination for Canada.

"We envisage a bold, new anchor institution that will welcome the public, serve as an economic driver, feature innovative use of the land, and bring design excellence, animation and a unique public experience to the nation's capital," according to an invitation for redevelopment proposals on the agency's website.

Good luck with that.

LeBreton Flats - just west and down the slope from Parliament Hill - was a bustling industrial neighbourhood until the NCC expropriated it in 1962. The Crown Corporation promptly evicted residents, and flattened homes, factories and warehouses to make way for what was to be a massive government complex.

It never happened. Instead, LeBreton Flats became a sad monument to bungled urban planning, missed opportunity and shrunken ambition.

[...]There was a glimmer of hope in 2005 when part of the site became the Canadian War Museum and a park along the banks of the Ottawa River. The NCC later selected Claridge Homes to create a new housing community nearby. A decade later, fewer than 400 people live in two small condo towers, even as the city of nearly one million has sprawled out in every other direction.

[...]The NCC has missed the building boom of the past decade.

But that's nothing new. The NCC also missed the booms of the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties. Since the late 1980s, it has watched a long list of potential anchor tenants go elsewhere, including an NHL hockey venue, a CFL football stadium, a casino, a convention centre, the National Gallery, the Canadian Museum of History and shopping malls, as well as new headquarters for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Communications Security Establishment, the Department of National Defence and various other departments and agencies.

The government is also competing against itself. Just a few miles west of LeBreton Flats, the government is hoping to entice developers to help it revitalize a Soviet-style compound of drab government buildings known as Tunney's Pasture. There is only so much private-sector investment available in a city of Ottawa's size.

It's not clear what Mr. Baird and the NCC have in mind. But the use of terms such as "anchor" and "economic driver" suggest retail or hotels. Sea World or a Six Flags amusement park would seem out of the question, with the War Museum and Parliament Hill nearby. But who knows?

Globe and Mail: Ottawa's own backyard a land of missed development opportunities [5 October 2014]

Thursday, September 11, 2014

NCC wants to pay off its 'ethical debt'

Another ten years, and another call for a 'signature development' of 'national significance' for the LeBreton Flats from the NCC. Considering the last fiasco, could anyone possibly be interested? From the Citizen:

The National Capital Commission wants the private sector to come up with some ideas for developing the long-empty lands on LeBreton Flats - anchoring those suggestions with a new "landmark" building of national significance.

Mark Kristmanson, the NCC's chief executive officer, spoke about the plan during a breakfast address to the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

Creating a new "signature development" on LeBreton Flats, he told the business audience, is a top priority for the NCC's board of directors and for the commission's political minister, Ottawa West-Nepean MP John Baird.

Kristmanson said staff will present a recommendation to the NCC's board at its meeting next Tuesday to seek proposals "based on a major public institution or an attraction of regional or national significance, supported by a complementary development scheme."

In an interview with the Citizen, Kristmanson said the NCC needs to move ahead with development on LeBreton Flats, still largely vacant since the federal government expropriated and demolished homes there as part of a stillborn redevelopment project more than half a century ago.

"The NCC has a kind of ethical debt to the city to get this done," he said. "It has sat there for a long time."

While he declined to assign blame for LeBreton's lengthy tenure as the city's most valuable vacant lot, he said the property is "under the NCC's watch. It's our responsibility, and I really want to see it done."

[...]Kristmanson cited the "evolution" of the surrounding area - particularly Windmill Development's plans for the former Domtar lands and Chaudiere Island - as one key reason for a major new building on LeBreton.

"With the Windmill development bringing in about three million square feet, mostly residential, to the north of the site, it makes a lot of sense to bring in some major attraction or institution to balance the War Museum," he said.

Such a building would also create "an attractive place" for people arriving at the city's future Pimisi light rail transit station at LeBreton Flats, he said. "It makes a lot of sense to do that rather than just let the whole thing go as a mixed-use development."

Kristmanson, who called LeBreton Flats "immensely valuable," said he's had numerous meetings with private sector developers "to get their advice on how to do this - what was done right in the past, what was done wrong. So we're going forward on that basis."

Diane Holmes, the outgoing councillor for Somerset ward, which includes LeBreton Flats, said the most important thing the NCC should do with the LeBreton redevelopment is to break up the land into smaller parcels, each with its own architect and developer.

The condos on the eastern part of LeBreton built by Claridge Homes have "resulted in a development that looks institutional, like a hospital, instead of a mixed-used residential community," Holmes said.

So it's back to the submitting recommendations to seek proposals stage. Letting the whole thing go for mixed use development is exactly what they should do. But the new CEO does admit the NCC has some sort of debt to the city for screwing the Flats up so egregiously for the past 60 years, which is sort of unprecedented.

At the same talk, the new CEO also trotted out some numbers related to the NCC's 'footprint' - 53 millions of dollars in contracts awarded every year, 1600 properties owned, that sort of thing - as though without the dead hand of the NCC doling out money on ridiculous pet projects and stifling development, the city would somehow be worse off.

Citizen: NCC eyeing major new capital landmark on LeBreton Flats [11 September 2014]
Citizen: By the numbers: The NCC's economic footprint [11 September 2014]
Citizen: Imagining what Ottawa's prime real estate could look like [12 September 2014]

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

OK, that's enough animation

The popup bistro on the Canal is learning what a pain it is to have the NCC for a landlord. From the Sun:

8 Locks Flat is located on the east side of the canal across from the University of Ottawa, just north of the Corktown Bridge. It was allowed to open under a three-year trial by the NCC starting in 2012.

Bistro owner Colin Goodfellow said by e-mail Monday the two sides started lease negotiations but the NCC recently withdrew. According to Goodfellow, he has to remove everything from the site by the end of October.

The NCC e-mailed a statement to the Sun suggesting talks for the 2015 season are still happening.

"NCC remains committed to animating the shorelines. Discussions with the proponent of 8 Locks Flat are ongoing but the NCC cannot discuss negotiations in public by respect for all the parties involved, as per our usual practice," the agency says.

[...]8 Locks Flat has operated on a red cedar deck overlooking the canal. It has been a new site for live music and other events. In many ways, it has been an answer to calls for more food-and-beverage attractions on the canal, as an addition to places like Canal Ritz and the Dows Lake pavilion.

Sun: Future of canal bistro up in the air [8 July 2014]

Saturday, June 28, 2014

NCC wants city to bury western LRT

The NCC has passed a motion demanding "unimpeded, continuous access" to the river - a bizarre request considering the four-lane commuter expressway residing there now. From the CBC:

The National Capital Commission is demanding the City of Ottawa bury the entire stretch of its western light rail extension that would run alongside the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway.

The city wants to use a 1.2 kilometre stretch of NCC land for the future westward expansion of light rail, with a plan to bury a portion of the line between Skead Street and Cleary Station earlier this month.

The NCC's board unanimously approved a motion on Friday calling for "unimpeded, continuous access" to the Parkway corridor and Ottawa River shoreline.

"The city's last proposal was 700 metres are covered, why not cover the whole thing?" said board chair Russell Mills.

"We've never seen a plan like that, the board feels strongly it should see a plan from the city to do that. This land belongs to all the people of Canada, we have to be very careful about how we give it up for local use."

The NCC is asking the city for a revised plan before September, when it will approve its transportation master plan.

Impeding access to the Ottawa River is, evidently, the exclusive purview of the NCC.

CBC: NCC wants city to bury western LRT on Parkway land [28 June 2014]

Friday, June 20, 2014

Smaller is better

The Citizen approves of the NCC's new CEO and contracted mandate:

The question of whether we even need a National Capital Commission has always been arguable. By refocusing the agency, the federal government wisely encouraged it to find its niche. There are many departments and agencies who can manage public property or put on events. There is only one agency occupied with the aesthetics and significance of the national capital, as a capital.

That contraction should continue, gently, in the coming years. If there are lands or buildings that some other department could manage, or that would be better off in the private sector, the NCC should be open to that evolution. The NCC has accumulated many responsibilities over its long history, and it must consider the repercussions of any changes. But the agency should focus on being a lean, efficient advocate and facilitator to help all levels of government keep the capital's cultural significance in mind.

Citizen: A smaller, better NCC [20 June 2014]

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Drive-by beautification on the Flats

WestSideAction reports on the various non-goings-on on the Flats from a recent open house. Apparently the NCC is planning some temporary beautification while they wait around for themselves to get around to some sort of permanent beautification.

It has long been a puzzle to WSA regulars as to why bureaucrats think people would rush to buy homes with such dismal surroundings. So the new NCC, with new Leadership, responding to criticism (not least of which came from their bosses up on the Hill) of the desolate lands, announced a few weeks ago that they were interested in public consultation and quickie landscaping.

[...]The budget, I gather, is about $3million, with construction to begin in 2015 and be complete for the sesquicentennial celebrations in 2017. Eventually the landscaping installations would be replaced by buildings as the whole Flats is built out.

There was no alternative presented that might have just planted a boulevard of trees and shrubs along the roadsides and street frontages, which could have been permanent, and offered mature greenery when, someday in the far distant future, more people move in.

Nor was there any mention of accelerating the development of the Flats, maybe by inviting in some other developers or building a hotel or something to attract a variety of users.

WestSideAction: Three temporary landscapes on the Flats [5 June 2014]
NCC: Interim improvement of parts of LeBreton Flats [4 June 2014]

Thursday, April 17, 2014

NCC gets out of bike share

The NCC has managed to sell its money-losing bike share operation, formerly operated by now bankrupt Bixi:

US-based CycleHop will run Ottawa's bike-share service as it takes over from the National Capital Commission, the NCC announced Thursday.

The sale by the NCC to CycleHop took effect Thursday and CycleHop, as the new owner and operator, has promised to double the program within the next few years.

The bike-share service currently has 250 bicycles at 25 different locations.

CBC: NCC sells Ottawa bike-share service to US-based CycleHop [17 April 2014]
OBJ: Bixi bike share service to double in size after sale [22 April 2014]

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

LeBreton Flats Remembered

A recently established Facebook page LeBreton Flats Remembered has already assembled an impressive collection of photos of the Flats before they were demolished by the NCC.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

NCC survey: terrible, horrible, or worst-ever?

The Citizen's David Reevely has fun picking apart the NCC's "capital urban lands" survey:

It's a combination of questions asking you to agree with motherhood statements and asking for your input on profoundly fine-grained subjects that you only get 500 characters - not words, characters - to say your piece on.

For instance, do you agree with the NCC's proposal that its urban planning should be driven by three principles:

  1. Contact with nature
  2. Expression and experience
  3. Urban and regional viability

You're invited to agree or disagree with each of those three.

[...]And then what's your vision for the future of the capital's parkways? We've written a 24-page draft policy book whose key section has 52 bullet points; you have 500 characters.

The second of those 52 bullet-point policies about parkways goes like this:

In the context of sustainable mobility, while recognizing commuter use by automobile, it is not the primary obligation of parkways to accommodate regional commuting demands and not be considered as part of the local transportation network through unilateral designation by local municipal official plans for transportation or transit purposes.

That's 343 characters, by the way. Three hundred and forty three characters of rebuke to the city government's transit plans, the dead giveaway that the point of this whole exercise is to provide a simulacrum of popular support for what the NCC wants to do already, like a Crimean referendum question.

Finally, it seems like little enough to ask, reading the documents, that an institution so concerned with its role in preserving the capital's federal features for all Canadians would know how to spell them. The NCC doesn't know how to spell the name of our first prime minister, consistently capitalizing the "d" in "Macdonald" and wrongly referring to "Queen Elisabeth Drive."

Citizen: The NCC's survey on its land uses: terrible, horrible, or worst-ever? [20 March 2014]

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

NCC to demolish heritage building

The NCC is once again under fire from heritage types, this time for a plan to replace a heritage building in the market. The building has been in the care of the NCC, protectors of heritage on behalf of all Canadians, for decades and so naturally cannot now be saved. From the Citizen:

The NCC, which owns the building, says the structure is at the end of its life cycle and demolition is the best option for the site. Memories was forced to vacate the building about a year ago. Now, the NCC has officially applied to the city for permission to demolish it and rebuild on the site.

"We've done what we could to salvage the building. It's really at the end of its life cycle," said Sandra Pecek, the NCC's director of communications. She added that the proposed replacement is "very conceptual at this point," and far from final.

The historic building, believed to date to the 1860s or 1870s, is part of Tin House Court, one of the courtyards behind the buildings that line Sussex Drive.

Originally built as a warehouse, it's designated under the Ontario Heritage Act because of its location in the ByWard Market heritage conservation district. On the city's Heritage Reference List, it's listed as a Category 1 priority, the highest rating for buildings of historic interest.

An independent analysis commissioned by the city concluded that the building is in poor condition and repair might not be practicable.

The proposed new structure features a clear glazed wall on the ground floor and largely patterned glass on the upper facade.

The community association is drafting a letter to the city opposing the new structure, which is wider and taller than the current one. [Lowertown Community Association president Marc] Aubin says the NCC has been negligent in managing the property, and should follow their previous practice of building replica replacements of decrepit heritage buildings.

Citizen: Plan to replace Clarence Street heritage building draws fire from community [19 February 2014]

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

NCC finally gets a CEO

A CEO has finally been appointed - a former NCC bureaucrat. From the Citizen:

Kristmanson, a largely unknown NCC bureaucrat for the past decade, was on Monday named to the top job by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

Kristmanson succeeds former CEO, Marie Lemay, who left 18 months ago to become a deputy minister in the federal bureaucracy. The job had been unfilled since then, though Jean-François Trépanier, the Crown corporation's executive vice-president, had been interim chief executive.

Kristmanson's appointment, which followed what Baird called a "lengthy, rigorous and non-partisan process," came as a surprise to just about everyone.

[...]At the NCC, Kristmanson was once director of public programming, overseeing events such as Canada Day and Winterlude. That programming role migrated to the Department of Canadian Heritage last year when the NCC's mandate was narrowed to land-use planning and maintaining official residences.

[...]University of Ottawa professor emeritus Gilles Paquet, who chaired a panel that reviewed the NCC's mandate in 2006, said it appears the government has "chosen a technocrat rather than a political animal" to head the NCC.

That could be a problem if Kristmanson has been "totally captured" by the technocracy that has dominated the NCC for years, Paquet said.

"When you live in an organization for 10 years, you become part of that culture. The culture has been a technocratic culture - top down, very little attention paid to the communities out there. The will to co-operate is not there to begin with."

The role of the NCC's chief executive is political in some ways, Paquet said. "There's an extraordinary need, if you want a renaissance of this region, for people to come together, to rally, to conciliate."

The head of the NCC needs to be willing to "persuade, bribe, do anything he needs to for the city," Paquet said. "These are political skills rather than technical skills."

In an interview with Joanne Chianello in the Citizen, Kristmanson predictably played his cards close to his chest, but he did allow that the birdfeeders, recently removed from Gatineau Park for reasons that amounted to 'just in case', would return. So hold on to your hats, it's gonna be a wild ride.

Watson remains positive

Jim Watson, meanwhile, says he welcomes the appointment, and claims broad support for his position on local representation on the NCC board. From the Orleans Star:

[Watson] welcomes the entry into office of the new Chief Executive Mark Kristmanson to the federal agency, an appointment that was announced, Monday.

[...]Watson also said he "did not want to give up" on the open dialogue, while welcoming the support he's received in recent days to his letter sent, last week, to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to require representation of a local elected from each municipality on the board of the NCC.

[...]"We have a lot of support and this is positive," said Watson. "In addition, support is being lent from those with a lot of credibility."

Monday morning, five Liberals in the Outaouais region - Stéphanie Vallée, Maryse Gaudreault, Charlotte L'Écuyer, Marc Carrière and Alexandre Iracà - had also written jointly to Mr. Harper to ask for a modernization of the NCC.

Back when the Liberals were in power, of course, Chairman Beaudry carried local Liberal MPs around in his pocket like so many dimes and nickels, but it's good to see them onboard the change train now that they are all but powerless.

Citizen: NCC's new CEO, Mark Kristmanson, brings diplomatic skills to job [3 February 2014]
Citizen: Q&A with NCC chief executive Mark Kristmanson [4 February 2014]
CBC: Mark Kristmanson named CEO of National Capital Commission [3 February 2014]
OBJ: Veteran staffer to take over at the NCC as fight with city heats up [3 February 2014]
Orleans Star: We have a lot of positive support [4 February 2014]

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mayors not ready to give up on NCC yet

The Ottawa and Gatineau mayors have joined forces to criticize the NCC and demand a seat at the table. The Citizen's David Reevely reports:

The National Capital Commission doesn't know enough about local affairs and is getting in the way of progress, the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau charged Wednesday, and putting them on its board is their solution.

After their first formal meeting since Gatineau's Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin was elected last fall, he and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson emerged with a list of grievances, from "relentless obstruction in the City of Ottawa's efforts to create a world-class transit system for the National Capital Region" to the "unilateral decision to close Rue Gamelin" in Gatineau. They signed it and sent it to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, demanding reforms that should start with adding an elected official from each city council to the 15-member NCC board.

[...]The commission's refusal to accept Ottawa's plans for running a light-rail line along the Ottawa River near Highland Park clearly angered Watson the most. The board's constant demands for the city to spend more on the project, which is already estimated to cost $980 million, are just unreasonable, he said, calling them "micromanagement and second-guessing." He scorned the commission's demands in the first stage of the rail line, now under construction - which went as far as approving the shrubs the city intends to plant around its new stations.

Watson also complained about the state of Sparks Street, where the NCC is a major landlord and famously indifferent to the needs of small businesses. Few restaurateurs want to invest in outfitting kitchens if they can only get the short-term leases the NCC insists on, for instance.

[...]The fact the NCC board had an open meeting last week, where member Robert Tennant got involved in the debate on the city's rail plans, helped expose that Tennant's private urban-planning firm also works for a client whose development plans are directly implicated in the rail project, Watson pointed out. More openness and accountability is always a good thing, he argued.

The mayor said he's not worried that an attack on the commission will make getting its co-operation on things like the rail project more difficult.

"Are you suggesting there's going to be retributions because we dared to offer a way to open up and make the NCC more accountable?" he shot back in response to a reporter's question. "I think that would backfire on the federal government, if they're going to all of a sudden start saying, 'These mayors are asking too much and we're going to take out on them, charging more for parking in Gatineau Park and we're going to make it more difficult for light rail.' I hope they don't go down that path because I don't think the public would be too pleased and impressed with that.'

Chairman Mills, however, fired right back, sticking to the tiresomely familiar 'we're doing it for all of Canada' line. From the CBC:

The chair and interim CEO of the National Capital Commission brushed off suggestions the organization meddles in local affairs and said they do not support the idea of having municipal representation on the commission's board.

[...]He said as the caretaker of the 10 per cent of land in the region owned by the federal government, the NCC should have that authority. While Mills said the current negotiations with the city are progressing well, in the past he said they have had to fight to keep rail lines from going up along the Ottawa River.

"The NCC needs to retain the authority to stop bad ideas for federal land like a railroad on the riverfront," he said.

Ah yes, the railway on the riverfront. Well, he's got a point - it could impede access to the freeway.

Citizen: Ottawa, Gatineau mayors demand seats on NCC board [29 January 2014]
CBC: Jim Watson, Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin call on PM to change NCC [29 January 2014]
Mayors' Joint Letter [29 January 2014]
CBC: NCC rebuffs call from mayors for more local voice [30 January 2014]
OBJ: Mayor Watson demands more local representation on the NCC board [30 January 2014]
Statement from NCC Chair Russell Mills [30 January 2014]
Sun: City of Ottawa is being hijacked by NCC without regard to cost or consequences [31 January 2014]

Friday, January 24, 2014

NCC board member recuses

The Citizen's David Reevely reports on conflicts of interest on the NCC board:

A National Capital Commission board member didn't know his private consulting firm worked for a landowner who stands to benefit from the city's western extension of its first light-rail line when he joined commission debates on it, NCC chairman Russell Mills said Friday.

Robert Tennant, co-founder of urban-planning firm FoTenn Consultants, should have known he had a conflict of interest between his private business and his public trust as an NCC board member, Mills said.

FoTenn, the city's largest urban-planning firm, works for numerous property developers, including a Toronto company that owns a strip mall right next to a place the city wants to put a new LRT station, near Richmond Road and Cleary Avenue. It needs the National Capital Commission's permission to use a strip of land near the Ottawa River for the billion-dollar project; the NCC board has been skeptical, demanding expensive changes to make the proposed line less intrusive on nearby property owners.

Tennant, a distinguished figure in Ottawa's development industry, was too busy to talk to the Citizen Thursday and cancelled an interview scheduled for Friday morning. Mills spoke on his behalf. He'd previously said that FoTenn's work for practically every large property developer in the city posed obvious challenges when Tennant was appointed to the NCC board in 2007, but he'd pledged to have nothing to do with any matter that came before the NCC that involved a FoTenn client.

The strip mall's owner, Torgan Group, is planning a redevelopment there and a FoTenn consultant, Brian Casagrande, lobbied city planners and spoke to a city council committee meeting in July about integrating Torgan's building with the potential new station. FoTenn also has working relationships with landowners near other potential stations and alternative routes.

The commission's board met in public on Wednesday and got an update on the city's western rail planning from deputy city manager Nancy Schepers. Tennant warned her not to skimp on the plans to pay for a further extension west to Bayshore mall that the city’s added to the plans in the last few months. Tennant quizzed deputy city manager Nancy Schepers about aspects of the city's plan but particularly praised some changes to the Cleary station, abutting FoTenn's client's property.

[...]because of the perception created by the Citizen's reporting, Mills said, "he will recuse himself from participation in any discussion or votes on the western LRT route."

Reevely "created the perception" the day before, when he highlighted FoTenn's connection to the LRT project:

NCC board members have repeatedly insisted the city spend more money to make the western rail extension more attractive and less intrusive on nearby landowners. A $900-million price estimate has risen to $980 million already, thanks to attempts to get the NCC's favour by partly burying the line on its property and sprucing up the line's new stations.

[...]Tennant's personal dealings were a concern when he was appointed, Mills acknowledged. After an exhaustive examination that included the federal government's ethics commissioner, it was decided he'd bow out when the commission's board took up an issue where FoTenn was directly involved, such as a proposed redevelopment of the islands in the Ottawa River. "He's been scrupulous about doing that," Mills said. But "I don't see any conflict here with western light rail. He doesn't have any clients dealing with that."

FoTenn actually has represented clients with projects around the planned western rail line, including right next to a proposed new station at Cleary Avenue and Richmond Road. FoTenn consultant Brian Casagrande addressed a city council meeting about it in July on behalf of a Toronto developer called Torgan Group, specifically about the site's connection to the train station. Casagrande also lobbied three senior city planners who report to Schepers, according to the city's lobbying registry.

At Wednesday's NCC meeting, Tennant praised tweaks the city has made to the design of that Cleary station.

FoTenn shepherded an application to redevelop land at Scott Street and McRae Avenue, steps from the Westboro transit station, for Bridgeport Realty. Under the city's plan, Westboro station is to get rail service to replace the Transitway.

FoTenn also works for Arnon Corp., whose holdings include a big property where the O-Train tracks cross Carling Avenue. A piece of that land, which Arnon wants to build on, is off limits in case the city needs it for an alternative rail route west. Tennant's fellow founding partner, Ted Fobert, has lobbied the city on that.

Citizen: NCC board member didn't know about firm's LRT-related work: Mills [24 January 2014]
Citizen: NCC board member has firm whose private clients stand to benefit from LRT route [23 January 2014]
Citizen: Tribal mentality breeds contempt for rules rest of us must obey [29 January 2014]

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bixi files, NCC vows to continue

Insolvent bike share operation Bixi has filed for bankruptcy, but the NCC insists its capital operation will continue to operate. From the Sun:

Capital Bixi is getting ready to roll again this spring even though the company that runs Ottawa-Gatineau's bike-share fleet is filing for bankruptcy protection, the National Capital Commission said Tuesday.

"It is too early to tell if or what or how there will be impacts on Capital Bixi," NCC spokesman Jean Wolff said. "One thing is clear for us, that there is a contract in place to provide the operation and management of the service. We are carrying on with our work towards the season opening April 15."

The NCC owns the 250 bikes at 25 stations but they're operated by Public Bike System Company. It filed a notice of intention to file for bankruptcy protection so it can restructure while promising to continue operations and services.

[...]Meanwhile, the NCC is trying sell the system before the service contract expires in 2015 - a move planned when it launched 100 bikes and 10 stations in 2011.

In the Post, Tasha Kheiriddin points out some of the flaws in the bike sharing utopia:

It's hard to make a business case for bike sharing. Car sharing, yes: An automobile is expensive to purchase and maintain, and not everyone uses it enough to justify the cost. But bicycles are the cheapest form of wheeled transportation you can buy. Can't afford new? Pick one up second-hand: As of writing this column, the website Kijiji listed hundreds of bikes for sale in Toronto, for as little as $25. For the amount of money Bixi has cycled through, the company could have bought a set of wheels for every user in its target markets.

Capital Bixi has all the appearances of a white elephant - if the NCC manages to unload it on someone, so much the better and none too soon. The whole operation could be replaced by a kiosk by the canal to rent bikes to tourists. If the NCC really wants to encourage cycling in the capital, they'd do better by improving the existing path network, or extending 'Sunday Bikedays' to - what the hell - the whole freaking day.

Sun: Bixi bikes to keep rolling, says NCC [21 January 2014]
Citizen: Bixi bike-sharing operator files for bankruptcy protection [20 January 2014]
Post: The Bixi bubble bursts [21 January 2014]
CBC: Ottawa Bixi program still a go despite bankruptcy protection [21 January 2014]
CBC: Bixi struggles raise concerns about Ottawa bike share's future [24 September 2013]

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Calling Dr. Phil

With the recent move of their public programming arm (Winterlude, Canada Day, etc.) to Heritage, the NCC is looking at ways to cope with change. Naturally, this requires consultants. From the Citizen:

According to a tender posted Wednesday, the NCC wants to hire a consultant to develop a "change management" training program for its 420 employees.

The tender document explains that the NCC is "currently in a transition period" following a staff reduction and changes to its mandate.

"We wish to offer tools to our employees and managers in order to minimize the impact of this transition period on our personnel and day-to-day operations," the NCC says.

The commission needs such tools, it adds, "to ensure a certain stability in order to continue to provide its services in this important transition period.

"We attach great importance to knowledge- and research-based creation and innovation, and we endeavour to provide an enriching, stimulating workplace that encourages employees to put forward new ideas for streamlining and improving what we do," the NCC document says.

[...]Given the amount of change the NCC has endured, spokesman Jean Wolff said, "it only makes sense that NCC management wants to equip staff with appropriate training, knowledge, tools and ways to deal with change successfully."

Citizen: National Capital Commission seeks help to cope with change [16 January 2014]

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Still no CEO

David Reevely recaps the continuing mystery of the missing NCC CEO and reviews some of the challenges facing the clapped out organization in the coming year. From the Citizen:

The next chief executive of the National Capital Commission will take over a beleaguered Crown corporation, one that's been operating without a permanent top manager for nearly a year and a half.

In that time, the commission has battled with the City of Ottawa over light-rail routes, presented two studies on transportation across the Ottawa River (one on transit, one on a new east-end bridge) that promptly sank, absorbed budget cuts and, toughest of all, seen its festival-planning responsibilities amputated and grafted onto the Department of Canadian Heritage, with dozens of staff going with them.

All the while, its people have waited for a new chief executive to take the place of Marie Lemay, the cheerful administrator and engineer who departed for the bureaucracy in the federal infrastructure department at the end of the summer in 2012. A replacement has been on the verge of being named for months, according to the minister in charge of the NCC, John Baird.

[...]The NCC's main job now is land management: acquiring and maintaining property in the national interest, from the Greenbelt to Gatineau Park to the capital's official residences. Will it become primarily a janitorial service? Or will the new boss take up some of the causes Lemay championed, such as making the capital bike-friendly and encouraging, in at least a limited way, new life along the NCC-controlled banks of the capital's major waterways?

[...]Whether the new chief executive is a dreamer or an administrator or something else, he or she will need to help the commission's people up, dust them off and give them new direction. This will also mean working out how the NCC co-operates with other federal agencies, from Canadian Heritage to Parks Canada.

[...]Part of the National Capital Commission's job is to co-ordinate between the cities on either side of the Ottawa River, particularly when it comes to transportation. The NCC has tried and had two major recent failures.

It spent years on a study that recommended ways of integrating Ottawa's and the Outaouais's transit systems. Start small, it suggested, by changing duplicate route numbers. Eventually, over time, let's move toward one combined system, with commuter trains crossing the river and one joint system for planning service. The report came out. The politicians in charge of transit on each side of the river panned it. Nobody has talked about it since. It wasn't even presented to Ottawa's transit commission as an item of interest, let alone something to act on.

Much the same thing happened to an even more detailed study in support of an east-side bridge to get truck traffic off downtown Ottawa's streets. The study concluded, as practically every study of the subject has, that using the Aviation Parkway to get to a new bridge across Kettle Island makes the most sense. The politicians who'd have to vote to pay for it promptly denounced the proposal and the study ended; even its website was scrubbed from the Internet.

Citizen: The four big challenges that await the new NCC boss, whoever it is [4 January 2014]
Citizen: No new CEO in sight for National Capital Commission [2 January 2014]

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dodging a bullet at Chaudiere

Mark Sutcliffe notes how the city dodged a bullet when the NCC wasn't given the cash to buy more of the Chaudiere lands. From the Citizen:

Meanwhile, Windmill Developments is working on a breathtakingly ambitious project centred on historic Chaudiere Island. Windmill is aspiring to the highest standards for sustainable development; the result will likely transform industrial land in the heart of the city into a model of modern urban development.

The potential impact of the project can't be overstated. The development land is uniquely situated on the doorstep of downtown, straddling two cities in two provinces and surrounded by the Ottawa River. Based on its location and Windmill's lofty ambitions, the mixed-use development will draw national and international attention and could be the start of a new era for Ottawa's chronically underused waterfront.

[...]It's a stroke of incredibly good fortune that the National Capital Commission was denied the funds to bid on Chaudiere Island. In all likelihood the Windmill project will be finished by the time the NCC finally makes its next move on LeBreton Flats.

Citizen: Movie theatres or not, downtown Ottawa is doing just fine [10 October 2013]

Friday, October 4, 2013

Dewar: NCC blindsided

NDP member for Ottawa Centre Paul Dewar feels the NCC been done wrong when the government transferred responsibility for national celebrations to Heritage. Meanwhile, the employees involved have made the move to Heritage while the NCC must now look for smaller digs. From the Citizen:

The significant shrinking of the NCC's role, revealed in a couple of lines deep in the federal budget, came without consultation or warning, Dewar says, something that speaks to the federal government's view of the agency and its relevance.

"The day the budget was announced was when people at the NCC became aware of this," Dewar said. "They can't tell you this, but I will: They blindsided the NCC."

The employees affected by that change - 81 full-time and 13 students - moved from the NCC headquarters in the Chambers Building on Confederation Square this week to begin work at the Department of Canadian Heritage offices in Gatineau. With a smaller staff and reduced responsibilities, as well as a shrinking budget, the NCC is planning to move out of the centrally-located heritage building it has occupied for nearly two decades.

When the employees - who make up about 18 per cent of the NCC's workforce - moved to Heritage, many of the NCC's responsibilities moved with them. Heritage will now take over responsibility for running Canada Day celebrations, Winterlude, the Christmas lights program, national commemorations "to be established in the capital region", public art commemorations and visitor services, among other things. A number of NCC employees working in communications, IT and finance also made the move, which leaves the NCC with responsibility for Gatineau Park, the pathways, parkways and property maintenance.

The Department of Canadian Heritage will create a Capital Experience Branch "to ensure a broad national experience is brought to all celebrations in the National Capital Region," said a department spokesman by email.

Meanwhile, a series of budget cuts have reduced the money the NCC gets from Parliament by about $9.5 million a year.

[...]Dewar said the move is hollowing out the NCC instead of reforming it and enlivening its mandate.

"What we are left with is (an organization) that is going to be a landlord taking care of mowing the lawn and washing the windows. Clearly that is not sufficient.

"They are hollowing out a resource, taking money away and putting it into Heritage without any real understanding as to what the effects will be."

A landlord taking care of mowing the lawn and washing the windows - sounds like a good match. Let the hollowing out continue!

Citizen: NCC 'blindsided' by cuts in federal budget: Dewar [4 October 2013]

Friday, September 13, 2013

NCC close to naming new CEO

Apparently a new CEO is on the way for the increasingly moribund NCC. From the Citizen:

After more than a year without a permanent CEO, the National Capital Commission should have a new leader in place soon.

[...]Since Lemay left, the federal agency has cut jobs and seen some of its duties transferred to the Department of Canadian Heritage. The NCC will no longer be in charge of public programming and promotional activities, including Canada Day and Winterlude, it was announced in May's federal budget. The change has also seen some employees move from the NCC to Heritage, beginning this month.

The NCC's role on the national stage and in Ottawa is more subdued than it was in the days when Jean Pigott held the top job and its relationship with the City of Ottawa - especially over light rail - has been fractious.

[...]Meanwhile, the NCC says it will play an important role in the expected redevelopment of Chaudière Island and the Domtar lands, but it is not the role the federal agency had envisioned. The NCC had long wanted the federal government to buy the historic islands, which are considered a "land mass of national significance," but a deal to do so fell through about 18 months ago when the federal government said no to the purchase. Ottawa developer Windmill Development Group has signed a letter of intent to purchase the property. Jonathan Westeinde, managing partner of the company, outlined an ambitious vision for the property that includes condos, retail, green space, "creative workspaces" and vastly improved public access to the river. The company is expected to make an announcement on its plans this month.

NCC board Chair Russell Mills said this week that since public ownership of the lands is "not in the cards," having a private developer with input and guidance from "proper authorities" is the best solution for the Domtar lands.

So if Chairman Mills is to be believed, the NCC will continue its struggle to keep the waterfront as boring and anodyne as possible.

Citizen: NCC close to naming new CEO [13 September 2013]
Citizen: Tories breaking spirit of their accountability legislation in search for NCC CEO, Dewar says [13 September 2013]

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

From the Archives: Durrel, Pigott and Haydon have great plans

The Citizen has republished a blast from the past - the three heads of the over-governed metropolis reflect on Ottawa in 2000, from October 8, 1986:

About two kilometres from city hall, Pigott is in her downtown office talking about the NCC's mandate to plan Ottawa for all Canadians.

She is proud of the NCC's accomplishments, saying she doubts Canadians would have such a beautiful capital to boast about if there wasn't a federal commission overseeing planning of federal lands.

The NCC will continue to jealously guard its properties and parkland in order to develop or preserve them for the benefit of all Canadians, she says.

LeBreton Flats, one of the last vacant pieces of downtown property, will be developed with national and cultural themes in mind, she says. So would Victoria Island, Brewery Creek and Jacques Cartier Park in Hull.

One of her ideas for the LeBreton lands or perhaps Victoria Island is a series of pavilions representing the provinces. Here, history from all parts of the country would be on display, a project that Pigott says will be of great interest to children.

The federal Canlands property in the downtown core, eyed by Ottawa as the major solution to its parking woes, must also be planned with the attitude that only a project befitting the capital should be developed here.

Another NCC project is to develop a ceremonial route in time for the 1988 opening of the new National Gallery on Sussex and the Museum of Civilization in Hull.

The route would consist of Wellington Street, Sussex Drive, the Alexandra Bridge, Laurier Street in Hull and the Portage Bridge.

Pigott would also like to work with local government to see what can be done with Metcalfe Street, which she says has been ravaged by poor planning. She says if redeveloped properly, it could be turned into a "beautiful boulevard" that could serve as the gateway to Parliament Hill.

NCC plans also call for a new multi-million dollar headquarters that would incorporate three historic buildings facing Confederation Square. The three are the Central Chambers, Scottish Ontario Chambers and the small building in between.

Citizen: OTTAWA 2000: Durrel, Pigott and Haydon have great plans [4 September 2013]

Friday, August 30, 2013

NCC to think about re-thinking the flats

Apparently, the NCC has found a 'window of opportunity' to re-evaluate its failed development plan for the flats. And it needs the cash. From the Citizen:

Ten years after the National Capital Commission started selling land for development on LeBreton Flats, it's about to re-evaluate its plan for the prime property in the shadow of Parliament Hill.

"The density of buildings is probably one thing that would be a good course" for re-evaluation, says François Lapointe, the NCC's chief urban planner. He's supremely careful not to prejudge the conclusion, but he rhymes off reasons why that needs another look: the city's new plan for the escarpment area in northwest Centretown that overlooks the Flats, its plan for the Bayview area, its transit-oriented development plans for new light-rail stations east of downtown.

What do they all have in common? Zoning that allows very tall buildings by Ottawa standards, of 30 storeys and more. The NCC's plan for LeBreton Flats calls for buildings that max out at about 12 floors.

"We don't feel that we at the NCC right now, that we are the older ... that we necessarily know what's best," Lapointe says. "We feel we need to engage with the community, with the city, with the developers to have a plan to make it an area that's really world class."

There's a "window of opportunity," he says, with the last work underway on removing contaminated soil from LeBreton Flats's industrial past and the city's contractor finally starting work on the new light-rail line with excavations at the Flats' southeast corner. A review of the plan could take about two years, with more land ready to be put up for bids a year or so after that.

Land zoned for tall buildings is, of course, much more valuable than land zoned for shorter ones. The commission, perennially strapped for cash, has cut jobs this year as it deals with federal budget reductions and then suffered a humiliation later in the spring when the government decided to transfer its cultural branch to the Department of Canadian Heritage.

[...]The NCC took control of LeBreton Flats in 1964, mostly be expropriating the homes and businesses there with the intention of replacing a working-class neighbourhood with a glittering government office complex. Then, for 40 years, not much happened, with changing government priorities ruling out construction of the offices and jurisdictional battles between the NCC and the City of Ottawa ruling out anything else. Finally, in 1999, the commission and the city reached a deal and the city handed over its land, mostly useless roads comprising almost a quarter of the Flats, to the NCC for a wholesale redesign.

The commission has since sunk almost $100 million into the Flats, divided almost evenly between new infrastructure such as water pipes and getting rid of old pollution in the ground.

By 2004, the Flats were getting exciting. The triumphant Canadian War Museum was nearing completion on the northern part of the Flats, dedicated to national-level uses, and by the end of the year Claridge Homes had made a deal with the NCC to buy a chunk of property in the south, under strict conditions, to start returning residents to the land.

The conditions were extremely strict, with detailed design guidelines and other requirements so onerous that, in the end, Claridge was the only bidder left standing from an original list of six.

Lapointe recognizes that's not ideal. Claridge bought a section of land at the east edge of the Flats that's supposed to hold 800 condos and townhouses, which made it too big and expensive for all but the biggest development companies to even contemplate.

Citizen: Just Build it Already: LeBreton Flats [30 August 2013]

Friday, August 16, 2013

Gatineau Park critic profile

Long time Gatineau Park critic Jean-Paul Murray is profiled in the Citizen:

His central goal is to protect the boundaries of the park and the land inside it, which means gradually acquiring private property. He wants the NCC to have a policy of letting current owners stay there, but only if the NCC has a right of first refusal when they sell.

[...]Four years ago he told the Citizen: "The NCC won't fulfil its master plan to protect the park unless it is forced to do so. The government only acts to protect the park when there is public pressure."

He added this month: "The NCC has been at times good but sometimes they are in a heavy state of denial ... They keep saying the NCC does not have a policy for acquiring private property. Well I'm sorry, they do. It's called the National Interest Land Mass and it's called the master plans, all master plans (for the park) all the way back to 1952."

There have been eight bills tabled with the aim of defining park boundaries and protecting for the land, often with Murray's assistance. Past sponsors include Ed Broadbent and Senator Mira Spivak of Manitoba. Murray remains a great fan of Spivak.

[...]At Meech Lake, Murray accuses both the municipality and private landowners of violating (through inaction) a 2011 county bylaw to protect the shoreline with natural vegetation.

"It's pure anarchy in the park," he says. "The real cause is the multiple jurisdictions: federal, provincial, municipal, and then at the end of the line everybody passes the buck to the other level of government."

Citizen: A voice crying for the wilderness [16 August 2013]

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Concrete replaces granite on Confederation Boulevard

Much touted by the NCC as a singular success, Confederation Boulevard is nevertheless being downgraded from granite to concrete. From the Citizen:

[T]hat distinctive "pink Canadian granite" - a point of pride with the National Capital Commission - is a vanishing commodity. Granite paving stones are being dug up and replaced with cheaper, more durable coloured concrete along Confederation Boulevard, Ottawa's ceremonial route.

[...]The federal government paid for recent work to dig up granite pavers and replace them with concrete with $1.125 million in Economic Action Plan funding. And the National Capital Commission recently issued a tender to do some of the remaining work replacing granite sidewalks near the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau.

[...]But the granite pavers proved problematic and costly. When heavy equipment drove over them for maintenance, they would crack, damage that would be expensive to repair. In 1994, the NCC established new paving standards for Confederation Boulevard and started using concrete. Gerald Lajeunesse, former chief landscape architect with the NCC, helped look for a more practical solution and found it in the form of concrete mega-block pavers which were four inches thick, compared with the two-inch granite pavers, not to mention significantly less expensive and better able to withstand abuse. One former NCC official estimated the granite pavers cost five to 10 times as much as concrete.

[...]Lajeunesse said he thinks replacing the granite sidewalks with coloured concrete was the right call. "I think it was done appropriately. It is still a grand boulevard, maybe not as grandiose as some had first envisioned it, but it is still very good," he said.

[...]the granite detailing remains a point of pride with the NCC. In its "bus tour reference tool" it offers bus tour guides talking points about Confederation Boulevard. "How can you tell if you are on Confederation Boulevard? Look for the tall lampposts, each bearing a bronze maple leaf at the top, and the broad tree-lined walkways, lined in pink Canadian granite."

Architect critic Rhys Phillips has other thoughts on the replacement of granite with concrete on Confederation Boulevard's sidewalks.

"I think pink granite looks good. Pink concrete looks like the kitsch that it is."

At least we have Confederation Boulevard's new slogan - "still very good." Considering that Confederation Boulevard is little more than theme park history, the pink concrete is, in fact, rather more symbolically appropriate than the granite ever was.

Citizen: Taken for granite: Pink concrete replacing capital's 'noble' stone [13 August 2013]
Citizen: Ottawa, the ersatz capital [28 August 2013]

Friday, July 26, 2013

NCC agrees to crosswalk

A small improvement in the over-governed capital - Lincoln Fields transitway station, surely the worst-designed transit hub in Christendom, is getting a pedestrian crossing:

Lincoln Fields Station is a huge hub of Ottawa's western Transitway through which nearly all buses headed west travel. But it's also kind of isolated by roadways, hemmed in to the north by the Transitway, the west by the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway, the east by a big field, and the south by Carling Avenue. It was never designed with pedestrians or cyclists in mind, and has used obstacles (mostly fences and barricades) to try and shepherd people along major detours in order to get anywhere.

For example: Someone headed westbound who wanted to go to the shopping centre would be forced to climb a set of stairs on the westbound platform, cross over the Transitway to the eastbound platform, cross over again to the local platform into the main station and then along to Carling Avenue--after which they're finally on an actual street, but no closer to the shopping centre itself than when they initially got off the bus. (Of course, many people simply take their chances running across the Parkway, a pretty treacherous crossing during rush hour.)

Thankfully, though, that's changing, and the station will get slightly better from a walking perspective, as was confirmed earlier in the week by Bay Ward councillor Mark Taylor:

"Took me a year to convince NCC. Also paved and plowed pathways down embankment to access new crosswalk."

People have been crossing the Parkway at this location for decades, so the need was obvious. And, obviously, death's too good for the folks who 'designed' Lincoln Fields station in the first place. But if you want something done in Ottawa, there's always that extra hurdle.

Public Transit In Ottawa: Better pedestrian access coming to Lincoln Fields Station [26 July 2013]

Friday, June 28, 2013

NCC fountain still dry

On a slow news day, Kelly Egan amuses himself checking out NCC fountains. From the Citizen:

Little things, as I say, trip them up. There is a wonderful map at the back of the war museum that shows features along the river paths. In the legend, there is an icon for water fountain. On the map itself, there are no water fountains indicated. None, not even the one 200 metres away. Huh?

Further west, there is a sign on the southside path indicating Rue Cleary Street. It is quite a nice NCC sign, all logo-ed up, except it's wrong. It's Cleary Avenue, as someone has corrected in magic marker.

Not far from there, there is another water fountain, just off the path on the south side of the parkway, near the Woodroffe Avenue exit. It works, but the returning water leaks like a sieve from the drain, falling onto the ground.

Dear God of all Things Plumbing, how hard is it to have a water fountain that operates properly? Cripes, forget I even asked. (The NCC reports only two of 44 urban fountains are out of service and apologizes for any inconvenience.)

So, to recap the day: the fountain at the Champlain Bridge is either out of service, coming into service, has a leaky line, or a secure line, has a wonky meter, or new one, and all water fountains, of course, are a "priority and necessity" for the NCC.

And, please Lord, send me some real work, real soon.

Citizen: Three years later, NCC fountain still dry [28 June 2013]

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Watson calls for reform

Ottawa Business Journal reports that Mayor Watson may be hardening his approach to dealing with the NCC:

Fed up over his inability to reach a compromise with the National Capital Commission on several key municipal files, Mayor Jim Watson signalled he'll be suggesting changes to how the federal Crown corporation goes about its business.

[...]"Over the course of the next couple of months I'm going to be speaking about how I think we can reform the NCC to make sure that it is more of a help than a hindrance," said Mr. Watson, who made the comments to tourism officials at an event organized by the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association.

He referred to the NCC as "another level of government that no other city in the country has to deal with."

Mr. Watson, without going into specifics about what he wants changed, singled out a number of policy areas in which the NCC has created a "problem" for the city's attempts to attract visitors.

[...]A particular source of frustration appears to involve the city's plan to extend its light-rail transit project to the west. The city is currently working on a route that would take the project farther west of the current construction route, which only goes as far as Tunney's Pasture.

[...]"When we're trying to get light rail even farther west and take one and a half acres of scrub land and they're saying 'sorry you can't do that, try another option that's going to cost you another $600 million,' that's a problem," said Mr. Watson.

OBJ: Watson calls for NCC reforms [16 May 2013]

Friday, March 22, 2013

NCC loses public programming to Heritage

Budget day, and the NCC has had all of its public programming and promotional activities handed over to Canadian Heritage. A few optimists are speculating that this could spell the beginning of the end for the NCC, but we remain skeptical. Nevertheless, from the Citizen:

As part of the federal budget unveiled by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, the government said Canadian Heritage will take over the promotion of the capital - a key function the NCC has performed for 25 years. The federal government said iconic functions that have defined the NCC since the days of former chairman Jean Pigott, such as Canada Day celebrations, the Winterlude festival, the sound and light show and tours of Parliament, will now be undertaken by a federal department reporting directly to a minister.

[...]Katharine Graham, professor of public policy at Carleton University, noted that with Canada Lands Corporation increasingly playing a bigger role in land development, and municipal governments on both sides of the river doing their own planning, she wonders how much "land-use planning" will be left for the NCC to do.

"This is a major cut of a couple limbs and it is a legitimate question to ask why we need the NCC," said Graham.

"We are approaching Canada's 150th birthday, and it seems the NCC will now not have a central role in the anniversary. I am pessimistic about the NCC's future. It does signal the beginning of the final days of the NCC."

Architecture critic Rhys Phillips, who has regularly criticized the NCC's performance in capital design, acknowledged the government decision "means the end of the NCC as we know it," but says that's a good thing because a smaller, more nimble NCC can focus on the more important job of designing a better capital.

"I hope it is the end of the NCC we've seen become bloated and dysfunctional for the last 20 to 25 years," Phillips said.

"We don't need the NCC organizing birthday parties. The NCC should be left as a very small design coordinating body led by urban design/architecture professionals. It should be the design overseer for the government."

[...]Baird said with the changes now in place the government will move "in very short order" to start the process of picking a new CEO to replace Marie Lemay who left the job last August to join the federal bureaucracy as associate deputy minister of infrastructure.

In 2006, the Conservative government asked University of Ottawa professor Gilles Paquet to lead a review of the NCC's mission. The panel said that its mandate should be strengthened to restore the NCC "to its former glory and importance." The report led to the creation of a separate post of chief executive officer, which Lemay filled.

Citizen: Department of Canadian Heritage to assume some National Capital Commission duties [22 March 2013]
Citizen: Experts worry about the future of the NCC after budget transfers key functions to Heritage [22 March 2013]
Citizen: Better LeBreton Flats key to downtown improvements, Baird says [23 March 2013]
CBC: Heritage to take over Canada Day, Winterlude from NCC [22 March 2013]
Radio Canada: Patrimoine canadien reprend à la CCN l'organisation d'événements phares à Ottawa [22 March 2013]

Monday, February 25, 2013

History of the Vanier Parkway

First in a four part series, Vanier Now takes a look at the history of the Vanier Parkway - a creation of the Greber plan that saw rail lines throughout the city torn up and turned into arterial roadways.

Vanier Now: The History of the Vanier Parkway - Part One: Bytown and Prescott Railway Company [25 February 2013]

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Whither the NCC CEO

In the wake of some minor layoffs at the NCC, the Citizen's Kelly Egan wonders at the somewhat more remarkable fact that the NCC has been without a CEO lo these many months:

The departure of Marie Lemay was announced on July 6. We are closing in on eight months later, still with no permanent replacement as day-to-day head of operations at the National Capital Commission. Where did the glamour go?

[...]The NCC announced this week it was eliminating 29 positions from the Crown corporation, some of them fairly senior. More shrinkage.

And earlier this month, there was a public pull-back on plans to expand the Greenbelt designation to more private land in the east, west and south ends - and this after years of study. Oopsies.

Add this to a report in January that the NCC is not even a player in Domtar's continuing efforts to unload its key holdings in the Ottawa River islands, principally Chaudière. That's just sad.

Taken together, a cynic might see an organization rolling merrily along like a moving bus without a driver or a road map. Where is it going?

In other words, even an organization that does many, many different things needs its eye on a prize. What is theirs?

Citizen: The NCC has no CEO. Shouldn't this matter? [21 February 2013]
Citizen: National Capital Commission cuts 29 jobs as budget shrinks [20 February 2013]
CBC: NCC axes 29 positions [20 February 2013]

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Greenbelt Club plan off the table

Due to a lack of subscriptions, the NCC's recently announced Greenbelt Club is closing its doors:

The National Capital Commission has confirmed it will halt plans to expand Ottawa's greenbelt into surrounding private property.

The confirmation, in a letter to landowners this week, will be welcome news to a majority of residents who attended public consultations earlier this month to voice their opposition to the proposal, which would have seen the NCC applying Greenbelt designation to private property in Shirley's Bay, Mer Bleue and Carlsbad Springs without purchasing the land.

Citizen: NCC confirms Greenbelt expansion plan off the table [14 February 2013]

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Have you heard the good news about how you could join the Greenbelt?

The Citizen reports on how the NCC asked landowners if they'd like to voluntarily join the Greenbelt - you know, like you join the Shriners or local lodge - and how they were surprised when the landowners said no:

The National Capital Commission is looking at scrapping a proposed expansion of the Greenbelt after landowners at a consultation meeting reacted with a level of opposition which, according to NCC CEO Jean-François Trépanier, caught the federal agency by surprise.

"They started in this with all the good intentions," Trépanier said of NCC staff. "And we may have created more anxiety than we should have. I recognize that."

[...]The NCC isn't looking to buy the land - they have been up front about not having the money for large-scale land acquisitions anymore - but just to extend the Greenbelt designation to cover the land while it stays in private hands.

The purpose of the proposal, which would also include lands in the Mer Bleue, airport and Carlsbad Springs areas, is to conserve ecological areas and create more extensive natural habitats. The NCC adds, in their pitch, that landowners who join the Greenbelt stand to earn rebates on both income and property taxes for their land stewardship.

[...]Another landowner, Mary Kennedy, whose property is just off Highway 417, said she had just about completed the sale of her land when the buyer found out about the NCC proposal and backed out of the deal.

During the meeting, Kennedy asked NCC staff whether she could opt out of having her land in the Greenbelt.

It was with that question that the real trouble began.

One of the NCC planners in the room told Kennedy that she should send in an email and the NCC's legal department would have her parcel of land removed from the proposal. Relieved to hear that, Kennedy was just about to leave the church when she heard that some other landowners in the same room had received a different answer on the opt-out question from other members of the NCC team.

"One person said 'Yes,' that you can opt out," landowner Darlene Glason said at the meeting. "Another person said that the (NCC) board would decide whether an area would be designated or not designated."

[...]At the meeting, Sylvie Lalonde, the NCC's project manager on the file, told the Citizen that the Greenbelt designation could not be forced onto private land.

"We cannot force someone to be part of the Greenbelt," she said.

Later, she acknowledged that the landowner's rights were not actually guaranteed.

"I don't see the NCC board forcing a land designation, but I can't speak on behalf of the NCC board," she said.

Clarifying later, the NCC planners said the issue of whether a landowner had the right to opt out had not actually been resolved before the meeting was held.

What staff did assure landowners of during the meeting, however, was that it wouldn't make any difference, for planning purposes, whether their land was in the Greenbelt or not. The zoning of private land is not within the NCC's jurisdiction, they explained, and if a city council wants to change the zoning they can do so, without being held up by the Greenbelt designation.

[...]Glason said the landowners were frustrated that the NCC didn't have these issues worked out before inviting them to a meeting.

From the perspective of the landowners, she said, gaining an understanding of the law - what rights the landowners have and what the NCC is allowed and not allowed to do - must be the starting point of the conversation. There's no point talking about a conservation plan, she said, until those facts are laid out.

[...]Trépanier said the agency approached the discussion with the landowners in a sincere attempt to find willing partners in the conservation effort. In fact, coercion was so far from their minds, he said, that they never thought to ready themselves for the legal questions.

Citizen: Landowner backlash causes NCC rethink of Greenbelt expansion plans [6 February 2013]
CBC: Greenbelt expansion plan gets chilly reception [6 February 2013]

Sunday, February 3, 2013

How parkways are renamed

The Citizen made an access to information request to the NCC for anything on the surprise renaming of the Ottawa River Parkway last year. What they got in return confirms everything we ever suspected about planning in the capital. Kelly Egan reports:

The National Capital Commission has released 180 pages of documents on the renaming of the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway in August.

[...]Discussion of why the renaming was a good idea - why now? why this road? - has been redacted, never occurred, or sits in vaults beyond the reach of the Access to Information law.

[...]Citizen reporter Ian MacLeod asked for all records relating to the renaming of the Ottawa River Parkway from 2007 until late in 2012.

Good idea. It seemed, for one thing, to come out of the blue when it was rolled out at a morning press briefing by Baird on Aug. 15, 2012.

Indeed, from 2007 until the fall of 2011, there was no discussion. Zero. Not one word or memo.

Then came an op-ed piece in the Citizen from Bob Plamondon, an author often referred to as a "Tory insider."

[...]Days after publication, the wheels were turning at the NCC, with a lot of head-scratching about who needed to be consulted and why, and where the landmines might be buried.

The email trail touches a small army of NCC officials, from CEO Marie Lemay to chair Russell Mills to in-house lawyers to media staff, from VPs to secretaries. They don't, however, get far.

[...]Another staffer wrote an email to Corriveau, saying there had been requests to name various NCC spots after people like Karsh, or Elizabeth Manley or war veterans, and "we have always declined."

[...]NCC and Co. did a fairly good job of keeping the renaming secret, save for a leak to Le Droit just before the announcement.

Too good a job, apparently.

The day after the unveiling, complete with a Sir John A. look-alike, the RCMP were on the phone.

"(An officer) just called me regarding the Ottawa River Parkway name change," a media staffer wrote to corporate affairs. "He expressed his concern as they (and other emergency services) had not been advised of the name change."

Oops. Guess it would help to tell the police authority that actually patrols the parkway.

And so, as late as five and six days after the public unveiling, NCC staff were sending emails to the City of Ottawa, festival organizers, museums and others, letting them know the old street name had been pulled from under them.

Seriously? What terrible planning, especially for a national "planning" organization.

Citizen: Renaming of the Ottawa River Parkway remains shrouded in mystery [3 February 2013]

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bookstore location remains vacant

Last year, Nicholas Hoare Books closed after the NCC raised its rent. The store remains vacant. David Reevely reports in the Citizen:

Nine months after Nicholas Hoare's Sussex Drive bookstore closed because the National Capital Commission wanted to nearly double its rent, the storefront remains empty.

"The NCC is currently in negotiations with interested parties," said spokesman Cédric Pelletier. "The location itself is popular."

At the same time, he said, the commission is "not in a position to provide a timeline" for when it might be rented. The NCC intends to find a tenant who'll pay market rent, though Pelletier wouldn't specify what that might be.

A flyer from Colliers, the commercial real-estate company, invites tenants to rent the space at 419 Sussex Dr. for about $6,500 a month to start, just more than Nicholas Hoare was paying as it ended its tenancy.

"It was a little more than $6,000, all-in," said Hoare last week from his warehouse in Montreal. "They wanted to raise it 72 per cent immediately and have it rise to a 93-per-cent increase by the end of five years. ... You should never take a lease that goes up that much."

The NCC has never confirmed the terms it was offering except to say that it made a business decision to charge market rent, but a 72-per-cent increase to a $6,000 monthly rent would have had the store paying $10,320 a month by now. Pelletier again declined last week to confirm or deny Hoare's numbers.

[...]Hoare is still angry about the way his relationship with the NCC broke down. He and the commission were good for each other, he said, with the bookstore providing an anchor for a stretch of Sussex that doesn't have much retail activity. "They were extremely keen to have us," he said. "They sought us out, not the other way around." The rent hike left him feeling "betrayed," he said.

Another frustration was the commission's insistence on a lease of just a few years: the custom shelves and lights and other accoutrements the store had, so essential to its boutique atmosphere, were expensive and Hoare wanted a long lease to amortize the cost. He has a 20-year lease for his store in Toronto, he said, but the NCC wouldn't ordinarily agree to more than three years at a time in Ottawa.

[UPDATE] Two days later, the Citizen has followed up with an editorial:

But Wellington Street is not the only part of the city in which federally owned buildings are shuttered. There is Sparks Street, which is perennially underutilized. And there is Sussex Drive, where the location that used to be home to Nicholas Hoare Books remains empty, as the Citizen's David Reevely reported, nine months after the popular shop closed and the owner complained that the National Capital Commission was raising rents out of reach.

The NCC says it is negotiating with interested parties to lease 419 Sussex Dr. According to a real estate listing, the price is $6,500 a month, just over what Hoare was paying when, he says, the NCC told him it was raising rent so that it would be up by 93 per cent after five years. It would have been paying more than $10,000 a month by now. Another frustration for the bookseller was the NCC's refusal to sign a long-term lease.

The NCC, for its part, says it is looking for the market rate to lease the buildings. Which is a good thing if the NCC is going to be a landlord. But why should it be a landlord on Sussex Drive or Sparks Street at all? Is there significant benefit, financial or otherwise, being derived for either the City of Ottawa or the Capital of Canada? Or for the NCC?

Last word to Citizen letter-writer Michael J. DiCola:

Regarding the article about the National Capital Commission's indoor vacant lot where one of the city's best bookstores used to stand, the more I read about the screwing over - there are no other words for it - administered to this business by the NCC, the angrier I get.

[...]The NCC's incredible short-sightedness in making it untenable for a longtime visitor magnet to continue operating in a very popular part of the city is a perfect bureaucratic example of a perfectly bureaucratic organization's reaping what it sowed. Anything for a buck. Well don't spend it all in one place, NCC.

Citizen: Nine months later, former Nicholas Hoare location on Sussex still vacant [26 January 2013]
Citizen: Problem landlord [28 January 2013]
Citizen: NCC's short-sightedness [29 January 2013]

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

NCC Board slams NCC planning

The Citizen reports on the latest NCC Board meeting where, even among that notoriously slow-moving group, the lack of progress on the seven-year "Capital Urban Lands Master Plan" has raised eyebrows:

Also at Wednesday's public meeting, some board members questioned why NCC staff need seven years to complete the Capital Urban Lands Master Plan. It was begun in 2008 and is expected to be completed in 2015 and is meant to guide decisions about use and development of federal and NCC lands.

"I'm a little puzzled why this process has taken so long," said board member Richard Jennings.

"The climate and realities will change significantly," said board member Jason Sordi. "Are we confident that the whole process that will lead us to 2015 will continue to be fully relevant?"

Board member Peter Burgener dismissed NCC planner Madeleine Demers's presentation of a progress report on the plan.

"I don't think there's enough substance to even discuss," he said. "There are no ideas here. I don't see a plan here. I just see motherhood."

Demers described the plan's themes as conservation of natural areas, experience of the capital, connectivity and regional vitality.

"We have a very large workload and a very small group," said Thornton, defending the lengthy process.

The work has been interrupted a few times, she said. And, public consultation adds years to the planning process.

The principles may be motherhood, she said. "but they're important motherhood. People are counting on us to take care of the motherhood going into the future.

"How do we adapt and respond to a lot of those pressures of urbanization and demands, for example on parkways, without losing that legacy and that character that is known as the capital?"

The NCC: taking care of the motherhood.

Citizen: NCC OKs removal of airport land from Greenbelt [23 January 2013]

Thursday, January 17, 2013

NCC looking for better ways to manage its rental properties

The NCC, never the most popular of landlords, is renewing its contract for property management. From the Citizen:

The National Capital Commission is tweaking the way it manages its $100-million portfolio of rental properties. And it is inviting the property management industry to offer advice about how to do it.

The NCC rents out about 600 residential, commercial, agricultural, institutional and recreational properties in the National Capital Region.

They include about 240 single-family homes in the Greenbelt and Gatineau Park, 15 apartment units in the ByWard Market, and 94 commercial properties, many of them along Sussex Drive. There's also 5,400 hectares of agricultural land, mostly in the Greenbelt.

The properties are leased to individuals, institutions, government agencies, not-for-profit organizations and commercial operators for terms ranging from one to 99 years.

Collectively, they contributed a significant share of the $19.3 million in revenues the NCC earned in 2011-12 from rental operations and easements.

The NCC privatized its leasing and property management operations in 1996. Minto managed the rental properties until 2009, when a new contractor, Dell Management Solutions, took over.

With Dell's contract set to expire in March 2014, the NCC plans to invite bids for a new multi-year property management contract this spring, with a decision by the fall.

But this time, the NCC wants to split the contract into two parts: one for its residential properties, and the other for the commercial and other properties.

Citizen: NCC looking for better way to manage its rental properties [17 January 2013]

 


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Working to consign the National Capital Commission to oblivion since 2000.