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.
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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.
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]
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]
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.
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]
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]
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]
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.
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]
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]
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]
NCC a step closer to completing Flats
Some exciting news, the NCC is a step closer to completing its now 60-year old project on the LeBreton Flats. From the Citizen:
The NCC's board of directors approved a $4.9-million contract on Tuesday for the cleanup of 6.5 hectares bordered by Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway to the north, an open aqueduct to the south, Booth Street to the east and a stretch north of Preston Street to the west.
Using the contaminated soil to reshape and cap a former landfill on Ridge Road will save the majority of expensive landfilling costs, staff told the board during a teleconference meeting.
The remediation is the next step in a plan to clean up and develop LeBreton Flats, some of which has been done in a Claridge Homes development on land to the east. A further report on plans for the area is expected to go to the board in January.
Work under the contract approved Tuesday would see soil removed down to bedrock. The project is expected to be completed by December 2013, and will leave a fenced-off area that's between two and four metres deep, staff said, until decisions are made about who is building what.
The contaminated soil contains metals and hydrocarbons, according to environmental assessment documents, as most industrial and residential buildings at LeBreton Flats were destroyed by a fire in 1900 that left the area covered in ash. The following decades saw residential and commercial use that included service stations and scrap yards before all buildings were demolished in the 1960s, and parts of the site were used for snow dumping between 1970 and 1990.
No word on decisions about who is building what.
Citizen: NCC awards $4.9M soil cleanup contract for LeBreton Flats [13 November 2013]
Ottawa Past and Present
Previously seen in an ongoing feature called Ottawa Now and Then at Spacing Ottawa, Alexandre Laquerre is now hosting his collection of archival photos of Ottawa at Ottawa Past and Present, complete with handy links to areas of interest, including favorites such as LeBreton Flats and Hull.
Ottawa Past and Present [3 November 2012]
City planning committee rejects Sussex demolitions
The city's planning committee has unanimously rejected the NCC's plan to demolish heritage homes along Sussex. From the Citizen:
Two old buildings on Sussex Drive can't be demolished to widen the road where it curves east along the Ottawa River, city council's planning committee decided Tuesday morning.
[...]"It's time to stop the steady erosion of our unique and modest community," said resident Donna Kearns, one of numerous local history buffs and community-association types to argue against the move. "Each and every property is important."
She blamed the National Capital Commission, which has worked steadily to turn Sussex Drive into a major ceremonial avenue with Parliament at one end and Rideau Hall at the other, for denigrating local history in pursuit of a national goal. The commission "has behaved like the worst kind of landlord," buying up properties along Sussex and letting them fall apart because it plans to tear them down someday.
[...]if city council endorses the planning committee's vote, the city's staff and the NCC will have to come up with some combination of these moves, something Daigneault said after the meeting is a challenge they'll have to deal with.
The councillors' message couldn't have been clearer, with nearly all the committee members making a point of rejecting the plan before the vote.
"We can't say this is a heritage district and then proceed to figure out how to reduce the heritage district," Rideau-Rockcliffe Councillor Peter Clark said.
"The priority seems to be cars. It's almost as if the NCC's living in a fantasy world, where protecting the national interest is the same as protecting the interests of cars," agreed Kitchissippi's Katherine Hobbs.
Citizen: NCC can't demolish houses to widen Sussex Drive, planning committee rules [23 October 2012]
Mile of History threatens actual history
Joanne Chianello points out the evident irony of demolishing history to build the 'Mile of History'. From the Citizen:
There's some pretty rich irony in the fact that the National Capital Commission's "Mile of History" project includes decimating some of the city's history.
[...]Building a straighter Sussex means that the NCC plans to tear down two properties it owns at 273 and 275-79 Sussex, both of which are in the Lowertown West Heritage Conservation District. Neither building has individual heritage status. Instead, they are considered so-called "Category 3," which in heritage-speak means they add to the character of a historic district.
The attractive, detached home at 273 Sussex was built by local grocers in 1949, but it's likely not as important to the history of that neighbourhood as the rowhouses at 275-79. They're modest but charming. And at more than 100 years old, they are the last remaining example of the working-class housing that once existed all along Sussex. If they disappear, so will a part of this city's history - there will be no visual reminder of the character of the street, which is exactly what the conservation district is supposed to protect.
[...]The city insists that Sussex be four lanes wide to accommodate traffic, while the NCC insists on sidewalks being 3.6 metres wide (for pedestrians, benches and light posts) and having separate, 1.5 metre-wide cycling lanes. It's worth mentioning that this segment of Sussex, between Cathcart and Bolton streets - across from the Royal Canadian Mint - is beyond the prime tourist area and sees little foot traffic.
The NCC says moving the building is too expensive, although that's a relative concept. Is $750,000 to move the rowhouse "expensive" when seen in the context of the $30-million price tag for Sussex Drive project?
The real problem is that heritage considerations are all too often an afterthought. Instead of starting from the premise that the Sussex rowhouses were protected by the conservation district, the city and the NCC drafted their criteria for the project first, and only then tried to figure out if they could save the building.
[...]The issue goes to planning committee next Tuesday. Here's a strategy they might consider: wait.
This streetscaping project has been on the books since 1962. That's right - 50 years.
What's the rush now?
The NCC doesn't have any immediate plans for the site other than flattening the homes, although it proposes to develop the land a few years down the road. If everyone can't come to a solution at this moment, why not straighten Sussex when the property is redeveloped? That way, a developer can help to defray the costs of moving the rowhouse, or at least keeping the facade.
A 50 year plan to straighten a road + No plan for the site of the demolished buildings = Another stop on the NCC Watch Confederation Boulevard Walking Tour of NCC Planning Disasters.
Citizen: NCC's Mile of History threatens actual history [19 October 2012]
NCC houses in west end to be demolished
The NCC is demolishing some houses near the Greenbelt in the west end, presumably before they burn down. From Ottawa Business Journal:
These houses form part of a portfolio of some 240 NCC residential properties that the commission owns with the intention of "renaturalizing" the areas, said Mary Ann Waterston, director of real estate management at the NCC.
[...]The NCC leases out the houses and performs periodic assessments of the dwelling conditions. Once the house requires extensive work such as a roof replacement, the NCC terminates the lease and puts the building on a list for demolition. "The intent is they would be demolished at the end of their lifecycle (to) return the land," she says.
The properties are 4052 Old Richmond Rd., 3836 Carling Ave., 2675 (529) Robertson Rd., 2835 (649) Robertson Rd., 27 Moodie Dr.
OBJ: Five NCC houses slated for demolition [4 October 2012]
Heritage Committee rejects Sussex demolitions
The Ottawa Built Heritage Advisory Committee met September 20 and heritage advocates took the opportunity to slam the city and the NCC for their road-widening scheme. From EMC East Ottawa:
Heritage advocates accused the city and National Capital Commission of paving over a compelling national story as they plan to demolish three Sussex Drive homes to widen the road.
[...]The widening is a longstanding project led the NCC to purchase the three homes in the 1980s as part of a plan to redevelop the "Mile of History" section of Confederation Boulevard.
But during an Ottawa Built Heritage Advisory Committee meeting on Sept. 20, heritage advocates said the project attempts to rewrite Canada's history where a compelling national narrative already exists.
The committee rejected city staff's recommendation to allow the demolitions. That recommendation will go to the planning committee and then city council for final approval.
[...]"It makes you wonder why the national interest couldn't be to protect what they have already almost erased," said Chris Mulholland, heritage committee chairman. "If you erase all the heritage that's there, what's worth having it as a national boulevard?"
Retaining the homes, especially 277 Sussex Dr., would "speak eloquently to the humble roots of our country," said Leslie Maitland, president of Heritage Ottawa.
"The history of Ottawa is more than embassies," she said.
[...]A plan to widen the road has been in the works since the 1960s due to the need to increase safety at the curve, said John Smit, manager of urban development review. The $30 million worth of changes will better accommodate cyclists and pedestrians, he said. There will be bike lanes in both directions and the sidewalks will be up to three metres wide.
The speed limit in that 1.5-kilometre section is currently 40 kilometres per hour and the city plans to increase it to 50 kilometre per hour after the curve is straightened out.
David Jeanes, a heritage advocate who spoke at the meeting as president of Transport Action Canada, said the transportation rationale for the project is flawed.
The natural traffic calming of the curve slows traffic down as it approaches one of the few pedestrian crossings in the area.
If cyclists aren't comfortable sharing the road with motorists, there are side street options nearby. The city could get away with including chevron markings called "sharrows" that indicate cyclists and motorists should share the road, Jeanes said.
"Do the sidewalks need to be widened? What is the pedestrian volume here?" Jeanes asked. "Here, it has not been shown that transportation trumps heritage."
[...]The demolitions will also mean a $14,000 reduction in annual tax revenue for the city.
EMC: Heritage group rejects Sussex demolitions [27 September 2012]
City to help NCC complete Confederation Boulevard
As part of its Sussex widening project, and in a spirit of cooperation, the city wants to help the NCC finish the job of demolishing Lowertown, in progress lo these many decades, for a green, park-like setting. From the Citizen:
Planners are looking to tear down rental homes owned by the National Capital Commission at 273 and 275-279 Sussex Dr. for a project that includes adding two cycling lanes to a curved stretch of road near Bolton and Cathcart streets as part of larger improvement work between King Edward Avenue and St. Patrick Street. The project is led by the city with NCC involvement.
In July, the NCC's board endorsed the idea of knocking down the homes for the work, and the plans now go to the city government for approval to remove the buildings from the Lowertown West Heritage Conservation District.
Although such demolitions should not be supported "as a general principle," the city's planning department says various issues are at stake, and safety, transportation and the NCC's wishes to complete its ceremonial route are most important.
"The Department supports the proposed roadway and the demolitions it entails as it will solve a safety issue that has been identified for decades, will provide mobility choices through its incorporation of dedicated bike lanes and will support the NCC in its goal of completing Confederation Boulevard," staff say in a report going to the Ottawa built heritage advisory committee on Thursday.
"In addition, the proposed interim landscaped area will enhance the pedestrian experience in the area by providing views across the river from a green, park-like setting."
[...]As conditions of approval, staff recommend the buildings be documented before they're torn down, and the leftover vacant space landscaped until the NCC decides what it wants to do with it.
"Such landscaping would serve a number of purposes in the interim: enhancing the pedestrian experience by providing an opportunity to experience the views across the Ottawa River towards the historic Alexandra Bridge and beyond to the Gatineau Hills; animating this portion of the street; and, masking the side and back yards of the adjacent properties on Bolton and Cathcart," the report states.
So, a park on the new, wider, straighter and faster Confederation Boulevard - until the NCC gets around to deciding who gets to put their embassy there - and more work for city archivists. But frankly, we're not sure what this talk of "masking" those unsightly yards is about - why not tear down those adjacent properties for an even bigger green, park-like setting? More buildings to document, more green - what could be better?
Citizen: Sussex Drive homes should be demolished for road project, city staff say [15 September 2012]
Protecting Lowertown heritage
Late last year, the Lowertown Community Association met with the City and the NCC to go over the recently approved plan to widen and straighten Sussex Drive between St Patrick and King Edward, which includes demolishing the two houses that remain, between Cathcart and Bolton. In April this year, they wrote a thoughtful letter to the NCC opposing the widening and suggesting a variety of alternate approaches for rebuilding the street. The NCC's reply is instructive:
It is important to note that the Sussex Drive Reconstruction Project is a project piloted by the City of Ottawa on an Arterial Road. The NCC's contribution to this project is the specific elements associated with Confederation Boulevard added to the urban reconstruction, which is usually under City responsibility.
The need for a larger right-of-way in this sector for road reconstruction purposes dates back to the early sixties. The buildings in question were situated on the planned right-of-way and it was for this reason that expropriation notices were issued at that time. The buildings were finally acquired in 1980.
The residential vocation of these properties has been continuously maintained since their acquisition. The vocation of all NCC properties in this sector, as defined in the 2005 Canada's Capital Core Area Sector Plan, is residential in nature. We stopped leasing the houses when we learned that the reconstruction project was to go ahead.
As part of our objectives to build a user-friendly and safe capital for all active transportation enthusiasts, whether they are pedestrians or cyclists, the NCC strongly supports the bicycle lane that is included in the reconstruction project.
Rest assured that we have asked the City of Ottawa to examine several scenarios, including the one mentioned in your correspondence, in order to preserve the residences between 273 and 279 Sussex Drive. The City of Ottawa, which is responsible for traffic on its territory, has not accepted any of the scenarios to preserve our properties and the dedicated bicycle lane.
The NCC position all along, then, amounted to:
One supposes that we should thank the NCC for their incompetence in taking 20 years to act on an expropriation on behalf of the City, which is finally getting around to executing some neanderthal plan from the 60s. This is all nonsense of course. When the City asked to put light rail next to the recently renamed Sir John A. Macdonald commuter freeway, the NCC somewhere found the stones to say No. And the NCC expropriated all the properties along Sussex ages ago because they thought the Embassies of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia would look ever so much nicer and more official looking.
The Lowertown Community Association followed up with another letter; the NCC never saw fit to respond.
Canal-side bars not buried in red tape
In the Citizen, Joanne Chianello reports that, unaccountably, the NCC has so far not screwed up its first timid foray into animating the waterways:
Sachin Anand was as surprised as anyone when he got word that the National Capital Commission was going to allow him to serve alcohol by the side of the Rideau Canal.
Yet as of last weekend, Anand and his business partner, Jason Victor, were indeed pouring beer and wine on the east bank of the UNESCO World Heritage site, practically in the shadow of the Ottawa Convention Centre. The old high-school friends' new venture, Pop Up Patios, is the result of an NCC initiative to liven up the shorelines of the canal.
"Initially, I expected them to be a much harder sell," Anand says of the NCC bureaucrats. "But they have been extremely pleasurable to work with."
You read that right: A pleasure. The NCC. But there was plenty of red tape, right?
Apparently, not so much.
"When we submitted the design for the patio, the NCC was back to us pretty quickly," Anand says. "The choice of furniture was up to us, but considering it's a site where people take a lot of photos, they wanted to make sure that it doesn't look too rag-tag, that it has a certain amount of class."
Also singing the NCC's praises these days is Colin Goodfellow. The commission bought into his ambitious concept for a large cedar deck and faux beach (it's more of a large sandbox), also on the east side of the canal. Just north of the Corktown footbridge, it was also chosen as one of the five NCC's features along the canal.
Goodfellow's project, called 8 Locks Flat, got off the ground just this past weekend and is still a work in progress.
[...]"The NCC bent over backwards to be supportive," says Goodfellow, who is, amazingly, also the CEO of the Kemptville Hospital. [...]The commission approved the project within two days of receiving Goodfellow's engineer's report.
[...]The NCC is again keeping eye on the capital's esthetic with the canal-side attractions, but this time, taxpayers aren't paying a cent. The NCC is allowing the proponents to use the land for three seasons (which run anywhere from May to October, depending on the project) and providing staff support. But the operators are taking all the financial risk.
Citizen: From Bixi to canal-side bars [10 July 2012]
Ottawa's one-dimensional waterfront
In the Citizen, Ottawa architecture critic Rhys Phillips takes a look at the NCC's one-dimensional waterfront, as compared to other cities, and pitches a few ideas for how Ottawa could be improved:
Certainly, waterside parks are necessary components of good urban quality of place. But too much green can become just as much a barrier as industry or railway tracks.
Ottawa's so-called "Parkways" along the Ottawa River, a product of the car-focused and deeply flawed Gréber Plan of 1950, are primarily low-speed controlled-access freeways. Similarly, the canal roads, especially Colonel By Drive with only a narrow path between road and water, operate as commuter arterials. On the sunniest of summer days, beyond the beaches, only a minuscule percentage of Ottawans can be found along any of the city's numerous waterways. A decent latte, much less a meal, cannot be had along the over 60 kilometres of trails along the Ottawa or Rideau Rivers; and the canal is little better.
The American Project for Public Spaces, in its guide How to Transform a Waterfront, argues for the "power of 10," that is, there should be at least 10 "destinations" along a successful waterfront. A focus on connected destinations, rather than "open space," they argue, is a requirement for success. "Creating these connections ... entails mixing uses (such as housing, parks, entertainment and retail) and mixing partners (such as public institutions and local business owners)."
[...]Unlike many cities, Ottawa appears frozen in a planning time warp. Internationally, comparable cities such as Helsinki and Copenhagen are embracing their waterways as places for living, learning, working and playing.
[...]A prime candidate would be anchored by the long-in-planning brownfield redevelopment of the city-owned Bayview Yards but extended across NCC lands to the Ottawa River and out the peninsula leading to Bell Island. The Ottawa River Parkway would swing inward to become a more pedestrian friendly boulevard. Mid-rise residential blocks - including condos, rentals, co-ops and social housing - with street based retail, commercial services and cultural facilities would extend daily life to the shoreline although quays, interspersed with softer but quality landscape architecture would remain public spaces.
Descending from homes or professional offices beside the river, residents could join visitors from other parts of the city at outdoor terraces on the public quays for a Bridgehead coffee or a meal at a three-star restaurant featuring local produce from a market square. Perhaps, as at Selkirk Waters in Victoria, people could launch or rent a kayak to paddle Lazy Bay or the nearby Islands.
The cycle shop next door will tune up your bike before a daylong ride or a morning commute across the converted railway trestle bridge, again copying Victoria's Galloping Goose trail bridge. Of course, the Gatineau side of this bridge could also emerge as its own bayside village, thus creating twinned communities linked by the trestle.
In addition, village development of the Hurdman Station lands and the NCC's un-poetically named riverside National Interest Land Mass could include a pedestrian bridge across the Rideau River to city-owned vacant land on the north shore. While this also serves to finally put to rest the lamentable Vanier "Parkway" plan, I would still envisage a village friendly tram - as can be found in downtown Portland, Oregon, or countless European cities - linking Lees Station to Hunt Club. At the northeastern edge of our new village, the existing Hurdman pedestrian trestle bridge connects into the University of Ottawa's south campus.
The NCC recently authorized some food trucks to operate near the canal, and has solid long-term plans to set up some folding chairs at undisclosed locations.
Citizen: Bring life to the water [8 July 2012]
NCC CEO Lemay moves on
NCC CEO Marie Lemay is moving further up the bureaucratic greasy pole in Ottawa. From the Citizen:
Lemay will step down next month as the NCC's chief executive to become Associate Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, one of a spate of senior public service appointments made Friday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Lemay told NCC employees that she is leaving the commission after 4 1/2 years "with mixed feelings," but she is secure in her own mind that her mission to drag the much maligned agency into a new era of accountability, openness and relevance is done. She told the Citizen that what's considered her defining project - a new plan to succeed Jacques Gréber's 1950 capital blueprint - is in good hands and would be completed as planned.
"The challenge I had when I came in was to champion openness and transparency, and if I look at the organization today and what it was, I am very proud of what we have done. I am leaving an organization that has a total different way of thinking ... a whole cultural shift in how we do business," Lemay said in an interview.
"We've become a much more nimble and flexible organization, we've become open and transparent and the way we do things is part of who we are. I am quite confident that we are not going back, no matter who steps (into) that role."
[...]Lemay championed many things, but said she is proudest of the BIXI bike-sharing program, of buying more land in Gatineau Park to prevent development, and of the ambitious new plan for the capital's next 50 years.
While many praised Lemay's infectious enthusiasm, critics said she lacked the vision to do the big things that really define great capitals. Waterfront development, redevelopment of Sparks Street and animation of Ottawa's shorelines were not far advanced under her leadership. University of Ottawa professor Gilles Paquet, who chaired the review panel that led to her appointment, once said that Lemay's NCC became too "timid" to do much good.
Lemay dismissed that criticism Friday, saying like most people, she wanted things to happen fast. But the reality is that the NCC can't just wave a magic wand and things would happen, she said. It operates in a complex world of different players and conflicting interests.
"There are some things that you'd like to happen faster. There are so many good ideas and projects and you want to see these happen, but you have to be realistic because there are different players," she said.
"You have to learn to be a little patient."
Lemay can be certainly credited for not overstaying her welcome, unlike the late unlamented imperial chairmanship of Marcel Beaudry.
Citizen: Lemay leaving NCC to take senior Public Service appointment [6 July 2012]
NCC endorses road widening
The NCC Board has approved the demolition of the last two original homes on a stretch of Sussex so that the city can widen the street. From the Citizen:
Planners have settled on the idea of demolishing NCC-owned rental homes at 273 and 275-279 Sussex Dr., and adding cycling lanes to the four lanes of traffic. Green space would be created by some of the area left vacant once the homes were knocked down, the board heard.
No real improvements have been made in the area since the 1960s, NCC project manager Richard Daigneault told board members. A staff report to the board said that the need to fix the curve to improve sightlines and make the road safer was first identified that same decade.
"Lane widths are inadequate and the curvature of the road does not meet design and safety standards," it says.
Residents and heritage advocates have raised concerns about the potential loss of the homes, which sit in the Lowertown West Heritage Conservation District. Former governor general Adrienne Clarkson lived in one of them for a brief period while growing up.
The city and NCC looked at other options that would save the homes, such as building a cantilevered road and installing shared lanes, but found they were too expensive or didn't provide adequate safety.
Reducing the number of vehicle lanes was the NCC's preferred approach, but the city said that would cause too many traffic problems, especially at rush hour.
Just one more small step in the destruction of Lowertown. While road-widening and straightening to increase traffic speeds is absolutely typical of the City, the NCC's record of managing the properties that they expropriated in this area is pretty poor. As this classic from the Citizen archives makes clear, by allowing the demolition of these last two houses, the NCC is simply finishing the job they started decades ago.
Citizen: NCC endorses demolition of two Sussex Drive homes [30 June 2012]
Marking the LeBreton expropriation
Heritage Ottawa held a function on April 19 to mark 50 years of futility since the LeBreton Flats were expropriated by the NCC. EMC Ottawa reports that the NCC were in attendance with all their usual excuses for their jaw-dropping incompetence:
One section of The Mill Street Brew Pub was standing room only as Heritage Ottawa members and residents gathered to reflect on a time when LeBreton Flats was a thriving community complete with homes, businesses and churches.
On April 19, they paid tribute to the community and marked 50 years since the LeBreton expropriations in 1962, which were intended to make way for urban renewal.
[...]Ottawa author Phil Jenkins spoke first about the history of the flats, starting 11,000 years ago when the area was under the sea.
[...]He showed paintings by an artist named Ralph Wallace Burton, who was a friend of The Group of Seven's A.Y. Jackson, and who painted the flats before they disappeared.
"After April 19, 1962, 2,800 people received notices from the National Capital Commission saying as of yesterday, the title of your home as been expropriated and the NCC holds titles to the house you're in," Jenkins said.
Jenkins also spoke about the last building to come down - which sparked memories from former residents of the flats who were at the commemoration.
"The last building to come down was the Duke House and it held its last St. Patrick's Day party in 1965," said Jenkins.
Roger Picton, an urban geography professor at Trent University, spoke next about the reconstruction of Ottawa's urban landscape and planning after the Second World War.
[...]Lori Thornton of the NCC spoke about how it plans to revive the LeBreton Flats area as a signature development for the city.
She also outlined the NCC's challenges. Ideas for the area have come up in the past, but didn't work out, like a National Defence headquarters during the mid-1960s to mid-1970s and a possible new Museum of Nature building, Thornton said.
"One major issue that was fully understated at the time of acquisition was the extent of the soil and groundwater contamination of the site," Thornton said. "When you have one-third to a half of the site as railway use, they leave behind the nastiest stuff you can imagine, and there were a range of other industries in the area."
Now, she said there are many regulations and laws, and levels of certain substances that are acceptable to have in soil if the site is to be developed.
"You really, really have to clean up the site," Thornton said.
She added that there have also been issues of ownership on the flats after expropriation, with the regional government taking over regional roads in 1969 and the lands also being owned by the NCC and the city.
Finally, she said another major challenge relates to the city's light rail transit plans.
"Light rail is hopefully coming and will be great, but the LeBreton plan has to adapt," Thornton said.
EMC Ottawa: Heritage Ottawa marks LeBreton expropriation [26 April 2012]
Paquet takes another swipe at the NCC's timidity
Gilles Paquet, the Ottawa U academic in charge of the NCC mandate review a few years back, continues to criticize the NCC for its "timidity":
Gilles Paquet, an expert in public management and professor at the University of Ottawa's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said he hopes the public brings transportation up at the NCC's annual public meeting where the organization is welcoming citizens to learn more about its initiatives and directly address its board members with ideas and comments.
"There has been very, very timid action taken by the NCC over the past few years on the key issue of transportation," he said. "They've had a number of interesting improvements in doing business by offering these public consultations, but the substance of what they've achieved is very minimal."
The hundreds of buses that clutter the bridges between Ottawa and Gatineau on a daily basis, Paquet said, are creating chaos on the roads and hindering the growth of the city.
"We still live in the chaos and nothing has been done to coordinate starting work on the both sides of the river," he said. "I would rather hear they're working on a light train that links Ottawa and Gatineau. Then we would have a real transportation hub."
Metro News: NCC's "timid" plans under fire from Ottawa U Prof [17 April 2012]
Sussex widening threatens heritage district
The City intends to widen and rebuild Sussex, and some NCC expropriated houses are to be demolished:
A major reconstruction project scheduled for a section of Sussex Drive in Lowertown has put the future of several Lowertown houses, including former governor general Adrienne Clarkson's first Canadian home, in doubt.
The city is planning to widen and add cycling lanes along Sussex, a project that would see National Capital Commission-owned houses at 273, 275, 277 and 279 Sussex Dr. demolished.
[...]The properties set to be demolished lie within the Lowertown West Heritage Conservation District and will require the NCC to apply to the city under the Ontario Heritage Act to obtain permission to have the buildings torn down.
This application is scheduled to happen in the summer and will be accompanied by a Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment.
According to Ziad Ghadban, an infrastructure services manager for the city, the project would not be able to go ahead as designed without the demolition of the buildings.
"The need is to correct the curvature and alignment of Sussex Drive between the Royal Canadian Mint and Boteler Street in order to include safe and continuous dedicated 1.5-metre cycling lanes in each direction," Ghadban said. "The dedicated cycling lanes would not be possible without the realignment."
Members of the Lowertown Community Association, however, aren't convinced. The group doesn't want to see Clarkson's former home or any of the other homes demolished.
In a letter addressed to the National Capital Commission, the city and area politicians, association president Marc Aubin made an appeal for the homes to be saved.
"Taken as a whole, losing another one or two buildings is not going to affect this neighbourhood's heritage," Aubin wrote. "However, when one considers how much has already been lost... then the question becomes are we reaching a point where it has become meaningless to call this a heritage district?"
As for the city's claims the demolitions are necessary to accommodate the cycling lanes, the letter expressed the association's stance that the need to preserve Lowertown's heritage should be paramount.
If the plan goes ahead, the City will effectively be finishing a process started by the NCC years ago.
YourOttawaRegion: Sussex widening threatens heritage district [10 April 2012]
Raise my rent - bookstore edition
Much ado about the announcement that Sussex Street bookseller Nicholas Hoare will close rather than pay the 72 per cent increase demanded by his landlord, the NCC. The NCC is one of the largest landlords in the region, with extensive property holdings and no shortage of unhappy tenants. The confusion stems from people mistaking the NCC's role - that somehow all that bumph on their website about protecting and building a capital means the NCC is something other than just another landlord. In fact, they are notably incompetent landlords. The Citizen's editorial sums it up best:
There are many reasons why bookstores are struggling these days, reasons that have nothing to do with the NCC. A Nicholas Hoare store in Montreal is, reportedly, also set to close.
But in Ottawa, it doesn't help that the NCC is raising the rent by 72 per cent, according to what an employee told the Citizen. Other stores and restaurants in the area complain that the NCC, like some other landlords, requires businesses to pay extra whenever their revenues exceed a set amount. It's an approach that penalizes businesses for doing well.
The NCC does have a responsibility to get market value for its properties, and a spokesman points out that anything else might be criticized as an unfair business practice. It's a fair point, but it illuminates the contradiction inherent in state ownership of commercial properties. If the NCC's bound to push rents to the limit the market will bear, the private sector could do that on its own.
If there's a need for a state landlord in the area, there must be considerations other than money in play. If not, Canadians should rethink whether it really needs the federal government to act as a commercial landlord, especially at a time when government should be getting smaller.
It's true that bookstores have to adapt to a changing market, but there's no reason to make it even more difficult for them to do so. Bookstores are community spaces, not just businesses. That's the kind of thing the NCC should care about.
If the NCC treats its landlord role as a simple commercial operation, Canadians should question why it has that role at all.
Citizen: Unforgiving landlord [15 March 2012]
Time to scrap the NCC
Mark Bourrie at Ottawa Magazine's Politics Chatter blog offers up a cost cutting suggestion for the feds:
I have an idea for Tony Clement and his budget cutters that will not only save federal taxpayers millions of dollars a year but will also recover hundreds of millions more that are locked up in federal real estate holdings. Let's get rid of the NCC.
It's a relic of the 1950s, an unwieldy, undemocratic, unresponsive, and expensive bureaucracy that replicates services and has no obvious public benefit. Lots of other NCC operations should either be handed to the city - with grants, if warranted - or to agencies of the federal and provincial governments.
Why, for instance, are small parks like Confederation Park across from City Hall and Brébeuf Park on the Ottawa River in the west end of Hull run by the NCC? Those parks serve no national purpose. They're city parks. Let the cities pay for them.
[...]Then there's LeBreton Flats.
Great job there, guys.
In the middle of one of the biggest building booms in the city's history, the NCC, sitting on hundreds of acres in the middle of the city, after spending millions on studies, comes up with a vast acreage of ragweed, a solitary tree that a hobo sleeps under, and the most ghastly piece of residential architecture that this city's seen in an awful long time.
[...]Then there's the issue of interprovincial bridges. The NCC tries to control those, too. When the Champlain Bridge was widened a decade ago, residents of the Island Park neighbourhood said it would not solve gridlock. It would simply facilitate urban sprawl on the Quebec side. And they were right. Vast areas of swamps west of Hull and north of Aylmer were quickly built over, and the wider Champlain Bridge is just as locked up at rush hour as it was 10 years ago. Island Park Drive is now a far less pleasant place during peak traffic times.
There was a reason the NCC could turn a deaf ear to the residents of Island park: the NCC is, essentially, an undemocratic organization. No one elects its board members, except for the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau, who sit as ex-officio members.
No minister takes responsibility for it in Parliament. Strangely, it files its financial reports through the ministry of Foreign Affairs. That's John Baird's ministry.
Sell it. Shut it down.
Canada and the World Pavilion for rent
When last heard from, the long-vacant Canada and the World Pavilion was the subject of rumored turf battles by various federal agencies vying to occupy it for office space, and filling with mould. Well the mould problem has been sorted apparently and the NCC is now putting it up for rent. From the Citizen:
The former Canada and the World Pavilion, whose future has been the source of lively debate over the years, is for rent.
The National Capital Commission (NCC) is seeking a public or private sector tenant who can turn the vacant building beside the Rideau Falls into a national attraction.
"We're looking for any kind of proposal," says Mary Ann Waterston, NCC director of real estate management. "Public access is very important to us. We are looking for something that would have a national purpose so that it could benefit all Canadians. It's an absolutely stunning building."
[...]Waterston didn't want to speculate on possible uses. "We want to see what's out there. What people's ideas will be."
However, a museum rather than an office building would be an example of something with broad public interest, she said. "I wouldn't accept a restaurant."
In the past, the NCC considered leasing it to an embassy but decided "that isn't what we want for that particular location," says Waterston. "There are other places in the city where that can take place."
According to a 2010 market analysis, the annual rent should be $254,000, not including operating costs and taxes.
[...]In 2007, the Governor General's office eyed the pavilion as a showplace for its Chancellery of Honour. At the same time, the Ottawa Art Gallery lobbied for it.
Then mould was discovered in 2008, which has since been remediated, said Waterston. "There's no mould."
Expressions of interest will be accepted until April 30.
Citizen: Wanted: Tenant for former Canada and the World pavilion [28 February 2012]
Talkin' 'bout 2067
In the Citizen, Kelly Egan compares the NCC's vision for 2067 to a local plan for a tourist streetcar:
On Feb. 21, the NCC is having a big public meeting to talk about Ottawa in 2067.
Horizon 2067, it is called. It is not subtitled Things to Do in Ottawa Long After You're Dead, only because I'm not in charge of promotion.
[...]But it is a moment to ask the following question: Should the National Capital Commission, and every other government or public authority, not be focusing on 2017, the country's 150th birthday, instead of day-dreaming about the capital in - let's just check the math - yes, indeed, 55 years?
Instead, we have two "workshops" scheduled to talk about Ottawa in the Starship Year 2067, but perhaps we're belabouring the point.
The Streetcar Committee has an intriguing idea. It would like to run a new, but old-fashioned looking streetcar down a short portion of downtown, with possible expansion into a loop across the Ottawa River.
[...]You can't help but admire their pluck. Lots of volunteer groups start with a burst of energy, run into bureaucratic molasses, get lost in the funding desert, and lose momentum. But they have stuck with it.
[...]It it not meant to be a form of rapid transit, or a replacement for planned light-rail service. Because of all the pedestrian traffic on Sparks, the car would slowly cling-clang along, stopping at intersections, making frequent stops and, on the whole, giving an impression of steady, big-city movement, sorely needed on the sad mall.
[...]In light of the NCC's insistence on a 50-year vision quest, here is an idea we can actually talk about - even do by 2017 - without having to take on the burden of a mega-project or go begging, cap-in-hand, to the John Bairds of the world.
To that end, Eltaher said a public-private partnership is on the table, meaning the taxpayer would not assume all the risk. He reports that the NCC is keen on the project while the city, which owns Sparks, has an interest that has ebbed and flowed over the years.
This is not to say this is perfect. Maybe it isn't feasible. But at least we have a concrete idea to start the conversation.
The NCC, meanwhile, is having two public "workshops" on what the capital should look like on our 200th birthday. The whole exercise is costing in excess of $600,000 and has involved a road show to several Canadian cities.
That, people, is not a idea. It is that most horrible Ottawa creation: meaningless busy work.
Citizen: Changing our capital should start now, not 2067 [17 February 2012]
NCC plan for capital - the story so far
As the NCC prepares to continue consulting Canadians about its plans, Mohammed Adam talks to various experts about the prospects for actual progress. From the Citizen:
To ensure Canadians have a say in how their capital is shaped, the NCC held public consultations in seven cities across the country - Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Victoria, Edmonton and Quebec City. Lemay says the "national conversation" produced terrific ideas that would be channelled into the new plan.
[...]The challenge, however, is turning people's ideas into a concrete plan, and she says Ottawa-Gatineau residents will play a key role. They will get a chance to have their say at public meetings scheduled for Feb. 21-22. Further meetings will take place in the fall to discuss a draft plan. A new plan for the capital is expected to be ready board approval in the spring of 2013.
But as the public consultations in the national capital region get ready to begin, urban experts say capital transformation doesn't have to wait 50 years. They say Ottawa's slow progress into a great capital is not for want of new ideas but drive, and there are many things the NCC could do now to transform Ottawa. The NCC, they say, has to move beyond words into action.
[...]"You cannot develop a long-term plan for a city by relying on a bureaucratic organization and process. I just can't imagine that any real direction for the future will come out of this process. I suspect what will come out are generic statements about a capital we are proud of and which we want to inspire Canadians blah, blah, blah," architecture and urban planning critic Rhys Phillips says.
"What will it really say about LeBreton Flats; what will it say about creating urban villages that will be a showcase to the world; how is somebody in Saskatoon going to tell you how to get the bloody trucks out of downtown, or turn the riverfront into a living, breathing area."
NCC wants to expand Greenbelt
The NCC has announced a plan to expand the Greenbelt over the next 50 years. From the Citizen:
Over 50 years, parcels of land - large and small - belonging to provincial and municipal governments, as well as private holders, would be added to the Greenbelt through purchase or negotiations. By 2067, the Greenbelt would grow to about 24,000 hectares (23,875) from 21,875 hectares today.
Overall, 57 per cent would be natural environment, up from 50 per cent. Nearly 5,800 hectares would be set aside to promote sustainable agriculture, mostly small-scale operations of crops and livestock. About nine per cent will be buildings and other facilities. More than 25 per cent of the Greenbelt would be devoted to a variety of farming enterprises.
The biggest parcels of land the NCC hopes to add to the Greenbelt include privately owned land in Shirley's Bay and provincially owned woodlands and natural areas near the Mer Bleue Bog. The NCC believes it can negotiate with provincial and city governments to make their land part of the Greenbelt while maintaining ownership. Other pieces of land would be part of a study to determine if they should be added to the Greenbelt. The trickier part for the NCC, which is hard-pressed for cash, is to find the money to buy private lands.
Marie Lemay, the NCC's chief executive, said Wednesday the decision to expand the Greenbelt and prevent new commercial development is an affirmation of its value to the city.
Despite its failure to prevent suburban development, the NCC says the Greenbelt is still relevant, and continues to definitely pay dividends "by safeguarding forests, fields, streams and wetlands and species, and by filtering our air, cleansing our water, and moving toward sustainable agriculture."
NCC consultant Cynthia Levesque says with the new plan, there will no longer be any doubt about the Greenbelt's role: protection of the natural environment, a place for sustainable agriculture and recreation.
Of course the NCC only barely manages to run the Greenbelt as it is now, letting many properties simply go to ruin or burn down, and more or less bankrupting farming tenants through incompetence and indifference. So - onward with the sustainable agriculture!
Highway 5 protest begins
The highway 5 extension has spawned a protest. From the Citizen:
A massive 300-year-old white pine close to Wakefield was the focus of a demonstration Thursday to protest the destruction of trees to make way for the planned Highway 5 extension.
"We're trying to attract attention to the ecological devastation that will happen here in the next two to three weeks," said Jean-Paul Murray, secretary of the Gatineau Park Protection Committee.
"We're standing right where the highway will pass. We want to attract attention to the destruction of these last giants of the forest," he said.
[…]The National Capital Commission has said the work won't have a significant effect on the park since it lies just outside the park boundary. It points to a federal environmental assessment that concluded: "The authorities are of the opinion that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects."
Citizen: Highway plan sparks protest [6 January 2012]
NCC risks irrelevance
Gilles Paquet, the Ottawa U academic in charge of the NCC mandate review a few years back, which led to some minor (albeit welcome) reforms but also gave the NCC more money, is apparently surprised to find the NCC is so useless today. From the Citizen:
He gave the National Capital Commission a new lease on life when many were calling for its head.
But five years after his review panel gave the NCC a strong vote of confidence, University of Ottawa professor Gilles Paquet has soured on the agency, saying it is in danger of becoming irrelevant.
"What we need at the NCC is leadership that is going to take the advantage of all the precedents that exist to be a champion for the federal capital region, rather than the timid operator they are now," said Paquet, senior fellow at the university's Centre on Governance.
"The fact that they are invisible or they indulge in evasive thinking is condemning them to become more and more irrelevant. To my mind this is the kiss of death."
[…]He says it has failed to live up to its "burden of office."
Instead of taking advantage of its strong mandate to be an active federal advocate in the region, he says the NCC has been something of a bystander on the big issues of the future. It has focused more on programming, not capital-building.
While the NCC has been travelling around the country seeking ideas for a new capital plan, Paquet says there are things it could be doing right now that would dramatically transform the capital.
"The city is going to be crippled because of decisions that are not being taken now. They will die of a slow death if they have nothing to show except that they are travelling around the country looking for ideas."
Paquet points to numerous proposals, including rail links to the Ottawa and Gatineau airports and loops around the capital, that have gone nowhere.
Waterfront development has been talked to death, but nothing has happened. He says the fact the nation's capital hasn't been able to create a modern, integrated transportation system is a testament to the NCC's failure.
"Transportation is the key element in this region. If you were able to deal with the transportation issue - not just railroads and bridges, but the river as well - this would be a different place," he said.
"The one magnificent dimension of this city is the river, but we don't know what to do with it. The timidity of the NCC is the reason things are not happening."
One wonders what it was about the NCC's incompetence of the last five years that so distinguished it from the 50 before that.
Citizen: 'Timid' NCC could become irrelevant, scholar warns [3 January 2012]
Gréber wouldn't OK highway extension
Meanwhile, as work on extending highway 5 along the edge of Gatineau Park continues with the blessing of the NCC, a descendant of Jacques Gréber says Jacques would have been "shocked". Gréber was the French planner who created the plan for Ottawa in the 50s, implemented by the NCC and is still quoted by them when convenient. From the Citizen:
Half a century after Jacques Gréber's death in 1962, a newly found letter from the French architect and planner suggests that Gatineau Park needs stronger protection.
Both the letter and Gréber's descendants also suggest that the man who designed Ottawa and Gatineau wouldn't think highly of the extended Highway 5.
From Paris, Xavier Reynaud says his great-grandfather loved Gatineau Park, and would be shocked to see highway construction cutting through the forest near the park's eastern edge.
Reynaud has a copy of a letter Gréber wrote in 1952, which says Gatineau Park - not central Ottawa - is the heart of his plan for the National Capital. Reynaud called the Citizen this week to discuss it.
Calling the park a "magnificent forest reserve," Gréber's letter adds that its unique status - wilderness just outside a capital city - demands a "permanent program of enlargement and protection."
It says the "natural structure, the infinite variety of its beauty and the possibilities that its attractions present are far greater than the attributes of an ordinary municipal park in the service of the population."
Then the kicker: "In fact, this is really the central nucleus of the overall management plan for the national capital of Canada."
"I recently saw an interview that he gave to the CBC in 1961, in which he was asked what he considered his most important commission," Reynaud said.
"He responded without hesitation that it was the planning of the national capital region of Canada."
It was only recently that Reynaud, who is married to a woman from Toronto and regularly visits Canada, learned of the extension of Highway 5. Crews are currently blasting away steep hills and cutting forests to join Wakefield to Gatineau with four lanes.
"If my great-grandfather were still alive today, he would be simply devastated to learn about Highway 5 and would have expressed his opposition, obviously," Reynaud said.
It doesn't matter that the National Capital Commission has shifted the boundaries to ensure that the road is outside the actual park, he says, since the clear-cutting still affects trees that are part of the park's ecosystem.
[…]Gréber shows his overall vision for the park in his 1952 letter to the Federal District Commission, the forerunner of the National Capital Commission. Reynaud sent a copy to the Citizen.
[…]And his warning extends to land outside park boundaries. He clearly describes the danger of letting major development crowd the edges of the park:
"It would be very sad if one authorized such degradation of the landscape just outside the park limits while the FDC is trying by all means to protect the zone inside these limits."
The current highway extension is just outside the eastern park limits, according to the NCC - but inside them according to its opponents on the Gatineau Park Committee, which doesn't recognize the validity of a boundary change.
Working to consign the National Capital Commission to oblivion since 2000.