NCC Watch

Working to consign the NCC to oblivion

Search string: "lebreton"

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

A return to the Flats

In a three-part series in the Citizen, Bruce Deachman visits with locals who remember the LeBreton Flats before it was expropriated and demolished by the NCC:

Two years earlier, in April 1962, the federal government announced it was expropriating the Flats to make way for a new Department of National Defence headquarters - the Pentagon of the North, it was dubbed. The announcement, Judy believes, was a contributing factor in her father, Frank's death of a heart attack in 1963.

But by the summer of '64, any misgivings they might have harboured about the expropriation had largely dissipated on piles of debris and clouds of dust.

"The houses would come down as people left," recalls Laura Cosenzo (now Andrusek), the eldest of John and Margaret's five children and nine years old when her family left the Flats. "I can remember walking to school. The industry was behind us as I walked south, and it was like ... empty.

"But after all the houses being torn down, anywhere would have been better than that, because there were no kids to play with anymore."

And so began the 50-year NCC gong show that has yet to run its course.

Citizen: A return to the Flats [26 March 2016]
Citizen: We were just the Flats boys [26 March 2016]
Citizen: Your friends were friends forever [26 March 2016]
Citizen: There were no kids to play with anymore [26 March 2016]
NCC Watch: Blunders: LeBreton Flats
LeBreton Flats Remembered [Facebook]

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The NCC's culture of secrecy

In the Citizen, Longstanding access to information researcher Ken Rubin provides a timely reminder that the NCC has never been a friend to transparency in government:

Even though in November, 2007, the NCC was finally forced to open up parts of their meetings to the public, key matters are still reviewed in in-camera sessions, with sanitized summaries being released months late ­­- and only because I file requests.

Sanitized as their records are, the value of uncovering matters of local interest can be found in the following items that resulted in Citizen stories:

  • 1988 consultant plans proposed for the parliamentary and judicial precinct were released after months of delays and an Information Commissioner complaint
  • secret 1989 discussions about introducing user fees at Gatineau Park
  • 1990 documents on delays and cost overruns associated with building a museum of photography next to the Chateau Laurier
  • 1992 records on the NCC's opposition to a popular idea of a park at the site of the former Daly building (the space now houses a luxury condominium, from which the NCC receives revenues)
  • 1988 to 1994 data that revealed the NCC was selling off chunks of its public greenbelt space to private developers
  • 1991 data on spending $10,000 for the installation of condom dispensing machines at NCC public washrooms
  • 2002 records that revealed that the NCC had spent $250,000 renovating an outdoor bathroom in Rockcliffe Park
  • a 1995 report by one Ottawa experienced appraisal firm that said the used sales value of furniture, furnishing, built-in closets and wallpaper left behind after the Mulroneys departing 24 Sussex Drive and Harrington Lake was only worth $39,050 despite the NCC having paid the Mulroneys $150,000 for these items in 1993
  • a 2003 investigation that mapped the incredibly vast capital area financial land holdings of NCC Chairman Marcel Beaudry and family and friends
  • 2004 NCC data that showed the NCC's "competition" for developing phase one of the publicly owned LeBreton Flats space ended with Claridge Homes getting the project, even though they "qualified" in last place in the ratings.

These are examples of finding out what the NCC was none too keen to have made public. Yet the NCC still likes to decide key community matters behind closed doors, exempt matters it would prefer to keep hidden and delay others from early public input.

The continuation of its secrecy practices is once again demonstrated in its provision of minimal information about the four consortiums' January 2015 proposals for a large scale redevelopment anchor project at LeBreton Flats. My access request on this and other queries made by the Citizen remain unanswered.

Rubin also memorably obtained transcripts of some NCC board meetings via access to information and published an article in the Citizen about the contents. The NCC's response? They promptly stopped recording their meetings.

Citizen: The NCC's culture of secrecy [26 August 2015]
Citizen: Behind Closed Doors [24 August 1998]
Citizen: What the NCC views as secret [3 February 2000]
NCC Watch Archive: Ken Rubin
Ken Rubin: Website

Thursday, July 6, 2015

Looking back at Gréber's plan

Bruce Deachman, writing in the Citizen, talks to writer and urban planner Alain Miguelez about the Gréber Plan, implemented by the NCC over several decades:

It's difficult to imagine what Ottawa would look like today had city planner Jacques Gréber never set foot here. We would most certainly not have the Greenbelt that rings the city, nor perhaps as many of the national museums, galleries and performance venues we now enjoy. Car traffic throughout downtown might have slowed to a crawl as scores of trains criss-crossed their way to and from Union Station on Rideau Street. The tall, gritty smokestacks of industry, meanwhile, might otherwise now be photo-bombing every tourist snapshot of the Peace Tower, chewing up our precious waterfront and blotting the skyline with their grey effluent clouds.

On the other hand, LeBreton Flats, left to its own devices, might well have evolved into an exciting and vibrant warehouse district similar to Toronto's Distillery Historical District or Vancouver's Yaletown, instead of being razed and left empty for 40 years, then handed over to developers to turn into mean towers of condominiums. Visitors arriving in the capital aboard VIA Rail cars might have debarked smack dab in the distinguished heart of the capital, rather than five kilometres away at an otherwise featureless site overlooking the Trans-Canada Highway. And itinerant ramblers mightn't have had to cross four lanes of quasi-highway simply to sit along the riverbank to contemplate where in hell you could get a drink around here.

Alain Miguelez, 46, an urban planner with the City of Ottawa and a weekend historian, has wondered these things; how The Gréber Plan of 1950 - Ottawa's official plan - fundamentally changed the face of Ottawa, and the lessons we can learn from its implementation. It fascinates him, and he's hoping it will intrigue enough other people to help support a book he's written on the subject.

[...]Much of Gréber's planning was done with the belief that the region's population - then 273,000 - would never exceed a half million, a mark it surpassed in just over 15 years.

As a result, Miguelez sees where the plan has not held. The trains coming downtown could have finished their journeys in underground tunnels, he says, and streetcar wires could have been put in the road, as other cities have done. Much of the green space that was created actually makes Ottawa less livable, he contends. "Look at all the green space in Confederation Heights (surrounding Heron Road and Riverside Drive). It's a lot of land with a lot of open space that nobody uses for anything. It's green, it looks good, but the only enjoyment you have of it is through your windshield as you speed by in your car at 80 km/h. So it extends the distance of the city and makes it impossible to walk. It introduces a barrier that forces you to use a car." The Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, meanwhile, makes it difficult for pedestrians to access the Ottawa River except for at a few sites.

And Gréber's design, very much geared to the nascent automobile age that followed the Second World War, compartmentalized and separated offices, industry and residential areas, leading to an unnatural city where these groups no longer mixed, says Miguelez.

See how Ottawa looked before Gréber in detail at Ottawa Past and Present.

Citizen: Transforming Ottawa: How Jacques Gréber's plan forever changed the capital, for better and worse [6 July 2015]

Monday, April 24, 2015

The NCC's a problem again

Again? Kate Heartfield argues that the NCC, having been pulled back from the brink in the early 2000s with the welcome albeit tepid reforms brought in by the current government, is once again stumbling toward irrelevance. From the Citizen:

The struggle to make the snooty, defensive NCC more transparent and accountable goes back decades. The argument, in the early 2000s, was that public board meetings would "politicize" the NCC's work.

Its board chair and CEO were combined in one powerful person. Its land speculation was difficult to fathom. It occupied itself with cockamamie schemes for improving Ottawa whether Ottawa liked it or not, the most notorious of which was the plan to move Metcalfe Street (bulldozing as needed) to create a nice view. Meanwhile, LeBreton Flats sat empty in the heart of the city, the result of an NCC razing decades before. The Flats encapsulated the sterile NCC view: Better to have nothing at all in downtown Ottawa than a neighbourhood with poor people living in it.

[...]In 2007, the government split the roles of chair and CEO. Later that year, the NCC announced that regular board meetings would be open to the public, with agendas posted online in advance. Revolution!

[...]The 2013 federal budget took responsibility for Winterlude and Canada Day away from the NCC, giving it to the Canadian Heritage department. That was one of the suggestions I'd made in my 2006 column, and indeed many in Ottawa saw it as a sign the NCC was on the way to oblivion. But the NCC refocused its mandate and found new life in 2014 under the creative and personable CEO, Mark Kristmanson.

No longer reviled and mistrusted, the NCC has done a great job lately at seeking ideas and input. The few political fights in recent years have been a symptom of the still-unresolved contradiction at the heart of the very idea of the NCC. It's supposed to be a check on politicians (and the people who elect them). But there is a limit, or should be, to what an unelected body can do with any legitimacy.

That contradiction might have evolved into a healthy tension, steering the NCC into a role of wise, independent counsel.

Instead, as with another chamber of sober second thought, the Conservative government chose to manipulate the NCC into doing the government's bidding. So we have the worst of both worlds: an unelected body doing the bidding of (certain) politicians.

An email from chairman Russell Mills to Kristmanson (released under access to information) shows the NCC felt it didn't have a say in the new location of the memorial to the victims of communism, because two Tory ministers had already announced it. "There was really no choice but to approve what had already been announced," Mills wrote.

[...]This news led my colleague, Kelly Egan, to wonder, "isn't it wonderful to know we fly in these esteemed thinkers from across Canada so they can rubber-stamp stupid ideas, cooked up in a partisan kitchen?"

In the Board's defence, we can only point out that they have always been flown in to rubber-stamp stupid ideas.

Citizen: And just like that, the NCC's a problem again [24 August 2015]

Saturday, April 11, 2015

LeBreton Flats renewal 1965-2014

Via LeBreton Flats Remembered, here's a video by Jean Ouellette showing the NCC's progress on the Flats. As a bonus, you can also see downtown Hull's transformation into a parking lot.

He has also created a website showing the results of urban renewal on Lowertown East.

YouTube: 1965 vs 2014 LeBreton Flats [11 April 2015]
Lowertown East 1965 vs 2014 [11 April 2015]

Monday, March 23, 2015

NCC too secretive on LeBreton plans

Long time NCC critic and columnist Ken Rubin had some pointed criticism of the NCC's typically secretive approach to its latest LeBreton plans. From the Hill Times:

The federal National Capital Commission always has been its own worst enemy when it acts as a developer with private partners. Nor has it ever been a great or responsive capital planner inspiring imaginative world-class projects.

Now the arrogant and uninspiring style the NCC possesses faces its biggest ever challenge: how will it finally facilitate developing one of the last large chunks of capital prime real estate at LeBreton Flats near Parliament Hill?

Its recent announcement does not bode well. The NCC provided little information on its short list of four developers for the anchor project at LeBreton Flats. The announcement did not bother to publicly or fully identify each consortium's business partners and only vaguely in one-liners referred to each short-listed developer's plan proposals.

One thing the NCC did reveal was that it's using $300,000 of federal taxpayers' money for the consortiums over the next several months to more fully put together their plans. But in accepting the monies, this meant that candidates were expected to keep quiet about their developing plans. While this secretive approach may change, given some media and public outrage, the NCC explicitly forbade developer proponents from publicly talking or consulting with the community or public partners. No monies have been allocated for public debate on the four proponents' plans.

[...]In the past, the NCC has allowed some LeBreton Flats planning and design guidelines to be publicly known in its redevelopment plans. But this time around, the NCC wants little or no sharing with the public of the rules for design and the criteria for judging developers. They have set up little in the way of an independent transparent process to verify the accuracy, cost, and effectiveness of the four developers’ plans for LeBreton Flats, let alone any reassurances that the plans will not be uninspiring and mediocre.

Last time, in 2004, the NCC held a secretive "competition" for developing another part of the publicly-owned LeBreton Flats space, the sole private sector company that qualified, Claridge Homes, built some of the most ugly buildings in Ottawa.

Access records obtained show that construction of the LeBreton Flats residential building was delayed over concerns the NCC had with a number of design changes to the project proposed by Claridge. Yet, Claridge is now one of the four bidders for the phase two anchor pivotal premier LeBreton project.

[...]Access records note that by 2012 the NCC had already spent more than $70-million of public funds on partly cleaning up the LeBreton Flats area (albeit with lax environmental screening and monitoring in place). More publicly paid for infrastructure funds will be needed too to service any further developments at LeBreton Flats and more funds spent for further cleanup.

Its confidential "competition" process for an anchor project at LeBreton Flats cannot be left in place any longer.

We need a better process and a transparent agency where the public gets an in-depth chance to see the details of plans presented, see the lobbying efforts of developers to date, and add their voice to help decide on what's built.

The NCC's unsuitability for such a developer mandate has a long past that includes bungled developments at the Daly, the Rideau Centre and Chambers sites. Selling off or leasing under favourable terms prime public lands to large developers for so-so unimaginative development seems to be one of its specialities.

[...]Parliament must come up with a less secretive and accountable arm's-length agency with the appropriate amendments to the National Capital Act. Too much past secrecy and too many private pitches have not made for a desirable capital, nor will blatant political interference.

Fresh CEO Kristmansson replied that, no, no, it's all good, the public will get a look in - in the fullness of time:

Early in 2016, the public will be invited to view the detailed proposals and their comments will inform the selection committee's recommendation to the NCC's Board of Directors.

An external fairness monitor is overseeing this process at every step to ensure it is conducted with visible integrity. It is important to note that the fairness monitor approves the public release of all information regarding the competition.

I am encouraged by the progress to date in this important capital building initiative, and we look forward to receiving the final proposals from the qualified proponents and sharing these with the public early next year.

Rubin replied in the Times:

The NCC refuses to divulge to the public what initial proposals the four contending private sector consortiums submitted to qualify as candidates.

The four consortium teams are not fully identified with their backers nor are their financial assets revealed. But each will get $75,000 to develop their plans over the next few months in total secrecy, including which public sector partners they may consult or look to for funds. So the four - Claridge Homes, Devcore Group, Focus Equities, and Rendez Vous LeBreton Group - have the go-ahead from the NCC not to talk to the media or the public, but to hold secret talks with governments and institutions about their prospective plans.

As for the "public" involvement, what Mr. Kristmanson wants the public to do is wait several months to then "view" the detailed plans so that they can merely offer "comments" that may help "inform" the unaccountable "selection committee's" recommendation to the unelected NCC board of directors. In turn, that limited public involvement invitation process could well be superseded by the government of the day making key project decisions, as has been done in the cases of the War Museum and Victims of Communism memorial projects.

Moreover, the NCC is telling the public to blindly trust the "process" because some "fairness monitor" will be watching the integrity of process.

But here we are dealing with a key national capital community development where the NCC's immediate past flawed process for phase one "competition" at LeBreton Flats development left the public with uninspiring buildings on prime land.

[...]Why can’t the NCC or the government share the information it already has about LeBreton Flats redevelopment? Why wait to release bits and parts of what will be known in the spring and late fall when the process is well advanced? And why doesn’t the NCC disclose its expected revenues from such a valuable redevelopment at the Flats? Let the public in on the ground floor and allow us to have more than token input.

Hill Times: Hush-hush about LeBreton Flats anchor project plans [9 March 2015]
Hill Times: LeBreton redevelopment competition: rules are public, process supervised [16 March 2015]
Hill Times: NCC still too secretive on LeBreton Flats anchor project [23 March 2015]

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

NCC gets five proposals for the Flats

Last September, the NCC, embarrassed by the ordinariness of the current development, once again asked for proposals to develop what remains to be developed of the LeBreton Flats. And now it appears they have five. If memory serves, that's two more than last time (well, before two proponents ran away leaving Claridge with the prize). From the Citizen:

The National Capital Commission has received five proposals for the development of LeBreton Flats, by far the largest and most significant development site in Ottawa's core.

The number of proposals received by Wednesday's deadline was surprisingly modest. The NCC raised expectations when it extended the original deadline for submissions by one month due to "greater expression of interest than expected."

The NCC, whose officials weren't talking Wednesday, revealed the number in a news release, but declined to provide any details about the proposals or identify the proponents.

[...]Last September, the NCC invited the private sector to submit proposals to develop a 9.3-hectare section of the Flats. Another 12.1-hectare parcel farther west could potentially be made available, as well.

[...]A committee, composed of three NCC executive staff members, architect A.J. Diamond and Mark Conway, a planner and land economist, will evaluate the five submissions for completeness and compliance with the evaluation criteria.

The NCC said the solicitation process is intended to pre-qualify two to five proponents, whose names will be revealed in March following ratification by the NCC board.

The pre-qualified proponents will then have until August 2015 to submit detailed design and financial proposals, which will be displayed publicly to get feedback.

The current timetable calls for the recommended proposal to go to the NCC's board for approval in November, with cabinet sign-off in early 2016.

Late last year the Ottawa Senators revealed that they are one of the proponents, and have submitted a proposal for an arena, which is second only to a casino as the planning equivalent of having no ideas at all.

Citizen: NCC gets five proposals to develop LeBreton Flats [7 January 2015]

Wednesday, December 9, 2014

LeBreton development reviewed

West Side Action begins an exhaustive review of the NCC's LeBreton Flats development. In short, not as bad as all that but still deficient.

West Side Action: LeBetter Flats (part 1) [9 December 2014]

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

NCC, city continue their "public conversation"

First up, Mayor Watson. From the Citizen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Citizen: Ottawa mayor bemoans NCC's 'meddlesome behaviour' [24 November 2014]
Citizen: Mark Kristmanson: The NCC is expanding the options for light rail [25 November 2014]
Sun: Watson vs. NCC round two [25 November 2014]
Citizen: Peter Raaymakers: The NCC finally has a vision for the waterfront [25 November 2014]
Citizen: No plans to rip up Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, NCC's Kristmanson says [26 November 2014]

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Let's hope LeBreton goes better this time

Mohammed Adam at the Citizen hopes that somehow, the NCC won't screw up the Flats again. From the Citizen:

When the National Capital Commission first engaged the private sector in 2004 to develop LeBreton Flats, it ended in disaster, and going back to the same source a second time could end in tears again.

[...]Of the original acquisition, the NCC says 17.8 hectares, or 31 per cent of the land, has been developed for various uses. This is made up of 7.5 hectares for the War Museum, the Bluesfest site, parkways and open space for future public uses. Another 4.5 hectares was sold to Claridge Homes for its condo development, and 5.8 hectares went to the City of Ottawa for such things as LRT and roads. So, 50 years on, about 40 hectares remain undeveloped.

[...]But if the NCC really wants architectural excellence, the board should have gone with an international design competition. The NCC should have clearly defined its vision for what's left of LeBreton Flats, then broken it down into phases as necessary, and thrown it to the great architects and urban designers around the world to show what's possible.

Leaving it to developers won't work because they are, by nature, not practitioners of great design - certainly not in Ottawa. Developers are concerned primarily with the bottom line, and that's why they put up basic, no-drama buildings they can sell quickly and make money from. And there's nothing wrong with that. Whether it is LeBreton, Lansdowne or the Daly site, what you get from developers are standard commercial buildings - not dazzling design.

[...]So what would qualify as a signature development? The NCC has really not defined it beyond "a bold new anchor that will welcome the public, serve as an economic driver, feature innovative use of land and bring design excellence, animation and a unique public experience" to the capital. You could fit anything and everything into that mouthful, so let's speculate: The mother of all shopping malls perhaps? With the city's newfound love for height, maybe a village of skyscrapers? A compound for technology-start-ups that don't want to locate in suburbia? It is anybody's guess.

The big question is whether, in this current market, enough of the innovative developers would care enough to put in proposals. No one really knows. The last time, the NCC didn't get many bids and ended up with three shortlisted companies and a bizarre situation in which the two top-scoring firms in the evaluation withdrew, handing the development to the one with the lowest score.

It is good to be excited about a landmark development at LeBreton Flats, and one hopes Kristmanson can pull it off. But don't be surprised if we end up with standard fare that's dressed up Ottawa-style as signature development.

Citizen: Let's hope LeBreton goes better this time [15 October 2014]

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Flats: 'Good luck with that'

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

Hear ye, Hear ye.

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

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

Good luck with that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

NCC wants to pay off its 'ethical debt'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Drive-by beautification on the Flats

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

LeBreton Flats Remembered

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

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dodging a bullet at Chaudiere

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 30, 2013

NCC to think about re-thinking the flats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 22, 2013

NCC loses public programming to Heritage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

NCC a step closer to completing Flats

Better sit down for this one - yes, 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.

That's right, no actual news, just more of the soil remediation they could have been taking care of at some point in the past 60 years.

Citizen: NCC awards $4.9M soil cleanup contract for LeBreton Flats [13 November 2013]
OBJ: Tomlinson, Milestone land $4.9M LeBreton Flats remediation work [13 November 2013]

Saturday, November 3, 2012

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]

Saturday, April 26, 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]

Monday, March 12, 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.

It's time.

Politics Chatter: Offering up a cost-cutting suggestion for Tony Clement - time to scrap the NCC

Friday, February 3, 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."

Citizen: Building a better capital [3 February 2012]
Citizen: Listen To Stephen Lewis On Planning [7 February 2012]

Friday, October 21, 2011

NCC passes buck, has buck handed back

More tales from the walking and biking capital, where the NCC has re-opened that cycling link, presumably out of embarrassment after CEO Lemay sent out a somewhat hilariously inaccurate letter in response to a complaint. From WestSideAction:

Well, Madame Chairman Marie Lemay has finally responded to a resident. Here is her letter (I added the bolding to the key phrase):

"Thank you for your e-mail of September 30, 2011, regarding the closure of an informal passageway leading north from Preston Street. We are sorry for the inconvenience or the apparent ambiguity in our messages but, as always, public safety is our priority. This access is closed for safety concerns, specifically the fact that it leads to the Transitway at a point where there is not a marked pedestrian crossing. […]We are currently looking into this matter with the City of Ottawa to determine if it can be made safely accessible to the public, specifically at the Transitway crossing.

There are two major errors in the explanation. First, the NCC claims there is no marked pedestrian crossing of the transitway. In fact, it has been a marked, signed, painted legal crosswalk there for three decades.

Having passed the buck to the city for arbitrarily closing a path that the city has authorized for decades, the error of their ways was presumably pointed out to them. They finally agreed to open the gate, not without requisite waffling about jurisdictional issues, blah blah - from the CBC:

The NCC's director of urban lands and transportation, Marc Corriveau, said it came down to a jurisdictional issue.

"We had no authority on the Transitway so we wanted to have confirmation with the City of Ottawa that they were OK," he said.

City officials said they have not received any reports of incidents and fully supports reopening the path.

So on Friday morning, NCC constables will once again cut open the gate at the south end where people had posted angry notes in recent weeks.

Another triumphant success in the walking and cycling capital!

WestSideAction: NCC passes buck to City, with eyes wide closed [19 October 2011]
WestSideAction: NCC / City agree to reopen Preston "extension" [20 October 2011]
WestSideAction: NCC reopens the gate [21 October 2011]
CBC: NCC to reopen LeBreton Flats pathway [21 October 2011]
Centretown News: Shoreline shortcut reopened for use by road-weary cyclists [28 October 2011]

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Whither Ottawa

The Citizen's long-suffering Mohammed Adam has penned another of their occasional sprawling 'whither Ottawa' series. This one prompted ostensibly by another of the NCC's 50 year plans. And while everyone is relieved that the NCC has got plans to ensure sufficient parking for the flying cars driven by the hordes of tourists forecasted to visit Ottawa by 2067 (we made that up - ed.), in the here and now, the NCC comes in for a fair amount of criticism from just about everyone. As one might expect. But the NCC takes exception (we've cherry-picked the following, but there's lots more, by all means read the entire series, linked below):

Patrick Kelly, president of the Ottawa Convention Centre, says that Ottawa is probably the least known of the G8 capitals, and in many places around the world, the name draws a yawn. Architect and urban planner Barry Padolsky agrees, saying that if he were to write a book about Ottawa, it would be a lament for missed opportunities on everything from light rail to waterfront development and LeBreton Flats.

A lot has been said about LeBreton, the decades-old mess on King Edward Avenue and Rideau Street, and the off-again, on-again light-rail project. But even something as simple as rebuilding Wellington Street appears to be beyond us. Wellington has the War Memorial, Parliament Hill, the Supreme Court, Bank of Canada and the National Library and Archives. It defines the very essence of our nation, and anywhere else it would be a grand and stately boulevard. In Ottawa, however, Wellington is a drab bus route - and no one seems to care.

For the most part, critics blame the National Capital Commission. Nothing gets built on federal land without the NCC's design approval and critics say if the agency did its job properly, the city would be a much better place.

NCC officials, however, dismiss any suggestion that they've presided over bland planning and design in the capital. They point to the "urban dynamism" the agency has created with many of its revitalization projects from LeBreton Flats to Sparks Street, the ByWard Market and Confederation Boulevard.

"People say that when it comes to planning and design decisions, the NCC is bland, not bold - does not think outside the box. We disagree," says chief planner Pierre Dubé.

He says that when the NCC first proposed Confederation Boulevard, critics slammed it as a "silly idea," but today, standing at the intersection of St. Patrick and Sussex, and looking toward the Astrolabe, the Library of Parliament, the Peacekeeping monument and the Chateau Laurier, "the amazing piece of streetscape and urban design that now graces our capital" is unmistakable.

"We tend to dream big, but we are practical people, aware of the limitations of available resources," says Dubé.

So the NCC stands behind the drab, sterile bus route that is Confederation Boulevard as its most notable success.

Most experts understand that money constrains the Commission, but they also say that there is a fundamental lack of boldness and risk-taking in planning that has fostered bland design.

The LeBreton Flats development was a defining moment for the NCC, a unique opportunity to do something memorable, the critics say. Instead, as former governor general Adrienne Clarkson so forcefully noted, LeBreton became a metaphor for NCC underachievement.

Waterfront development is another issue of contention. The Rideau and Ottawa Rivers and the Rideau Canal, along with the Gatineau River, offer a waterfront that other cities will die for.

But it is all of little consequence to residents because most of it is inaccessible. The NCC has plans galore for every part of the shoreline from Bate to Chaudiere and Victoria islands, with artistic renditions of spectacular waterfront parks, but nothing ever gets done. Experts agree there might not be money to develop say, waterfront villages and parks along the shoreline, but with a little bit ingenuity and imagination, a lot could be done to open up much of it and the Rideau Canal for people to enjoy.

Ah yes, the waterfront - such potential:

[Lemay] says the NCC is as eager as everyone else to develop the Ottawa River shoreline but the principal problem is that the federal government doesn't own it all. The missing link is the Domtar lands on the Gatineau side, which the private owner has refused to sell. If those lands were in government hands, the shoreline could be turned into "an absolute gem" in the heart of the capital.

"Our greatest hope is, and has been for many decades, that the islands around the Chaudière Falls and the Hull shore, would come into public ownership," adds Dubé, the chief planner.

"Then the capital could start to envision the prospects of creating our own unique waterfront destination …"

Shucks, if they just had control of that last little two per cent of the waterfront - out of endless kilometres of waterfront they now control absolutely - why, then, watch out.

The series also features architecture critic Rhys Phillips, who had this to say about the NCC:

Frankly, the NCC is beyond repair. Its celebration component should be moved in Canadian Heritage and the rest replaced with a small office headed by a recognized designer. This new group should then have the say over all new government buildings and work with the city.

We'll give the last word to Kate Heartfield, who expresses skepticism at the very idea that Ottawa needs grand visions to succeed:

The insistence that Ottawa must be a proper, pretty G8 capital might actually be the thing that's holding us back. Imagine what LeBreton Flats might be today, if the National Capital Commission hadn't razed it a half-century ago. It might be a gradually gentrifying old working-class neighbourhood in the lee of Parliament Hill, with restaurants and studios and mechanics and theatres; instead, it's a field with a museum on it. Imagine an Ottawa River that had shops and restaurants along it, not a freeway where commuters whiz by and occasionally admire the scenery. Imagine if the downtown train station still had trains arriving at it.

Every time someone comes up with a vision statement or grand plan, Ottawa gets a little more bland. There are smart, creative people here. Ottawa might evolve in all kinds of unpredictable and exciting directions, if nobody gets in its way.

C'mon Kate - if you don't have a vision for the flying cars, where they gonna park?

Citizen: Building a better Ottawa [13 August 2011]
Citizen: It ain't easy being a developer [14 August 2011]
Citizen: Live Chat: Building a better Ottawa [15 August 2011]
Citizen: Wanted: Private money for public dreams [15 August 2011]
Citizen: In the shadow of the Hill [15 August 2011]
Citizen: Drafting a new blueprint [17 August 2011]
Citizen: Mayor ready to 'dream big' [18 August 2011]
Citizen: The trouble with Ottawa is Ottawans [18 August 2011]
Citizen: The real Ottawa is in the shadows of the monuments [23 August 2011]
Citizen: Great notions [26 August 2011]

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Chaudiere Island for sale

It appears Domtar is looking for a buyer for Chaudiere Island. From the Ottawa Business Journal:

Most of Chaudière Island is for sale. Its owner, Domtar, the Montreal-based paper manufacturing company, says it has no further use for it following the closure of its mill there in 2007.

The NCC, a federal government agency, says it would like to acquire much of Chaudière Island, and then decide what would be the best use of it. But Marie Lemay, the NCC's chief executive officer, says the agency does not have the estimated $100 million required to buy the land, clean up more than a century's industrial pollution, and stabilize the buildings.

The NCC gets a lot of criticism - some of it richly deserved - for timidity. It is funded by the taxpayers of Canada, essentially to make the nation's capital a better place to live and to visit.

The NCC dilly-dallied for decades over what to do with LeBreton Flats, a former industrial area on the Ottawa River shoreline just west of Parliament Hill. Finally, it decided to turn over the land to private developers for apartment building construction.Most recently, the NCC spent several years searching for a tenant for the former Mill Restaurant on the shoreline of the Ottawa River, just across from Chaudière Island. It eventually leased the property to Toronto's Mill Street Brewery, which plans to open a brew pub there.

[…]For decades, the federal government agency has been doing occasional studies on what might become of Chaudière and Victoria islands. The most recent study, updated in 2008, embraced the idea of an Aboriginal centre on Victoria Island, celebrating the culture of Canada's native peoples.

The NCC study also suggested the two islands could be connected by footbridges. It foresees "a vital mix of restaurants and shops, with adaptive reuse of existing buildings." The study included no price tag or timeline.

The NCC has long coveted the remaining industrial land on Chaudière and Victoria islands that it doesn't already own, but has done exactly nothing with the land it does own - there is simply no reason to believe that the NCC might suddenly reverse its spotty redevelopment record, here or anywhere else in the city.

OBJ: A chance to reverse the NCC's spotty redevelopment record [8 June 2011]
Open File: Chaudière Falls: The anchor of Ottawa's waterfront [6 June 2011]
NCC Watch: Chaudière Falls archive

Friday, March 4, 2011

NCC frets over Congress Centre sign

As the new Congress Centre nears completion, the NCC is concerned that a proposal for a large electronic display facing Mackenzie King bridge could disturb the universal drabness of the area. From the Citizen:

Called the Art Wall, the Convention Centre sees the massive screen overlooking Mackenzie King Bridge as an innovative platform to showcase Canadian art, connect Ottawa interactively with the rest of the country, and create a new buzz in the city. It would also show live video of events and could feature sponsorship advertising.

But the Citizen has learned that the NCC, which has responsibility for safeguarding the historic character of the capital, doesn't like the proposal. The new convention centre, which is on the main ceremonial route, across from the Rideau Canal, and within the sight lines of the War Memorial and Parliament Buildings, sits in a historic centre of the city. And because of the location, NCC officials apparently believe the visual representations on the screen might be incongruous. More importantly, they worry that the screen might be exploited for commercial purposes, and sooner or later, distasteful advertising might appear near hallowed downtown sites. The NCC has the power to approve the convention centre design under a covenant covering the site, which in the distant past, used to belong to the federal government, convention centre officials say.

[...]Graham Bird, project manager for the convention centre, says the cutting-edge design of the new building represents what Ottawa can do, and using new media for the south wall is designed to push the envelope and help the city banish its reputation as a joyless place.

[...]The NCC will not say publicly how it feels about the art wall because it won't comment on a proposal under consideration. All spokesman Jean Wolff would say is that the proposal would be reviewed with an eye on the commission's responsibility to protect the character of the capital. The Citizen however, has learned that the commission's advisory committee on planning and design is meeting in Ottawa Thursday and Friday and will review the proposal.

"The NCC has received an application for this project and there is a review underway. No timeline has been set to provide the final decision. We have to let the process take its course," Wolff said.

Except in this case, apparently, as NCC CEO Marie Lemay was talking to the Citizen the very next day defending the NCC's right to question the proposal:

The proposed LED screen on the south wall of the Ottawa Convention Centre has wider implications for the capital and the National Capital Commission has a responsibility to ask tough questions in order to make the right decision for the future, the commission's chief executive Marie Lemay said Thursday.

[...]Lemay said the NCC has a mandate to safeguard the "inner character of the capital," including scenic landscapes and views along the Rideau Canal, and any proposal that might affect the surrounding environment has to be vetted. She said the NCC hasn't made up its mind on the proposal, and at this stage its permanent staff don't know whether they would recommend the screen to their board for approval or not. But they have enough concerns to raise for a healthy discussion. Among the questions: Is this the right thing to do, is this the right time to do it, and is it a good fit?

[...]Convention Centre executives appeared before the NCC's advisory committee on planning and design Thursday to present their proposal to a panel of architects, planners and designers drawn from across the country. The panel's comments will go to NCC staff who will make a recommendation to the board for a decision. Lemay couldn't say when the board will take the issue up, even though the centre is hoping to set up the screen in time for Canada Day.

Whatever happens, Lemay said the proposal has opened up a serious discussion about what kind of capital Ottawa should be, and whether innovations like new media screens should be part of its future.

"I don't know where this is going to end, and at the end of the day I don't know if we would recommend to the board to go down that path or not. But it is important that we seriously look at this and maybe it will also help us take a good look at the future," she said.

Considering the new screen will face NDHQ, the most conspicuously ugly building in the entire city, put there by the design visionaries at the NCC, and the NCC is also in the process of developing the LeBreton Flats to a whole new standard of ordinariness, remind us again why anyone pays the NCC the slightest attention in matters of design?

Citizen: Convention centre, NCC argue over the big picture [2 March 2011]
Citizen: Bright lights, growing city [3 March 2011]
Citizen: NCC guarding capital's character by questioning big screen near the canal, CEO says [4 March 2011]
Citizen: Picture the potential [4 March 2011]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NCC approves next phase of LeBreton development

Claridge, the winning (and sole) bidder to build condos on the still largely vacant LeBreton Flats, has had its next few buildings approved by the NCC Board. From the Citizen:

The NCC board gave Claridge Homes the go-ahead even as the agency is still working out differences with the developer over its failure to abide by NCC guidelines in the construction of an adjacent block. The problem, according to Francois Lapointe, the NCC's executive director of capital planning, is that Claridge began work on the tower block without getting final approval from the agency.

Planning officials found several deviations from the original design when work was well underway and had to scramble to reassert the original plan. The key issue was the removal of stairways for units on Fleet Street Mews that were an integral part of the original design. The NCC also had some concerns with the landscaping.

[...]On the next phase of the project - which consists of one six-storey condo block; a block of townhouses and an eight-storey building - the NCC said they were happy with the plans submitted by Claridge.

[...]The development of LeBreton Flats has been controversial from the beginning.

The land, expropriated by the NCC for a government complex, sat empty for 40 years before Claridge was picked in 2004 to start construction on a four-acre portion. The first building, with its green facade, received criticism from experts and neighbours alike, who said it was too mundane to grace as important a site as LeBreton.

Lapointe conceded that while the design was not perfect, it was a good one. He said that what's considered good design is often a matter of judgement, and believes that when the first phase of the project is completed and people see it in its entirety, they'll appreciate it.

"We believe that in the fullness of time, the project will good for the community," he said.

"In the fullness of time" being something of a mantra for the vigilant micromanagers at the NCC.

Citizen: NCC gives OK for next phase of LeBreton development [24 November 2010]
Centretown News: NCC OKs next phase of LeBreton development [8 December 2010]

Friday, December 4, 2009

Use the Rail Bridge for Rail

Over on his blog, the Citizen's Ken Gray has a post about a proposal for the unused Prince of Wales rail bridge that is circulating:

[The National Capital Commission, STO, the City of Gatineau, and the City of Ottawa] are actively considering turning the rail bridge into a road bridge, at least according to Christine Leadman, the Kitchissippi councillor for the area.

That's likely to cost tens of millions of dollars to achieve what? Create a staging area for STO buses at Bayview? That's prime downtown land, suitable for intensification. Why you put a library, some housing ... heck, even a trailer park, bowling alley or roller-derby oval would be better than a bus-staging area. How long do we want to treat the LeBreton, Bayview, Hintonburg, Mechanicsville area like a dump?

We would simply note that the NCC never saw a railway right of way it didn't want to convert into a road, or a road proposal, no matter how crazy, it didn't want to build.

Citizen: Use the Rail Bridge for Rail [4 Dec 2009]
Citizen: A fine bridge [1 Dec 2009]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

NCC fails to preserve architect's designs

More heritage problems for the NCC, this time in Vincent Massey Park. Kelley Egan explains in the Citizen:

Only government could spend $2.2 million to put up a spiffy bathroom in a public park.

Only Ottawa, caught up in all its commandments, could make the story even stranger, possibly dishonouring a governor general's son in the process. Suffer with us.

At Vincent Massey Park, at the end of a long parking lot, there is an unusual entranceway. It was designed by Hart Massey, the son of the GG for whom the park is named and an acclaimed architect in his own right.

His design consists of three big pieces, mostly done in a white, glazed brick. The first is a bus shelter, with a roof, a long wall and bench seating. Inside the park, there is an entrance court, then a refreshment stand and covered eating area, and, finally, public washrooms about 50 metres away. The canopies are unusual in that the steel trusses and slender poles give the roof the feel of floating, stylized tree branches.

[...]The Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office is an outfit that evaluates the possible heritage value of federally owned properties. It reviewed the park entrance and gave a "recognized" designation to the bus shelter and what it calls the "refreshment stand."

[...]For reasons unclear, the washroom building, about 50 metres away, but obviously of the same design, received no designation or protection.

The park owner, the National Capital Commission, intends to demolish that building and, as reported last week, replace it with a new structure that is cleaner, greener and capped with a saddle-shaped roof. The project is to cost $2.2 million.

[...]Architecture critic Rhys Phillips is one person who thinks it's wrong.

[...]The critic believes the NCC has been a poor guardian of the capital's built heritage.

He cited the demolition of the Daly Building as a glaring example, but also mentioned the "mile of rebuilt history" along Sussex Drive and LeBreton Flats as other failures.

If the Massey washroom building was shoddy and not up to code, then the answer is to restore it, not tear it down, Phillips said. By the same reasoning, we'd be tearing down the West Block on Parliament Hill, he argued.

With the new Vincent Massey washroom coming in at $2.2 mil, the Rockcliffe outhouse now looks like a bargain.

Citizen: Massey's work down the toilet [25 Nov 2009]
Citizen: New park building's design pays tribute to its environment [18 Nov 2009]

Thursday, November 19, 2009

NCC avoids taking sides on Lansdowne

The Citizen reports on the NCC's annual meeting, where opponents of Lansdowne Live provided the novel spectacle of someone complaining to the NCC about a banal development that wasn't built or proposed by the NCC:

Opponents of Lansdowne Live took shots at the project before the board of the National Capital Commission Wednesday, but the NCC gave no signal it wanted to get too heavily involved or take sides in the bitter debate.

Three representatives of the Glebe Community Association -- Caroline Vanneste, Robert Brocklebank and June Creelman -- urged the board of the NCC to either throw all of the commission's planning weight into the project or to cancel its involvement.

"There has been a huge public outcry about what has happened here," Creelman said. "It's banal on the canal. What is happening now is way too mediocre."

The NCC are acknowledged masters of banal mediocrity (viz. the LeBreton Flats); we can only hope that Lansdowne will be spared most of the dead weight of the NCC's planning.

Citizen: NCC quiet on stadium issue [19 Nov 2009]
Citizen: Design process is next Lansdowne hurdle [18 Nov 2009]
Citizen: NCC will not buy Lansdowne [4 Feb 2010]

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Trouble at the mill

The NCC is having a hard time finding a tenant for its newly renovated mill building at Chaudière Falls, vacant since the last tenant, a legendarily bad restaurant, left a few years back. Could it be because there is absolutely nothing nearby? Yes, it could. From the Citizen:

The search for a classy new tenant to transform the old mill at Chaudière Falls into a major waterfront destination is turning into something of a fiasco as the National Capital Commission fails for the second time to find the right proposal.

However, the NCC, keen to develop the site because it sees the Ottawa River as part of its vision to transform the capital, is willing to try again. It has put out yet another request for proposals, hoping to be third-time lucky. It hopes to attract a museum, art gallery, spa or retail destination to the site and to turn it into a city hot spot.

[...]Built in 1842 when Ottawa was a backwater lumber town, it served for a number of years as the Mill restaurant. Since that lease expired and the restaurant closed, the NCC has spent $1.6 million to restore the building in hopes of getting a big draw to a site that covers more than 7,000 square feet on two floors.

Despite interest shown by more than 40 businesses earlier this year, not one made an offer. Saying the recession may have dampened interest, the commission put out a second call in June that attracted two proposals. Neither made the cut. NCC officials acknowledge the building is too small for a portrait gallery and may not be appropriate for a museum because it might not meet temperature and humidity requirements. Its location and heritage also pose problems.

"This is a historic site and that creates specific requirements," said NCC spokesman Jean Wolff. "We want to protect the heritage of the site and that requires a different way of handling it. That's part of the difficulty."

Keenberg, however, says the NCC might have to acknowledge what he thinks is obvious: The site is just not suitable for commercial development. Pedestrian access and walk-on traffic is so limited that business owners might not imagine the site's working financially.

The Mill sits between two busy roads with virtually no pedestrian traffic, beside the vacant Victoria Island and the equally vacant LeBreton Flats, neither of which, thanks the the NCC's meticulous planning, are scheduled to be anything other than vacant in the near or distant future.

Citizen: NCC to try, try again on Mill site [8 Sep 2009]
Citizen: Growing up on Victoria Island [29 Jun 2009]

Saturday, May 9, 2009

LeBreton Flats inhabited again II

The Citizen looks at Claridge's lone tower on the Flats:

In 2004, three companies competed in an National Capital Commission contest to redevelop the prime piece of land which was once home to modest housing and shops, but two dropped out at the last minute, leaving Claridge Homes as the sole bidder: 4.4 hectares of LeBreton Flats for a little more than $8 million, with Montreal architecture firms Dan S. Hanganu Architects and Daoust Lestage at the helm.

Some questioned the default win and called the Claridge proposal bland, institutional and ordinary.

At the time, the NCC said the proposed design was excellent, but lacked poetry and needed revision.

The NCC reminded the public that a detailed design for each building had to be individually approved by their national advisory committee before anything was built.

"It's a process," Malhotra says of the experience "It's been beneficial, and at times, you know, you're just arguing about pointless things."

The Claridge phase is a done deal, and even at 4.4 hectares only accounts for a portion of the Flats that is to be developed. Unfortunately the article doesn't address the most important question - how will the NCC proceed with the remaining phases to be developed?

Citizen: 'I have a vision' says LeBreton Flats resident [9 May 2009]

Monday, January 12, 2009

Greber's legacy

Paul Bennett has a piece in the Ottawa Business Journal examining a generally overlooked aspect of Jacques Greber and the National Capital Commission's planning legacy - an unsustainable cap on property tax revenues:

Greber's influence on this city's modern day geography is immense. He conceived our greenbelt interspersed with urban islands called garden cities, including for example Orleans and Kanata. He also proposed commercial building height restrictions in the downtown to preserve the silhouette of the Peace Tower's clock from strategic viewing planes along the banks of the Ottawa River and he relocated railway lines to less visible domains. Our Garden City wisdom encouraged the development of thousands of hectares of raw land into single-family homes where the highest part of any building is the dormer windows that grace single home rooftops.

Greber's urban vision is troubling today because it unwittingly caused a simultaneous increase to infrastructure spending with a reduction in tax revenue potential.

[...]Economic laws affect both city form and its function. As to function, one acre of residential land will barely contain 8 single-family homes with a collective tax base of perhaps $30,000 a year. The same acre of land on Carling Avenue will earn the city $200,000 as an apartment building or $400,000 in taxable revenue developed for office space. In the downtown, the same acre will produce over $3,000,000 in taxable revenue each year, and more than double that if height restrictions were relaxed to any reasonable extent!

As to form, Greber's height restrictions have wiped out over 12,000,000 square feet of taxable floor space in Ottawa's business core. Moreover, since 1979 builders have erected over 10,000,000 square feet of new office space in that core and have left it with barely six properties remaining with less than 3,000,000 square feet of floor capacity. This number is arguably a puny 12-year office supply. Land is virtually a non-renewable resource. By using more land to produce fewer buildings everywhere, Ottawa is quite literally running out of space.

If offices cannot be built downtown where they belong, the city will have to increase office space development in our backyards. Is this the city form we all aspire to achieve? The Greber plan is an example of 1940s urban artwork at its grandest and most naive.

[...]Thanks to Greber's earthy vision though, Ottawa has enjoyed the appearance and character of a little City but with big aspirations. Our little bigness is a comfort to we residents, and it has helped shape our community's undemanding personality and we like it that way. The greenbelt is a popular and cherished aspect of our community, but at what cost do we embrace its sprawling finery? Homeowners have by and large paid a disproportionately lower share of the City's annual tax requirements. If we are going to continue to rely on a stable commercial sector to pay the bills and finance new forms of transit, things have to change and fast. We must accommodate a larger commercial land base or reduce height restrictions to existing land, or both, lest we face the consequences of more development in our back yards. The alternative is to increase residential taxes to absurd levels, which is clearly ours and our politicians' death wish.

[...]It is no small irony that Ottawa's dated master plan is causing it to struggle today to finance new rail infrastructure that Greber himself worked so hard to remove in the first place; a classic confrontation between function and form that is fuelled by economics.

Gutting the tax base - just one more way to count the cost of the NCC's planning. The unparalleled bungling on the LeBreton Flats doesn't just represent a lost opportunity, it represents millions of dollars in lost tax revenues, while the building dispersal programmes contributed to inefficient sprawl. And imagine if they'd followed through on their plans for Metcalfe Grand Boulevard.

OBJ: Ottawa Is Just A Little Big [12 Jan 2009]


Monday, October 13, 2008

LeBreton Flats: "mistakes were made"

Last week, NCC CEO Marie Lemay attended the Ottawa Real Estate Forum, an industry shindig of some sort, and, by the looks of it, gave the sort of bland content-free presentation we've come to expect from the NCC. However, according to the Ottawa Business Journal, the NCC then took its licks from the other participants:

Charlesfort Developments president Doug Casey also took a critical position in the discussion on the factors shaping Ottawa's future and heaped scorn on the National Capital Commission (NCC) in general for its "lacklustre" development projects, and, in particular, its handling of the first phase of the LeBreton Flats redevelopment project, which has been publicly lambasted as uninspiring.

"You can't dictate design ... and by doing so you ended up with only one proponent," he said, drawing applause from the audience.

Seated beside him, NCC chief executive Marie Lemay conceded some mistakes were made and said the NCC must do a better job engaging the private sector, as well as members of the public, in future redevelopment phases.

But she also noted that criticism so far has been largely directed at a single residential tower in a larger planned complex.

This is something of a first - the NCC apparently conceding that not everything they have done on the LeBreton Flats has been a raving success.

Ottawa Business Journal: 2008 Ottawa Real Estate Forum wrap-up [13 October 2008]
Ottawa Real Estate Forum: 2008 program (with NCC presentation in PDF format) [7 October 2008]

Thursday, September 25, 2008

LeBreton Flats inhabited again

People have started to move in to phase 1 of the NCC and Claridge brown box on the Flats. This marks the first time anyone has lived in the area since the NCC demolished the neighbourhood in 1962. Centretown News spoke with author Phil Jenkins, who wrote a book on the history of the flats:

"The NCC then set out to prove that [the houses there] were slums, and knock them down," says Jenkins.

"[Nearby] Lorne Avenue looks exactly like LeBreton Flats would have today and it is now a heritage conservation street. So there's a little bit of irony there."

[...] Jenkins says that the new development has revived many Ottawa residents' emotion about the area.

"People take their city personally, they take their landscape and cityscape personally," he says. "People are watching [Tower 1] going up and I think they are profoundly disappointed. They know that's not a neighbourhood. That's warehousing. That doesn't look like a neighbourhood."

Others, including Ottawa architecture critic Rhys Phillips, have also criticized the building.

"I had aspirations for a neighbourhood that was aware of its own history," Jenkins says. "But that seems to be considered a sin by the NCC."

Considering the NCC's role in the 40-year (and ongoing) fiasco, seems understandable that they have no interest in history.

Centretown News: Community spirit returns to LeBreton Flats [25 September 2008]

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

NCC panel to blame for bad designs

Architectural critic Rhys Phillips and architect Ron Keenberg, both quoted in yesterday's article on the NCC-Claridge beige box on the Flats, offer some pretty scathing criticism of NCC's architectural design panel in the Citizen:

The architects on the National Capital Commission's design panel should resign because they are responsible for the commission's failure to produce great buildings in the capital, a prominent Ottawa architect says.

Ron Keenberg, who has won numerous Governor General's awards, says the rather mundane NCC buildings in the city, including the ongoing LeBreton Flats project, show that the architects on the design committee are not championing great architecture. He says it is vital to make radical changes now before the second phase of the LeBreton development -- which could begin in three years.

"The architects on the NCC design review committee should all resign because I believe that it is their responsibility to make sure that major projects in Ottawa, in the national capital region, especially on lands like LeBreton Flats, be at a world-class level," Mr. Keenberg said. "But they do not do that. They accept anything and everything, or they say to the developer, 'Make this little wee modification here or there, and all will be fine.' The only way to influence the second phase is to restructure the NCC's review committee and get people on it who are prepared to demand the best architectural excellence available in Canada."

[...]Ottawa architectural critic Rhys Phillips agrees that the NCC has a poor record in producing high-quality architecture, pointing out that on some of the most prominent and desirable lands in city, it has produced buildings that are just adequate, when the sites cried for something grand or spectacular.

"The NCC is engaged in a process of city building that is a disaster. It is one debacle after another," Mr. Phillips said, pointing to LeBreton as the latest example.

While the architects on the design committee remain culpable, he says, they are often toothless, because the process gives them little room to champion quality.

"It is like they've given you three paintings to pick from and all of them come out of the starving artists' school, and you desperately try and pick the one that comes closest to not looking like it is a piece of slop," he said. "The only thing you can really hold them accountable for is not resigning and basically exposing the fraud that is the process that's going on."

The NCC's process, of course, has not changed, as the recent announcement of the development on Sparks Street clearly illustrates.

Citizen: NCC panel to blame for bad designs [5 August 2008]

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"I wish we could curse in these comments"

Meanwhile, the Citizen has started a Sound Off comment thread on the NCC-Claridge beige box on the Flats to get some feedback from their readers. Let them know what you think.

Citizen: What do you think of Claridge's first building on LeBreton Flats? [5 August 2008]

Monday, August 4, 2008

NCC and Claridge 'rearranging deck chairs'

The Citizen has obtained a series of memos between the NCC and Claridge that explain some of the delays in getting the NCC-Claridge beige box on the Flats built.

The National Capital Commission rejected key parts of Claridge Homes' design for the first building in its LeBreton Flats development because changes to the original plan contravened federal guidelines for the project, documents obtained from the NCC show.

The NCC not only rejected a design for the flagship glass tower now being built on the Flats, but also refused to approve a plan for a six-storey building that was to be the core of the second stage of the development.

Construction on a compromise design is now well under way, but for more than a year, the commission worked with Claridge to come up with an acceptable design for the first tower.

[...]The NCC design committee also would not approve the second stage of the project because officials didn't like a modified design for the doors of the ground-floor units, which it found to be "contrary to the planning principles and objectives" of the LeBreton Flats design guidelines.

[...]The documents show that two years after the NCC approved the first phase of the landmark development, it was still in constant discussion with Claridge about changes to the design. One memo said changes to the tower were "significant enough in colour, finish and appearance to cause some concern among members."

The NCC refused to comment on the documents, while Claridge president Bill Malhotra was just irritated - "I don't understand why you guys are wasting your time on things which are absolutely not relevant. You guys are just wasting your time, you don't have anything better to do?" Meanwhile, critic Rhys Phillips and architect Ron Keenberg were also quoted:

Rhys Phillips, an architecture critic, said the fundamental mistake was made four years ago and now the NCC and Claridge seem to be "arguing about rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

"You basically have a design that is somewhat better than what you see on Rideau Street. It is pretty bland, lacks animation and tends to be rather institutional," Mr. Phillips said. "It doesn't matter whether it is curtain or window wall, blue or green. It is a moot point. It is just going to be second-rate."

[...]Prominent Ottawa architect Ron Keenberg said no one should blame Claridge because the NCC is getting what it bargained for when it selected the company as the builder. Mr. Keenberg said Claridge is in the business of making money. It is the NCC, whose duty is to demand architectural excellence, especially on as prominent a site as LeBreton, that should be blamed for any failure, he said.

"You are getting an OK apartment block, nothing special, but nothing bad. If it was built on Montreal Road or Richmond Road, we'd probably say, 'that's nice.' On LeBreton Flats, I'd have expected more. But the NCC got what they wanted," Mr. Keenberg said.

Citizen: NCC, Claridge wrangled over LeBreton [4 August 2008]

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tombstone of waste watch

The NCC has grand plans to rebuild two major downtown intersections, and decorate them with monuments. From documents obtained from the new, open NCC via Access to Information requests, the Citizen reports:

In a major remaking of downtown, the NCC wants to transform the messy Rideau-Sussex-Wellington-Colonel By intersection into a grand new gateway into the heart of the capital, complete with a commemorative national monument.

And on the western edge of the ceremonial route, officially known as Confederation Boulevard, the NCC will dramatically alter the Wellington-Portage intersection into a major landmark and western entrance into the city. The new intersection will be adorned with a "national commemoration of the highest order."

[...]According to the documents, the Sussex-Rideau-Colonel By intersection is the starting point of the project because it is the "historic centre of the capital." To reflect its importance, several plans are under consideration to reconfigure the intersection, but they would require the removal of the pedestrian tunnel underneath Colonel By, and the space in front of the Government Conference Centre, including the ramp.

[...]The Wellington-Portage redevelopment, however, offers less difficult challenges. On the edge of a waterfront area steeped in its own rich history and linked to Ottawa's lumber heritage, it is also the bridge between Ottawa and Gatineau. The NCC wants to turn it into the western gateway to the city.

The Sussex-Rideau-Colonel By work amounts to little more than fixing the work they botched the first time around - the odious pedestrian underpass never should have been built in the first place. But what of the monuments? Well, apparently they "would celebrate all aspects of Canadian life, everything from culture and economics to ideas and events. The only barrier to what can be done is the limit of one's imagination." The NCC is in charge, so the options are more or less limited to banal (the Peacekeeping monument) or laughable (the Human Rights monument).

At the east end, of course, there's already a "grand gateway into the heart of the capital, complete with a commemorative national monument" - any new monument would be redundant considering the war memorial is better situated and already provides whatever gateways are required. At the west end, NCC Watch suggests a monumental commemoration of the NCC's monumental 50-year blunder on the LeBreton Flats. A four-story bulldozer should do the trick.

Citizen: NCC to spend millions on grand entrances into city, documents show [16 July 2008]
Citizen: What do you think the NCC monument should honour? [16 July 2008]
Greater Ottawa: The gateway question [16 July 2008]
Citizen: Something to stir the imagination [18 July 2008]
Citizen: New Ottawa monument should honour city pioneers, readers say [18 July 2008]

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sparks Street development announced again

"The proposed development between Sparks and Queen streets may not win any awards for creative or unpredictable design..." An intro like that can herald only one thing - a new building from those master builders at the NCC. And so it is, as the NCC announced that a developer had finally been found for its 'Canlands A' project on Sparks Street between Metcalfe and O'Connor. When last heard from two years ago, the winning only bidder Morguard had walked away from the project, citing only vague "business" reasons. From the Citizen:

The NCC this week approved a two-building complex at its "Canlands A" property, which is between Sparks and Queen streets, just west of Metcalfe Street and within easy walking distance of Parliament Hill. Today, the Sparks Street side of the property is two boarded-up buildings and the Queen Street side is a parking lot.

The commission, after many years of false starts, has chosen David Choo's Ashcroft Urban Developments as the developer for the property, with a design from Ottawa architect Roderick Lahey. Under the deal, the developer will have use of the land for 66 years, beginning Dec. 1 of this year, paying $166,500 each year. The two parties can renew the lease when it comes due.

Ashcroft won the project after a national request for proposals. The NCC has owned the land since the 1970s.

One is invariably reminded of the NCC's triumphs with the Daly building and on LeBreton Flats as yet another "national" request for proposals nets a single bid from another boring Ottawa developer. But no question that Ashcroft is eminently qualified to build the beige buildings the NCC demands.

Citizen: NCC to add sizzle to Sparks Street [3 July 2008]
Citizen: Sparking life in Sparks Street [4 July 2008]
Citizen: Sound Off about the project [2 July 2008]
OBJ: Sparking a desired change [9 July 2008]
NCC Watch: Canlands A archive

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

LeBreton Flats: still a failure

Ottawa Sun columnist Susan Sherring takes a look at the lack of progress on the LeBreton Flats, where the NCC admits "there's not even a timetable":

Despite the years of study, the development managed by the National Capital Commission has been labelled a failure by some. How can that be?

"There's a significant amount of inertia around the federal government. I'm not sure that the main goal was to create. What was it they wanted out of the exercise, a great addition to the city, or to maximize return to the federal government?" says Alta Vista Coun. Peter Hume, chairman of the planning committee.

"That's a question to ask. If it's financially driven, then you create significantly different structures. You would think what would be paramount in their minds would be enhancing capital city."

Critics complain there's a sameness to the project, a blandness, speaking of boxy profiles and a palate of greys and browns.

One of the most vocal opponents of what's been done to date is Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar.

"They finally did Phase One, and they did it irresponsibly. I think it's been a lack of co-ordination, a lack of vision with the NCC stuck in an ivory tower.

"I understand how disastrous Phase One was. It was a real opportunity to do things differently."

Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes, who's been around council off and on for years, echoes Dewar's sentiments.

[...]"It is good we're getting housing on the flats. It's taken a very long time. I think the NCC wanted the easier way, and in the end, that's not good for the area."

[...]Francois Lapointe, the NCC's director of capital planning and real-asset management, puts much of the blame on the laborious process of having the three different levels of government trying to work together, trying to figure out who would develop the land, and who would be responsible for what.

[...]While the NCC has shouldered much of the blame, Lapointe refuses to delve into the discussion.

"I'm not going to comment on that. There were three players around the table. What's important is we have a situation now where things can happen. We need to look forward," he said.

If only that were happening.

The NCC admits it wants to improve the next phase but there's not even a timetable for that.

"We're in a holding pattern right now," he said, explaining Gatineau Park is now the focus of the commission's attention.

"I'll be very frank. (That's) what we've been focusing on. We're holding off on LeBreton," he said.

[...]How long will it take for the next development?

"There's still a lot of work that needs to be done. We took an approach, we were criticized for that. I'm not going to give you any timeframe," he says.

So now that the NCC's cyclopean eye has focussed on Gatineau Park, LeBreton has dropped off the agenda. But what the hell, the NCC has never been in any rush where the Flats are concerned.

Sun: The flat of the land [27 May 2008]

Monday, February 25, 2008

LeBreton consultation report

Ottawa-Centre MP Paul Dewar has released a report on the community consultation he conducted about LeBreton Flats development.

Paul Dewar: LeBreton Flats Redevelopment [25 Feb 2008]

Saturday, January 12, 2008

LeBreton Flats Dialogue

Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar is holding a "Community Dialogue" on development of LeBreton Flats:

Once one of Ottawa's prime industrial areas, LeBreton Flats saw some 2800 residents moved in 1962, when the federal government expropriated the land and bulldozed the homes and businesses that had existed there. The purpose was to improve the view of the Parliament buildings when approaching from the west.

Plans for redevelopment have come and gone, but in 2004, the National Capital Commission announced its plans to begin in earnest and put the first Phase of the development out for proposals, and Phase One is underway.

The NCC is set to embark on Phase Two, and will use the same process as it did for Phase One.

Alert readers will recall that the NCC's famously bungled "process" for Phase One resulted in all of one bid, from Claridge, known more for their deep pockets than the quality of their projects.

The Dialogue will take place Saturday, January 19, 2008, from 10-2 pm, at the Bronson Centre, 211 Bronson Avenue.

Paul Dewar: Community Dialogue on Development of LeBreton Flats


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

NCC endorses new convention centre

The NCC's urban-design experts, the geniuses behind such triumphs as Place du Portage and the "any colour you like as long as it's beige" development on the LeBreton Flats, have evaluated the proposed design for the convention centre:

The NCC's urban-design experts have done a detailed analysis of how the new building on Colonel By Drive will affect postcard views of the capital. This includes a three-dimensional video showing what the views of downtown will be like once the new building is in place when people are driving along Colonel By Drive toward Rideau Street.

The new convention centre will block some views, notably the view of the historic Château Laurier, considered a landmark in the nation's capital. The NCC's design advisers wanted the Congress Centre project team to increase the setback of the building by five metres to preserve more of the view of the rooftops of the Château.

[...]The Congress Centre project team has slightly shrunk the size of the building twice since the summer, when they first met with the design advisers of the NCC.

NCC chairman Russell Mills said there is no doubt that the commission is trading off some design preferences to get the new building. But he said the board must address other elements beyond design because the capital city needs to think about "getting people here."

[...]The new building project does not intrude on views that are specifically protected in Ottawa's official plan. The bigger new building will require that Colonel By Drive, in front of it, be realigned and reduced from four lanes to two. The ground floor will have a large entrance area, while the second and third floors will overhang that pedestrian area. The building will be about 20 metres tall.

No doubt the convention centre is relieved now that they have the NCC seal of approval. And who better to advise on sightlines than the masters of design behind DND HQ.

Citizen: NCC endorses design of new convention centre [18 Dec 2007]

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Greenbelt reactions

Some reactions to Chairman Mills' greenbelt trial balloon. First, the Citizen expresses some skepticism in an editorial that the NCC could ever pull off developing parts of the greenbelt in a worthwhile manner:

With one of the Greenbelt's two chief purposes in ruins, it's reasonable to discuss whether parts of it can be put to better use, as Mr. Mills (a former publisher of the Citizen) proposes.

Finding urban uses for parts of the Greenbelt must not be done hurriedly or arbitrarily. The jury will be staying out on the NCC's development of LeBreton Flats for a long time, but in principle, it's a bad example to follow: the commission kept the land for 40 years before devising a competition to develop it that was so problematic that, in the end, only one builder bid for the rights to the most sought-after parcel in Ottawa-Gatineau. That's no way to run the NCC lands.

The federal government owns large expanses of the Greenbelt with no special characteristics. Do we build on these or increase urban sprawl? Do we continue to encourage long, polluting drives from the far suburbs?

This will clearly be a difficult decision. The old NCC, with its closed and paternalistic culture, wouldn't have been up to the job. It might not be yet, but perhaps under Mr. Mills, who is opening board meetings and promising a new level of public engagement, the commission can do the job right.

John Baird expresses even graver doubts, while pointing out an obvious problem:

As well, Mr. Baird said thinking about selling or developing parts of it would be problematic because farmers had their land expropriated in the 1950s so the Greenbelt could be created. Turning it over to development would raise ethical and legal questions about who should profit from the land development, he said.

He said any move to development in the Greenbelt will get a hostile reception from voters. "The overwhelming majority of people I represent will have the same concern," said Mr. Baird.

Final word to letter writer Betty Smith:

In the east end, we're all too familiar with the NCC's environmental vision. Practices such as selling off the Woodburn farm and surrounding forest to the highest bidder to make way for parking lots, big-box stores and a gas station shows the NCC's concern for the environment. Instead of seeing the Greenbelt as Ottawa's jewel in the crown, the NCC sees the Greenbelt as its private cash cow.

Citizen: Developing the Greenbelt [6 Nov 2007]
Citizen: Baird has 'grave concerns' about Greenbelt plan [6 Nov 2007]
Citizen: NCC sees Greenbelt as its own cash cow [6 Nov 2007]

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The making of modern Ottawa

In a lengthy column today, Citizen editorial writer Ken Gray asks whether the NCC's planning in Ottawa succeeded in creating a great national capital, and whether Gréber's grand plan worked. His short answer: no.

In expanding on his theme, he provides a good summary of where the NCC went wrong:

The National Capital Commission and its predecessors created the majestic capital driveways in response to that great North American pastime of a half-century ago - the Sunday drive. The Gréber plan resulted in the triumph of the car, a legacy that remains today.

These driveways - Colonel By, Queen Elizabeth, Rockcliffe and the Ottawa River Parkway - helped create urban sprawl by making car travel to the suburbs easy. They also cut off neighbouring communities from the waterways that they showcased for car passengers by creating an asphalt barrier to the shorelines beside which they were built.

[...]As a result, there is but one people place along the long expanse of the parkway that stretches from Carling Avenue to the parliamentary precinct. That's Westboro Beach, access to which is facilitated by a tunnel under the parkway. The national capital region has three major rivers and a UNESCO world heritage site in the Rideau Canal. But, in part due to the NCC driveways, we don't think of Ottawa as a water city. Again that's the result of the 1950s triumph of the car.

In San Antonio, Texas, along its canal, there are restaurants and entertainment establishments that create the River Walk. In Ottawa, we have bicyclists and the occasional jogger along the river but nothing like the kind of people activity the River Walk sees. The Texas example is a tourist spot unto itself. Instead, here, if you want a rather eerie, perhaps dangerous, certainly lonely walk after dark, trundle along the Rideau Canal.

In the 1950s, the city almost seemed as though it were in the way of the capital. Car-oriented suburbs took employees and their families far away from the majestic Parliament Buildings. LeBreton Flats, a real neighbourhood with a significant heritage, was razed, in part, because it was seen as an eyesore too near the parliamentary precinct. Tramways were perceived as a blight with their unsightly overhead wires. They were eliminated in favour of the car and the bus. Train lines were lifted because their smoke and noise destroyed the tranquility of the capital. Trains downtown were seen as obstacles to road travel. During the light-rail debate, that same argument was heard from merchants on Slater and Albert streets. In addition, back in the 1950s, industry appeared to destroy the parliamentary vistas.

Thus the heritage of Gréber is a one-industry government town, with a lack of private enterprise, little modern mass transit, and urban sprawl created by suburban planning and the individual mobility of the car. The city was but an afterthought for the pioneering planners of the 1950s.

Citizen: The making of modern Ottawa [25 Oct 2007]

Friday, May 11, 2007

The NCC's bright, shining moment

Over at the Citizen, city editorial page editor Ken Gray is optimistic about the Mills appointment (link, expires 30 days):

To name one of the chief critics of the Crown agency, through his newspaper days, to run it speaks volumes. His appointment is a stroke of political genius by Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, no doubt aided by Environment Minister John Baird, the political minister for Ottawa. The best way to defuse your critics is to appoint one to the top job. It is a rare bit of political insight on the Conservative government's horrid local file, but you take your genius where you can get it.

The fly in the ointment is just how much power Mr. Mills will have. For at the new NCC, there will also be a chief executive officer. Will that person be the straw that stirs the drink.

[...]Recently, Mr. Cannon, who is responsible for the NCC, said he is impressed with the open processes at Ottawa City Hall (too bad the city is becoming more secretive). That might be the tip that the mandate review's position on openness would be adopted in future reform. Let's hope so.

This public process would build trust if handled well. No doubt, old-time NCC administrators would strive to keep the process secret, as has been their wont. That's where Mr. Mills would come in with his well-honed journalist's instincts. He should question, as he certainly will, NCC staff attempts to keep information private. Withholding information should be the exception rather than the norm.

Beyond this, Mr. Mills must establish what the role of the NCC is in the capital. Prior to municipal amalgamation on both sides of the provincial border, the NCC needed to be an overseer of the national interest in the face of the conflicting positions from myriad cities.

Now with amalgamation, two formidable municipalities have been created, often with expertise, particularly in planning, that far exceeds that of the NCC. In terms of consultation, implementation and creating area-wide blueprints such as the official plans, the cities have not only grown up, they have left the NCC in their dust. The Crown corporation has become a ponderous, bureaucratic body that dallied for years over impractical schemes for such sites as the city core, the Daly site and LeBreton Flats.

The review panel would like to see a reinvigorated planning and heritage function for the NCC. But the experience of the past decade and more show that the Crown corporation is out of touch with modern planning principles and basic efficiencies.

Rather than being the leader in planning in the community, perhaps the NCC would do well to try to mediate solutions to cross-border transportation problems between governments and become an adjunct to the vastly superior municipal planning process. Perhaps the Crown corporation should approach municipalities with its projects in such a way that they build better cities rather than just being one-off grandiose projects.

Mr. Mills enters the NCC with an enormous task in front of him at a critical time. Never has the Crown corporation's stock been so low. He must build an organization that is open and that residents can trust. As well, the new chairman must revolutionize from within so that it produces projects that result in improved cities. In that way, it can be a force to create a better capital to benefit all Canadians.

The NCC must think local to produce a stronger Ottawa-Gatineau that will be an inspiration to the rest of the country, not only culturally but from an urban-planning perspective.

Mr. Mills's appointment is an enormous opportunity to create an invigorated, useful, trustworthy NCC. It should not be lost.

Citizen: The NCC's bright, shining moment [11 May 2007]

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Watching another NCC blunder take shape on the Flats

City Journal columnist Mark Bourrie reflects on the NCC's plans for LeBreton Flats:

I'm all for putting rich people in grotesque buildings and over-charging them. However, that should be left to the private sector, especially the hotel industry. The Daly site was special, and it ended up being used in a way that benefited the NCC (which still holds the lease to the property), the developer, and the tenants. The rest of us were welcome to drop by and enjoy the shucking.

And that's what I suspect is brewing on LeBreton Flats. The "model home" near the war museum is ugly. The streetscape on the NCC's billboard facing Scott Street is cold, sterile, unpleasant, and unhappy-looking. And it shows the scene in the summer, when people are supposed to be having fun.

My bet: people had more fun on the flats in the 1980s and 1990s, when they were used as unofficial parkland. The festivals that used the property, the temporary Cirque de Soliel, the crowds that turned out to watch Canada Day fireworks, the campers, the happy dog walkers - they'll all go the way of the original flats.

And what will they be replaced with?

Something that will put money in the NCC's account, but will short-change the rest of us.

City Journal: Watching another NCC blunder take shape on the Flats [12 Apr 2007]

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

NCC gets $30 million

Buried in the orgy of spending in budget 2007 is $30 million for the NCC. From the Citizen:

When the government set up a panel to review the mandate of the NCC, one of the biggest criticisms presented was that the commission had turned from a protector of heritage and greenspace in the capital, into more of a developer-type force in the community. The panel, led by University of Ottawa professor Gilles Paquet, urged the government to boost funding by as much as $25 million per year.

The budget infusion, if approved by Parliament, will add $5 million to the operating budget in each of the next two years. This will bring the operating budget to about $79 million, a figure that includes payments in lieu of property taxes to other governments.

On the capital budget side, the commission will get an additional $10 million a year for the next two years, bringing the capital budget to about $26 million a year.

Operating budgets cover day-to-day costs, while capital budgets cover expenses such as buildings and equipment. The commission has seen some additional funds in the last decade but they were always tied to specific projects, such as the cleanup of LeBreton Flats.

The extra money means the NCC won't have to generate funds through land sales to keep operating, said Ms. Caron. But she said, in accordance with Treasury Board guidelines, the commission might still sell property that's judged to be not "national interest" lands.

While it's too early to say what the immediate impact of the money will be, Ms. Caron said it will speed up the commission's work such as preserving cultural landmarks, building and maintaining roads and pathways.

Actually, we know exactly what the immediate impact will be - the NCC will have even more freedom to do what they do best: screw up at our expense, with little accountability or oversight.

Citizen: NCC get $30 million from budget [29 Mar 2007]

Friday, January 5, 2007

The good, the bad, and the NCC

Citizen City editorial page editor Ken Gray notes a few minor problems with the mandate review panel report recommendations:

Giving more power to an organization that has botched its planning role so badly is like expecting your teenager, who just totalled the family Toyota, to drive better by giving the youngster a Porsche.

For example, the NCC would have a "new focus" on heritage, according to the report. Odd that recommendation, given that the NCC and its forerunners put the word flats in LeBreton Flats when it demolished that neighbourhood and left it empty for half a century. And then there were its plans to move or dismantle buildings of historical significance on Sparks Street.

The panel, chaired by Gilles Paquet, would see a NCC that would put "new focus on the core of the capital," a core it almost destroyed with its plans to remove a large number of vibrant businesses and institutions for an ill-considered plan to widen Metcalfe Street.

As well, the report recommends "a renewed emphasis on the planning function." Over the past few decades, the NCC has not planned well. Now, if the panel has its way, we would see more of this.

In a move that could result in inefficient area job and economic growth, the report suggests giving the NCC the power to co-ordinate the 75/25-per-cent split in the allocation of federal government development between Ottawa and Gatineau. Imagine waiting at LeBreton Flats-development speed for approval of a new home, for say, the RCMP. And furthermore, why should federal investment be confined to a cross-border quota? Perhaps it would be better for the feds to simply build where it makes the best economic and planning sense.

And this proposed mandate is far beyond the capability of the NCC when you look back at its slow planning and approval processes. The NCC could paralyse federal government growth in the area.

The panel perpetuates the myth that the rest of the country cares about the activities of the NCC. "Both the national and local communities have to be kept informed of how the national capital coordinating agency is carrying out its tasks," the report says. "The capital city has to speak to the country," the report says in another nose-stretcher. In fact, the rest of the country doesn't spend much time thinking about the capital, and few Canadians outside the Ottawa area have even heard of the NCC.

Realistically, the Crown corporation is another form of area government and thus needs to address regional issues effectively. If it does that, the NCC, in conjunction with the only Canadians preoccupied with health of the capital -- the residents of the region itself -- will help build a city that will attract Canadian visitors.

The panel suggests the NCC play a bigger role in regional transportation, but the Crown corporation has consistently failed in that function. The third lane built on the NCC's Champlain Bridge pours traffic into residential areas; the NCC has so far failed to develop a plan for interprovincial bridges; and the NCC was so slow off the mark that the City of Ottawa had to purchase the Prince of Wales railroad bridge across the Ottawa River to preserve it for transit.

Citizen: The good, the bad, and the NCC [5 Jan 2007]

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Missing: real accountability

Citizen letter writer Katie Paris sums up what's missing from the Mandate Review recommendations:

Something is missing in the report on reforming the National Capital Commission: real accountability. The NCC is guilty not of small miscues but of blunders: Letting LeBreton Flats sit undeveloped for 40 years is an unpunished failure, and so is choosing a development with as little spark and innovation as what is now being built.

The NCC needs to be held accountable when it makes lousy decisions, and electoral accountability is the only mechanism where leaders will lose their jobs if they ignore the public good. Citizens of Ottawa and Gatineau should be able to vote for the CEO and chair of the NCC.

Unless there is direct accountability to voters, the NCC will continue to act in an arrogant and unresponsive manner. The proposed public meetings and ombudsman are progress, but they will do little to change the fundamental incentives faced by those who run the NCC.

Citizen: Elect NCC head [28 Dec 2006]

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Courageous visionary or monumental failure

The Citizen takes a look at outgoing Chairman Beaudry's legacy in an article today:

As he leaves his post -- his term officially ends Dec. 31 -- Mr. Beaudry leaves a trail of unfinished business.

The 160-acre LeBreton Flats is now ready for development but, after four decades, only 800 homes on 11 acres have been approved for construction. The quest for a new bridge across the Ottawa River remains a distant dream. Despite grand plans and visions for the downtown and waterfront, nothing of major consequence has been done.

Mr. Beaudry's most ambitious plan -- a sweeping boulevard on Metcalfe Street from the Canadian Museum of Nature to Parliament Hill -- collapsed in the wake of massive public opposition. Mr. Beaudry also set his heart on the construction of a centre on Victoria Island to honour First Nations people, but that has not yet happened.

Citizen: Courageous visionary or monumental failure [16 Dec 2006]

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Name that park!

You wanted public consultation, you got it! The NCC wants YOU to help them name a new park in the LeBreton Flats. That's right - you see, "in the context of the 150th anniversary of the Capital," the NCC is keen to show how well they are listening to the public, so put on those thinking caps, YOU can make a difference.

NCC Watch has already made our submission - "LeBreton Flats Memorial Park." We think this improves on the NCC's own suggestions, commemorating as it does the destruction of the LeBreton Flats by the NCC 40 years ago. This name would also have "Strong recognition of the local community" (well, not too local - they were all expropriated and pushed out 40 years ago). It also has "Interesting reference to the location" covered. "Highly symbolic"? Check. "National significance"? Check. "Will mark history"? Check. In short, it's a winner. We've also got a great idea for what should go in the park - a 1:1 scale model of the neighborhood they destroyed.

The park naming consultation will take place from November 3, 2006 to January 5, 2007, at which point the NCC will probably name the park The Nation's Place, which has the benefit of being both banal and meaningless.

NCC: Help Us Find a Name for the Future Park in LeBreton Flats!

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Dewar crafting bill to crack open NCC

Ottawa-Centre MP Paul Dewar will introduce a private members' bill in Parliament intended to open the NCC, establish "merit-based" appointments, clearly define the roles of NCC members, and mandate elected representatives on the NCC board. Dewar criticized the NCC Mandate Review as "a regrettable reflection of how the NCC already operates," stating that "It's sadly mirroring the behaviour of the NCC, which is not the whole problem but a good part of the problem." He also describes the NCC's process for developing the LeBreton Flats, which resulted in only one bidder for the project, as a "fiasco."

City Journal: Dewar crafting bill to crack open NCC [1 Nov 2006]

Friday, October 13, 2006

Mandate review fatally undermined

In his Citizen column today, Ken Gray points out something pretty obvious, once you're looking for it, about the NCC Mandate Review Panel: two of four members (not including two support workers) of the mandate review secretariat are NCC employees. Listed on the mandate review contacts web page are Laurie Peters, NCC spokesperson, and Francois Lapointe, NCC planning director. Amazingly, Ms. Peters is responsible for telling the panel what areas of NCC operations the public has had concerns about.

From the article:

The secretariat supports the panel's work and gives contract and project management advice on financial matters. Certainly other people could have been found to provide communications or financial advice in political affairs in the national capital of consultation. People like this grow on trees in this community. Why go to the NCC for it?

Mr. Drery [the secretariat executive director] said he knew the optics of having NCC people on the NCC review weren't good, but he felt the short time frame for the panel to report to government meant the Crown corporation's people had to be brought on board.

In reality, the appearances are terrible. Are these two people likely to recommend or support or mention, say, eliminating their jobs? The appointment of half the secretariat from the NCC is the kind of trust and transparency complaint that has dogged the NCC for years.

Many residents of the national capital already distrust the NCC. Why? Well, there was the matter of just missing destroying Ottawa's downtown by bulldozing a ceremonial boulevard through millions of dollars worth of good businesses on Metcalfe Street so the Peace Tower's view would be centred on the street.

Then, of course, there was the botched development of the Daly site, a location of national importance occupied by a condominium. Or placing a series of post-Stalinist apartment buildings on LeBreton Flats. Or just leaving the Flats sit idle for about half a century.

[...] In fact, from a public relations and governance view, the panel has already failed because residents can't trust its findings. As a result, don't be optimistic that a new NCC will come out of the study to be revealed in December.

So, after a promising start, the Mandate Review appears to be just one more botched attempt at reforming the NCC.

Citizen: NCC employees working on review of agency [13 Oct 2006]

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Saving the last of LeBreton

Today's Citizen has an article about Lorne Avenue, a surviving remnant of the LeBreton Flats:

When the Great Fire of 1900 swept from Hull to Ottawa, the houses along Lorne were destroyed. A huge rebuilding effort followed, between 1900 and 1907 -- in some cases on the original foundations -- with the working-class people of the street embracing brick over wood. They built their more fire-resistant homes and carried on their lives as workers on the CPR, dressmakers, mill workers, shopkeepers, labourers in a large ice-house, and even an undertaker, according to a city directory from 1899. They typically walked to work, often in LeBreton Flats.

When the National Capital Commission expropriated the properties of LeBreton Flats in the early 1960s, as part of urban renewal efforts across Canada, Lorne Avenue wasn't included in the first phase of the project, perhaps because it was on the fringe of the Flats, or perhaps because its houses were in better shape. The NCC ran out of money and didn't do the second phase.

Tellingly, the best thing about the NCC's "urban renewal project" on the LeBreton Flats is that they ran out of money.

Citizen: Residents aim to save last of LeBreton [22 Jul 2006]

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Time to rethink the NCC

With a new government in power, seems like a good time reconsider the NCC's role, and Citizen editorial board member Kate Heartfield digs right in, suggesting right off the top that new minister Lawrence Cannon "should begin by asking himself why the NCC exists." And it only gets better:

The NCC's attempts to further beautify the city in the last decade or so have been ridiculous. Remember the proposal to widen Metcalfe Street so it would line up with the Parliament Buildings? Or the defunct Canada and the World Pavilion? This is what happens when you have an organization with a budget and no reason to exist. All the NCC can do to Ottawa now is mess it up.

There are plenty of ordinary projects the NCC could do that have nothing to do with making Ottawa capital-worthy. But there's no reason for the NCC to do those things. We have a city council, a provincial government, and federal departments in charge of heritage, parks and public works.

It was the NCC that razed LeBreton Flats four decades ago, but there's no reason the city government couldn't be in charge of redeveloping it now. The city manages development in other neighbourhoods within a stone's throw of Parliament Hill, and does at least as good a job as the NCC is doing with the Flats.

It is an insult to democracy to suggest that only the NCC can take the long view when it comes to developing Ottawa, as city council is too dependent on the goodwill of its constituents. Ottawa's residents have as much interest as anyone in ensuring that the capital is a beautiful place, now and in the future.

Citizen: Time to rethink the NCC [14 Feb 2006]

Friday, October 28, 2005

Time to reform troubled NCC

A Citizen editorial today asks, yet again, for the NCC to be reformed:

It is an ailing organization. We remember its misguided attempt to drive a ceremonial boulevard down Metcalfe Street that would have demolished millions of dollars worth of buildings and property taxes. Fortunately, the public fought hard to stop the project and won.

Sometimes the citizenry has not been so fortunate. The predecessor to the NCC flattened a community at LeBreton Flats, letting the land grow weeds for the better part of a half century. We are astonished that the Daly site -- among the most visible and important pieces of real estate in the capital -- became a simple condo.

The public has long wondered what goes on at the closed NCC board meetings. Revelations that the NCC pressures consultants to give it what it wants to hear do not inspire confidence. Ottawa Centre MP Ed Broadbent is calling for more transparency, accountability and governance. Ottawa Centre Liberal candidate Richard Mahoney says the NCC needs major changes: "We should use it as a force for good."

Indeed we should, but it's not yet clear if that's even possible with the NCC as currently constituted. The federal government needs to ask: Do we need the NCC and, if so, what form should it take?

Citizen: Time to reform troubled NCC [28 Oct 2005]

Thursday, October 7, 2005

Tombstone watch: NCC solicits ideas for monument

For 40 years, the LeBreton Flats has been a monument to the NCC's own ineptitude. But now, according to the Citizen, the NCC wants to build a monument to, er, anything else. Apparently the NCC thinks the new intersection of Booth and Wellington streets in the middle of the flats would be a swell spot for a "gateway" monument. Gateway monuments are apparently big - up to four stories - and expensive - up to $5 million. The revelation (as usual, obtained via an access to information request) prompted the NCC to clarify that "there is no official monument or plan at this point for that site, but this intersection has been identified as a place where a key landmark commemoration could be placed in the near future." Well then.

This follows hard on the heels of the NCC's proposal to scatter landmarks "honoring the country's social, cultural and intellectual achievements" about town. In keeping with the NCC's own historic role in the development of the flats, NCC Watch suggests a four-story bulldozer.

Citizen: NCC solicits ideas for a grand monument at LeBreton Flats [7 Oct 2005]

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Let's have another go at LeBreton

The Citizen's Kelly Egan takes a look at the NCC's bungled LeBreton Flats selection process:

The National Capital Commission's paper trail on the selection of a ground-breaking developer for LeBreton Flats makes for scary reading. No wonder they hold secret meetings.

To recap briefly, after 10 years of head-scratching, consulting and Crayola map-making, three developers were finally competing to build the first chunk of housing on the long-dormant lands on the western edge of downtown.

In the final three months, two of the three developers dropped out of the race and the NCC was left with Claridge Homes, which scored last in the commission's own tortured scoring system.

So the worst became first.

[...]Then comes this gem, from an internal NCC committee that met on Oct. 28, which is several days after the bland Claridge plan was publicly announced as the only one left standing: "One member felt that it was not clear who would be the project architect, which was supported by another member," a summary of the meeting reads.

And these were all senior NCC staff in attendance. It got worse.

"It was unclear who would be the lead individual in the development team. The experience of the members with Claridge was that Bill Malhotra consistently takes a lead role, but that it seems that Neil Malhotra will be the main co-ordinator with (Claridge official) Mr. Jim Burghout. The committee was reassured by the involvement of Jim Burghout, who is an experienced and constructive communicator."

[...]What more evidence do we need that governments, with rare exceptions, should not be in the housing business?

The NCC's process was a bureaucratic strangle. Instead of finding a design gem, it wore down one team after another until it was left with the only one willing to take the real estate risk.

The commission should scrap the whole process and start over. Better still, let someone else take over. The people of Ottawa didn't put up with a hole in the heart of downtown for 40 years to be finally saddled with this.

Citizen: Let's have another go at LeBreton [24 Aug 2005]

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Claridge won LeBreton prize by default

The Citizen reports that LeBreton developer Claridge was a distant third in the NCC's evaluation of proposals for the LeBreton project. Minto had the highest overall score of 62.02 out of a maximum of 70, followed by Prevel with 61.65, while Claridge trailed with 54.04. Both Minto and Prevel withdrew from the final stage of the competition after the NCC tacked on demands for a minimum land price of $7.5 million, the right to repurchase the property and a requirement that 25 per cent of the housing be affordable, leaving also-ran Claridge with the "prize." Prevel even had to threaten the NCC with lawyers to get their $50,000 deposit back. Only two days before Claridge signed on, the NCC was begging Minto to reconsider, but Minto was unmoved.

And so we are left with a third-rate project after 40 years of futility. Architect Ron Keenberg sums it up (as quoted in The Citizen article):

It is a normal, pedestrian housing development that could have been anywhere in Canada. It is certainly not a scheme that is reflective of the national capital region. Obviously the NCC knew they were dealing with the bottom of the barrel, but they didn't care. (NCC chair) Marcel Beaudry was a bad developer and he is imposing his low development taste on Ottawa.

Despite the fiasco, the NCC sees nothing wrong with its process and will use a similar one for the next phase of the LeBreton development.

Citizen: Claridge won LeBreton prize by default [23 Aug 2005]

Saturday, January 8, 2005

What LeBreton planners can learn from the Swedes

The Citizen published a large feature on two successful large inner city developments in Stockholm, contrasting them with the NCC's plans for the LeBreton Flats.

It is interesting to note that Sankt Erik - with an area somewhat less than twice the size of LeBreton's first phase - engaged 10 builders and architectural teams. The NCC chose one developer for LeBreton as a matter of convenience, saying it would be complicated to manage more.

The challenge for this extraordinary piece of public land, reclaimed for development at huge taxpayer expense, will be to maintain and expect the highest standards. Otherwise, what's the point?

Faced with accusations of encouraging banality, the NCC for its part insists that it will "discover the poetry as we go along." We've been staring at their blank page for 40 years.

Citizen: What LeBreton planners can learn from the Swedes [8 Jan 2005]


Friday, December 3, 2004

LeBreton: "beige coma"

Citizen writer Kelly Egan reports on their plan for LeBreton Flats:

Mr. Beasley, the much lauded planning director from the City of Vancouver and chairman of the NCC's design advisory body, was more telling in his remarks. "These are distinguished architects who have done great work, and they will do a good job. We'll discover the poetry as we go along."

Right. Let us know if it rhymes.

The Crown corporation will help, he added, by possibly loosening guidelines on colour and materials, thus helping the conceptual vision snap out of its beige coma.

Now, in a national competition among prestige builders and hot- shot architects, you might skip over the bid that lacks variety, vibrant colours and visual poetry and move on to the next bid, hoping ... Oh. Right. There was no other bidder. Game, set, and match to Claridge.

So the commission is doing the next best thing. It saves face by approving the ho-hum Claridge plan, thus not rendering irrelevant its tortured selection process, but publicly declares it will watch the builder like a hawk, whip in hand.

Maybe these guys aren't asleep after all.

It is to wonder, however, what the NCC is doing in the housing business at all.

Its mission, as stated in the National Capital Act and in that Hallmark version they like to trot out (a meeting place for Canadians; a living textbook for communicating Canada to Canadians; a place where Canada's treasures, natural and cultural, are safeguarded in perpetuity), says nothing about building houses for people who live in Ottawa.

This is precisely the kind of project that has no national scope or value. And, frankly, it is the kind of thing they're not very good at.

Why, for instance, would the commission take as glorious a site as the old Daly site (Rideau and Sussex) and put condos on it?

Citizen: Commission's LeBreton plan is bland and no one seems to care much [3 Dec 2004]

Thursday, December 2, 2004

LeBreton deal sealed: "it's somewhat disappointing that it is so unimaginative."

The NCC has approved the winning bid to develop the first parcel of the LeBreton Flats. As it happens, it was the only bid. And all the hand waving the NCC could muster can't disguise the blandness of the proposal or the laughable failure of the NCC's own selection process. "Both the advisory committee and the board concluded that we are fortunate to receive a high-quality proposal that has met all the criteria set out during an exhaustive process," Chairman Beaudry said. Yup, nobody separates the wheat from the chaff like the NCC.

Some quotes from the Citizen's coverage:

It was the only proposal the NCC received despite a national competition. Claridge has submitted an offer of $8,002,220. The minimum acceptable bid was $7,500,000.

"The fact that Claridge is the only developer to emerge from a national competition puts them in the driver's seat and places the NCC at a distinct disadvantage," said James McKellar, director of the property development program at the York University school of business in Toronto.

[...]"Dan Hanganu is a very talented architect," said Carleton University architecture professor Janine Debanne. "I think they've worked thoughtfully within the parameters of the NCC master plan. Although I think they would have done something even better if they were not bound to that."

Archie Campbell, president of the Dalhousie Community Association, said he was disappointed at the choice of Claridge. "We think many of the units are too small for families and the buildings look out of character with the neighbourhood."

Councillor Diane Holmes said she was happy to see something happening on LeBreton Flats. "It's going to be a major benefit to Ottawa. Although it's somewhat disappointing that it is so unimaginative."

Area resident Lynn Griffiths said the process was flawed because it brought just one bidder. "This is the last big piece of real estate in Ottawa. I think it's going to be a cold wasteland. Why did it not go back to tender?"

Another bit of superlative development from the NCC.

Citizen: LeBreton design gets NCC green light [2 Dec 2004]
CBC: NCC gives OK to LeBreton development [2 Dec 2004]
OBJ: Claridge picked to develop LeBreton [2 Dec 2004]
Centretown News: LeBreton housing project to start next fall [10 Dec 2004]

Thursday, November 4, 2004

NCC board circles the wagons

Citizen columnist Randall Denley reports on NCC Board meeting minutes obtained via access to information, showing the board's response to heat the NCC was taking in the media earlier this year:

The minutes of NCC meetings from earlier in the year show what our MPs are up against.

At the time, Beaudry was getting a lot of pressure from the media and from federal Liberal candidates, who were calling for NCC reform. He responded with an enthusiastic marshalling of his political supporters, including his board.

On Feb. 2, a 45-minute conference call meeting was held, led by board vice-chairwoman Heather Chiasson. She moved a motion of support, making direct reference to Citizen coverage "demanding that Marcel Beaudry either step down or be replaced ... claiming that under his leadership the organization has been mismanaged and remains secretive." The facts reveal the opposite, the motion asserted.

The meeting to discuss the secretiveness was, of course, closed.

Chiasson's motion referred to Beaudry's "numerous successes," then went on to enumerate 36 of his major ones, going back to 1992. Who could have prepared such a complete, and completely self- serving, list of his accomplishments? The motion noted that the list is not limited to these high points.

In fairness, we must add that the one-contender design competition at LeBreton Flats has since added yet another zircon to Beaudry's crown.

Simply reading the motion must have consumed all the time available for the 45-minute meeting. There is no record of any discussion, and the board adopted the motion unanimously.

The good news is that these meeting minutes, obtained under the Access to Information Act by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin, are probably the longest ever made public. A typical NCC minute says something like "the motion was approved."

Chiasson dutifully conveyed the board's support to the public in a Citizen letter to the editor. A similar motion at the NCC design committee led to a fawning opinion article by a committee member, who called for an extension of Beaudry's term.

The NCC board also approved a motion to consider open meetings and splitting the jobs of chairman and CEO at its next board meeting. That was perhaps a nod to the malcontents and ill-informed critics of Beaudry, who included then-defence minister David Pratt, Liberal candidate Richard Mahoney, NDP candidate Broadbent and NCC board member Eric Denhoff, who put forward the motion.

Subsequent events, also in NCC minutes, show there is a critical distinction between considering a matter, and actually doing something. Both open meetings and splitting the two top jobs were deferred. The board did instruct Beaudry to meet with his nominal boss, the heritage minister, and raise issues about open meetings. The NCC doesn't want to be treated differently than any other Crown corporation, the motion says, but it is prepared to work with the government. Translated, that means we don't want open meetings unless every other Crown corporation has them, but we might accept them if you make us. Denhoff dissented. Matter closed.

Don't let anyone say that the NCC board is unwilling to discuss open meetings.

NCC Watch: Area Liberals rally around NCC [6 Feb 2004]
Citizen: Beaudry, NCC top MPs' hit list [4 Nov 2004]

Friday, October 22, 2004

Lost chances on the Flats

The Citizen sums up the NCC's bungled LeBreton Flats development:

Claridge may be a fine developer, but it's hard to see how the project lives up to the NCC's original vision for the Flats, the one it was acting upon when it expropriated hundreds of Ottawa homes and businesses starting in 1962.

The rough-and-tumble Flats were seized for the westward expansion of the Parliamentary precinct; the working-class residents were asked to sacrifice for the growth of Ottawa's glory as a national capital. Some sort of government complex was envisioned, or perhaps a truly grand monument.

The new war museum sort of fulfills that ambition, but it's on a relatively small part of the Flats. Survivors of the expropriation might be justifiably outraged that it turns out the government took away their homes largely to make way for nicer ones, after a 40- year pause.

None of this is Claridge's fault, of course, for with its proposal the company has only done as the NCC asked. It's telling, however, that nobody but Claridge wanted to come to play. Downtown is enjoying a building boom, with major condominium projects underway in Centretown and Sandy Hill. Yet LeBreton Flats might be the best piece of real estate in Ottawa; if only one builder is interested in developing it, something's wrong.

The two companies that bailed out of the proposal process, Minto and Alliance Prevel of Montreal, aren't saying why, but we can surmise that the conditions the NCC placed on the project were such that they couldn't see a way to make enough profit to make a proposal worthwhile. And never mind the many other developers that never even expressed an interest.

The commission, having abandoned the idea of a great public amenity on the Flats, needed at least to insist that the new buildings be well-designed and well-built. But there's a difference between being demanding and forcing the winning proponent into a straitjacket. The commission's micro-management, down to what colours the builders could use, must have been a factor.

Citizen: Lost chances on the Flats [22 Oct 2004]

Saturday, October 16, 2004

NCC happy with 1 bid to develop LeBreton

After much hullabaloo (and 40 years) about the national significance of its plans to redevelop LeBreton Flats, the NCC got all of one bid to do the job.

The startling news that only one developer has submitted a proposal to create a new residential area on LeBreton Flats points to a failure of the National Capital Commission selection process and casts doubt on the outcome, say observers.

Claridge Homes of Ottawa, working with Montreal architects Dan Hanganu and Daoust Lestage Inc., was the only firm to submit a conceptual design proposal and offer to purchase a 4.4-hectare site by last Thursday's deadline.

"The only good thing is that two superb architects are involved," said Ottawa architecture critic Rhys Phillips. "But in the end this is no way to build a national capital."

Two shortlisted firms, Alliance Prevel of Montreal and Minto of Ottawa, failed to submit proposals. "We're very disappointed," said NCC spokeswoman Eva Schacherl. "It would seem it was a business decision."

Bob Ridley, vice-president of Minto suburban communities, said he was unable to disclose the reason because of an NCC confidentiality agreement. Representatives of Prevel could not be reached for comment.

Despite the setback, the NCC is proceeding with a public consultation meeting on Wednesday. The federal agency plans to evaluate the Claridge proposal and announce on Nov. 30 whether it is accepted.

"One proposal means there's a flaw in the process," says James McKellar, director of the property development program at the York University school of business in Toronto.

"In today's market if you have a good product, you should have multiple bidders," said Mr. McKellar, who in 1989 designed the "agora" concept for the Flats, which the NCC has spent 15 years developing.

"It's a bit embarrassing to get only one bid. It seems that they were driven more by an ideology than a business case."

He believes the project should be abandoned. "I'd say you're back to square one. You have to redesign the product. You took the wrong thing to the market and the market clearly sent a message."

Curry Wood, NCC vice-president's of capital planning and real asset management, put a positive spin on the situation.

"We're very pleased that at the end of a rigorous process that we have a proponent," he said. "It is an endorsement of the process and the trouble and effort we went to.

"We don't have specific reasons why the others didn't submit," he added. "This proponent made a tremendous effort. We have an obligation to move forward in good faith."

Citizen: Only one builder wants to develop LeBreton [16 Oct 2004]
CBC: NCC happy with 1 bid to develop LeBreton [21 Oct 2004]
CBC: NCC unveils plan for LeBreton development [21 Oct 2004]
Centretown News: Builder says low-cost housing target met [29 Oct 2004]

Friday, August 13, 2004

NCC agrees to LeBreton affordable housing

The NCC and the city have struck a deal on the affordable housing requirement for the LeBreton Flats.

CBC: NCC agrees to LeBreton affordable housing [13 Aug 2004]

Friday, July 16, 2004

Flats developers getting nervous

The Citizen reports today (article, link expires in 7 days) that the three firms bidding to develop part of the LeBreton Flats are "rethinking their interest in the National Capital Commission project following unexpected new requirements for low-income housing and a minimum bid for the land." It seems the NCC neglected to mention they would be setting a minimum bid.

Three development teams competing to build a new community on LeBreton Flats are rethinking their interest in the National Capital Commission project following unexpected new requirements for low- income housing and a minimum bid for the land.

"We're evaluating the impact of the changes," said Jonathan Sigler, co-president of Prevel, a Montreal developer. "It could have a serious impact."

Mr. Sigler said his firm has postponed work on the project until he learns the minimum asking price, which the NCC plans to disclose to developers within two weeks. The project involves buying a 4.4- hectare site and building 800 residential units and retail space.

"There are some intriguing moves that might happen if the number is too high," said Ottawa architect Barry Hobin, who is working with Ottawa developer Minto.

"Like, 'I'm sorry we're not bidding. Sorry, this doesn't meet any expectations'."

[...]In new documents related to the competition, the NCC recently informed developers that it is undertaking an independent appraisal to establish market value for the site.

The market value will be used to create a minimum price that the NCC can accept in an offer to purchase, comparable to a minimum bid in a public auction.

This announcement took Mr. Sigler by surprise, since earlier documents did not mention a minimum bid. "The price was supposed to be set by the bidder," he said.

"We always saw the price as the variable in the whole equation," added Neil Malhotra, vice-president of Claridge Homes. "We are being asked to do a lot of thing which are not normally asked for."

Mr. McCourt expressed surprise yesterday at the developers' concerns. "We did state we were looking for fair market value. What we've added now is that fair market value will mean X dollars."

[...]Mr. Hobin said he appreciated being told the NCC's financial objectives.

"If their expectations are wrong, a number of teams will just put down their pencils," he said. "Some people have suggested the value might be a dollar by the time you add in all of the adds-on they want."

Developers would do well to be wary considering the NCC's past record with such sites as the Daly Building.

Citizen: LeBreton developers balk at new rules [16 Jul 2004]
CBC: NCC 'discouraging' affordable housing [19 Jul 2004]

Thursday, May 26, 2004

NCC announces Flats colours

In what's shaping up to be the most colorful development since, erm, Kanata, the NCC has set a colour palette for the LeBreton Flats:

According to NCC guidelines, buildings must be either brown, pumpkin, pale yellow, taupe, or grey.

[...]Other rules in a 49-page manual for private developers state the buildings' exteriors must be either concrete, stone, or brick.

Who wants to lay odds residents won't be able to hang out their washing?

CBC: NCC sets colour palette for Flats development [26 May 2004]

Wednesday, May 25, 2004

'Why did they make us move?'

As part of an ongoing series of articles on the LeBreton Flats, the Citizen takes a look at some of the people who were expropriated by the NCC 40 years ago:

The National Capital Commission's plan for a vibrant mixed-use neighbourhood on LeBreton Flats is a bitter irony to some people who remember what was there before the NCC moved in.

To clear the Flats in the mid-1960s, the NCC expropriated homes and shut down or kicked out thriving businesses on land that had been occupied since practically before there was a Bytown, let alone an Ottawa.

In all, about 2,800 people who lived and worked in LeBreton were swept out.

The expropriations showed the NCC at its worst, with written notices coming out of nowhere on April 18, 1962. The move was high- handed and blind to anything but the commission's planning objective: clearing out the working-class rabble who filled the neighbourhood, within view of Parliament Hill, and putting up a shiny new government office complex.

That day, residents were told the title of the land had already been transferred and assessors would be by to decide on fair compensation. The former owners would have two years to clear out.

"It was devastating," says Wilma Philp, who grew up on the Flats and was 18 when her parents were told they'd have to leave their duplex on Lloyd Street, which they shared with an uncle and his family. She'd just landed her first real job, walking-distance away at an office of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company at Kent and Albert streets.

"The whole family lived there, my mother grew up near there, it was where they'd lived their whole married life," Ms. Philp says. "My mother was in tears."

Her older brother, Keith Brown, had left home by then, but he vividly remembers hearing of his firefighter father's reaction from his mother over the telephone.

"My mother said my father sat down in the middle of the floor and cried. He wasn't born or brought up there -- he was from Shawville, Que., -- but that's how much he loved it."

Citizen: 'Why did they make us move?' [25 May 2004]

Friday, May 14, 2004

NCC announces Flats shortlist

The NCC has announced three finalists to develop the first block of land on the LeBreton Flats. The Citizen meanwhile starts a two week series on the Flats.

Citizen: 3 firms in running to develop Ottawa's 'jewel' [15 May 2004]
OBJ: NCC releases shortlist for LeBreton Flats development [14 May 2004]
NCC Press Release [14 May 2004]
LeBreton Flats news items on NCC Watch

Sunday, April 19, 2004

LeBreton Flats plans creep forward

Developers are bidding on the first phase to redevelop the LeBreton Flats. The NCC hopes residents can move in by 2007, only 42 years after the NCC forcibly ejected the last residents and demolished their homes. Perhaps these new pioneers will be more to the NCC's liking.

OBJ: History at home on LeBreton Flats [19 Apr 2004]

Friday, February 27, 2004

Further LeBreton Flats development plans

The NCC has presented its further development plans for the LeBreton Flats at one of its occasional public meetings. According to the article, the flats have been "empty for decades," a "clean slate" that "the NCC is eager to start filling." For those of you just tuning in, the flats have been empty for decades because they were expropriated and bulldozed by the NCC itself, somewhat precipitately perhaps, seeing as the NCC then left it vacant for 40 years. Read the full story here. As for the plan -- well, now the NCC will sell the land to developers to, er, develop. Very sensible. Far as we can tell, there was no point to the 40-year long exercise.

CBC: NCC looks beyond War Museum [27 Feb 2004]

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Time for NCC's Beaudry to resign

According to Citizen columnist Randall Denley, Liberal candidate Richard Mahoney was called in for a lecture from Chairman Beaudry after suggesting that perhaps the tired organization is due for reform. Mahoney's response was unusually straightforward:

The chairman offered a 45-minute monologue on the accomplishments of the NCC, Mahoney says, and argued that no change was necessary. Mahoney pointed out that new Prime Minister Paul Martin has promised increased openness in government, and the NCC's closed meetings are out of sync with that approach.

"There's a freight train of reform coming with the PM," Mahoney says. He also notes that people he talks to in Ottawa consistently raise the need for change at the NCC.

Mahoney told Beaudry that there is a tradition of NCC chairmen offering their resignations to incoming prime ministers. That was the case when Bud Drury was chairman of the NCC in the 1980s.

To Mahoney's surprise, Beaudry told him that if the Martin government wanted him to resign "he didn't have any intention of standing in the way of that."

Unsurprisingly, Denley rather likes the suggestion:

Beaudry has run the NCC since 1992. It has been an era of many plans, but few accomplishments. Beaudry can point to the fact that the empty lot on the site of the Daly Building has finally being filled, but the project is rather unexciting. After years of expense and struggle, all it will be is a condo building with some unspecified ground-floor uses. He expended a lot of time and money planning a magnificent ceremonial boulevard on Metcalfe Street. It was roundly opposed by Ottawans because of the unfortunate side effect of tearing down numerous heritage buildings. Beaudry finally withdrew the plan after paying consultants to tell him that people here didn't like it, an opinion he was frequently offered for free. Work has finally begun on LeBreton Flats, but it is too early to judge its success.

Like most of his predecessors, Beaudry has been criticized for the secretive way the commission proceeds. Beyond confidential matters to do with land deals, personnel or legal matters, there is no need for it. The National Arts Centre board has already shown that a federal organization can be open to the local public. To his credit, Beaudry made some effort to involve the public by holding an annual meeting where they could ask questions. It is still a poor substitute for really involving people in decisions as they unfold.

The NCC has a self-important mission of building the capital as a symbol of national unity. It's mostly guff, but Beaudry has consistently used it as a reason to ignore the public in Ottawa. The nation is his audience, he has told us, and we are lucky to have the NCC showering federal gifts on us.

[...]Times have changed, and the NCC must change too. If Marcel Beaudry doesn't understand that, the prime minister should replace him with someone who does. It's time for a new era at the NCC.

Citizen: Time for NCC's Beaudry to resign [27 Dec 2003]

Monday, October 20, 2003

Visual continuity on Island Park Drive

Kelly Egan reports on the National Capital Commission's amusing attempts to create "visual continuity" on Island Park Drive:

The first pair, at the gateway to the Parkway, are massive. Made of stacked limestone, they are four metres tall and distinctive for a single carved leaf. It is an elm, apparently, and, to all but boneheaded writers, deeply meaningful.

Between the river and Carling, there are 10 smaller cairns, a metre tall, and all bearing the lone elm leaf, which forms part of a new style of street sign as well. Are you getting this yet?

"Everyone who comes to visit says, 'What are those cement things?'" said Mrs. Cross, who lives on Island Park near the corner of Sunnymede Avenue. "I say people are buried under them."

Part of a $255,000 dressing up of the street, many residents aren't quite in reverential awe of Stonehenge-sur-la-riviere.

"I thought, 'What an atrocious waste of money,'" said Sharon Hickey-Sano, getting ready for a walk with her 10-month-old daughter, Mia. "Why don't they spend the money on more bike paths or something like that?"

Simply put, a pile of rocks is what the residents of Island Park Drive are getting in exchange for turning the once-scenic drive into a freeway. The history of the street, really, is the story of the advancing menace of the automobile. (If you really want to terrify people here, say the words "four-lane.")

[...]In the aftermath of the expansion [of Champlain Bridge], which cost $30 million and took five tortured years to complete, the NCC was looking for ways to calm traffic as it charged off the bridge.

The Crown corporation does not like "aggressive measures" like speed bumps, so it opted for a more passive plan: cairns, 30 new white elms and new street signs, all in an effort to create mellow motoring.

NCC spokesman John Kane says the idea is to "create some visual continuity to give people the idea that they're entering a zone which is part of our parkway system, but, at the same time, has a residential character."

[...]Why not carve a set of dual exhaust pipes on the cairns? They're thriving on Island Park these days.

Expand the bridge, hopelessly clog the street with traffic today, calm traffic tomorrow. This is the story of a man setting his own house on fire, then asking for a medal when he helps put it out.

Occasional readers of NCC Watch will recognize this as vintage NCC, the most famous example being the LeBreton Flats; 40 years after they flattened it, they genuinely expect to be congratulated on their plans for rebuilding it. Considering the general bewilderment and/or disgust on the part of residents interviewed, we suspect the NCC's exercise in visual continuity is also another triumph of their now legendary public consultation process. Did they ask anybody about this plan?

Citizen: 'What are those cement things?' [20 Oct 2003]

Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Arrogant NCC now targets key islands

Researcher Ken Rubin critiques the NCC's development projects in the Citizen:

As the luxury condo slab on the Daly Building site rises and the start of the LeBreton Freeway sends cars speeding on their way, we are being saddled with expensive developments that are neither balanced nor attractive.

They benefit a few, ignore the environment and cater to the well off.

Even the crazy car drive down Island Park Drive isn't good enough for the NCC, so it's putting roadway markers and a new traffic divider along the way to remind taxpayers that it can do as it pleases. Their power is evident too in their cutting several new roads in or through the Gatineau Park that will further carve up the capital's only wilderness park.

The recent NCC announcement that it is spending millions of dollars to acquire the Scott Paper land on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River (with the actual transfer date being 25 years from now), may, on the surface, seem out of character. But don't expect that riverside land to be developed as one big green space beyond 2028, or to be without significant development projects. They could include more of the same type of tacky sightseeing pavilions as the Canada and the World one spoiling the Ontario side of the river next to Rideau Falls.

Let's also not forget that it was the NCC that adamantly resolved to sell off a large chunk of riverside green space, the Moffatt Farm, along the Rideau River, so that now, despite opposition, a mundane housing development is proceeding.

Indeed, it's the NCC's penchant to plan intensive development for the capital's three tiny islands in the Ottawa River that symbolizes just how out of control the NCC now is. Declassified NCC documents that I've obtained under the Access to Information Act show how the natural environmental settings of these islands takes second place to seeing how many structures with commercial payoffs can be stuffed in.

Take the four-hectare Bates Island, located off the Champlain Bridge. The NCC is not content to enhance the island's focus point for strolling, kayaking and fishing. Instead, it has pre- development infrastructure plans that call for spending millions of dollars for building, with a private developer, a hotel of up to 60 rooms that will occupy both sides of the bridge roadway.

Filling in the island space would also cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring in cable and natural-gas lines. In addition, there would be increased traffic and up to 53 new parking spaces.

Similarly, Victoria and Chaudiere Islands, off the Chaudiere Bridge near Parliament Hill, would be overdeveloped.

The recent NCC studies there envisage not just a long-promised aboriginal centre, but possibly a hotel, government office space, recreation complex, and even a junior college. Again, there would be increased traffic flows and costly infrastructure installed, such as new water mains and sewage pipes. Even the proposed aboriginal centre would be a large structure and is slated to be more of an institutional social-service building than a meeting place.

Citizen: Arrogant NCC now targets key islands [8 Oct 2003]

Wednesday, July 29, 2003

NCC plans for Ottawa River islands

More plans were extracted from the NCC via an access to information request (reported in The Citizen today), this time involving Bates, Chaudiere and Victoria islands. Apparently they are considering such things as an aboriginal centre, tourist-oriented inn, condos, restaurants, housing, offices and parks:

The plans for Chaudiere and Victoria islands, the jewels in the NCC's grand vision for waterfront improvement, are more elaborate. One of the NCC documents, a traffic impact study, shows a 137,000- square-foot aboriginal centre anchoring the east side of Victoria Island, east of Portage Bridge.

The centre would include office space, child care centre, an education centre including a small museum and a recreation centre. On the west side, between Portage and Chaudiere Bridge, a number of proposals, including one for 50 condo apartments, restaurant, about 49,000 square feet of office space and convenience market, are under consideration.

A second option for the west side of Victoria Island would include about 260,000 square feet of offices, a pub, two restaurants and retail space.

The NCC document lists two development scenarios for the seven- hectare Chaudiere Island, the first of which includes 75 homes, a convenience market and more than 50,000 square feet of office space. The second scenario has no homes on the island, but 140,000 square feet of office space, stores and restaurant.

In response to the revelation of their plans, the NCC was careful to insist that there are no immediate plans for development. No change there then -- much like the LeBreton Flats, the NCC has been sitting on these properties for decades, seemingly with no other goal than to keep them as empty and banal as possible. (See NCC Wastelands for a look at the property rotting in the care of the NCC on Bates Island.)

Citizen: Hotel highlights NCC plans for islands [29 Jul 2003]
Radio-Canada: La CCN veut développer les îles de la rivière des Outaouais [29 Jul 2003]
Radio-Canada: Le restaurant pourrait revivre a l'ile Bates [4 Aug 2003]

Monday, May 5, 2003

"It seems this is almost impossible"

We wish. Chairman Beaudry got a few more column inches in the Citizen today to expound on his grand plans for Sparks Street, presenting a schizophrenic regard for infill development while lamenting that the NCC can't build the Metcalfe Grand Boulevard:

[Beaudry] says the criticism about the heart of the city -- dull, ugly, all concrete and no humanity, has some merit and there is no doubt the Sparks area, one of the city's prime locations, has lost "a lot of its lustre."

Mr. Beaudry says Sparks Street boasts a few good businesses, but most are "cheap shops, most of them second-, third- or fourth- rate."

He says the street is usually dead after 5 p.m., when it should be alive with activity.

Mr. Beaudry says the problem began when the area was being built decades ago. The city approved construction of tower after tower without proper regard for how the area would function as a meeting place for people.

"From the beginning," Mr. Beaudry says, "there should have been more planning and more care taken about the buildings in the core area. Particularly, more balance should have been put in there -- not only office buildings, but residences to put life in the area at night."

Mr. Beaudry says in cities such as London and Paris, which so many people admire, buildings had to be torn down to make way for large boulevards. And he laments that today "it seems this is almost impossible."

Mr. Beaudry says light rail is not necessarily part of the NCC's vision for downtown. The idea of having trains all the way to Sparks Street is the city's vision, and the commission has not taken a stand one way or another.

He says the NCC's aim is to bring more excitement to Sparks Street by having a mix of shops and apartments, and "whether you need light rail out there or whether you don't, I think the proof of that has not been made yet. It has to be proven that light rail will be beneficial."

Mr. Beaudry says he agrees with the city's plan of intensification and points out that, in fact, the NCC has been a leader of infill development.

Right now, he says, NCC-sponsored infill developments include 122 rental units at George and York streets in the Byward Market; 120 units on Murray Street; the 34 condos in the works on Sparks Street; 212 units at Nicholas and Laurier, near the University of Ottawa; and 2,500 units scheduled for LeBreton Flats.

But while he won't get his boulevard, it does look like he'll get his "Metcalfe Lite" square. Apparently a final decision will "likely" be made in the fall. Oddly enough, the article neglects to mention the main reason this square is being foisted on Centretown: it will be the roof for an underground parking lot. Yeah, that's the sort of thinking that made London and Paris great.

Citizen: Breathing life into downtown [5 May 2003]

Saturday, April 12, 2003

LeBreton Flats public meeting

The National Capital Commission has announced a public meeting to be held on Wednesday, April 23, 2003, from 5 pm to 9 pm at Tom Brown Arena. Apparently it will include a general update and risk assessment studies. What are risk assessment studies? From their web page:

On LeBreton Flats, this type of study is conducted where site specific soil remediation criteria have to be developed and where the human health and ecological risks of leaving contaminants in place have been assessed and it has been determined that no threat exists.

In short, whatever it is, it's not a threat. There will be a formal presentation of the project at 7 pm, followed by a "question-and-comment" period. We're not sure what happened to the answers portion of the program.

To support their LeBreton Flats effort, the NCC has created a LeBreton Flats page on their site. To wit: "One of the key components of the new vision for LeBreton Flats is to reclaim for Canadians one of the last and most beautiful waterfront sites in the nation's Capital." In effect, they are reclaiming it from themselves.

The NCC also released the Class Environmental Assessment for the construction of LeBreton Boulevard. The road has an estimated cost of $16,057,207, work is planned to start in 2003. Comments accepted up to May 12, 2003.

NCC: LeBreton Boulevard Class Environmental Assessment [9 April 2003]

Friday, April 4, 2003

LeBreton Flats Environmental Reports

The draft Environmental Assessment Report (by consultant Dessau-Soprin) and the draft Environmental Screening Report (by the National Capital Commission) about the remediation of the blocks between LeBreton Boulevard and the open aqueduct are now available for public comment, up until April 25.

NCC: LeBreton Public Consultation Reports

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Same plans, different day

Chairman Beaudry spoke of the National Capital Commission's plans at an Orleans Chamber of Commerce networking luncheon. Nothing new here, same plans, same excuses for the LeBreton Flats, Sparks Street, Confederation Boulevard, and the McConnell-Laramee freeway.

OBJ: NCC chief charts out vision of future [26 Mar 2003]

Monday, February 24, 2003

Nice work if you can get it

Former Mayor Jim Watson slams the NCC in the Citizen for its lack of transparency:

The NCC has to be the most secretive and unaccountable federal agency in existence, and watching this so-called accountability session convinced me even more that this institution has to be reformed.

To say that chairman Marcel Beaudry rules with an iron fist is the understatement of the millennium.

He is the only head of a major Crown corporation who is both the CEO and chairman of the board at the same time, and I doubt very much if he subscribes to Paul Martin's "democratic deficit" theory when it comes to the control he has over his version of backbenchers -- the NCC commissioners.

A few months ago, I was flying into Ottawa and happened to be sitting beside a woman who asked if I lived in Ottawa. I said yes, and asked her where she was from.

She replied that she was coming to Ottawa for a board meeting of a Crown corporation.

My ears perked up and I asked her which one, and she said "the NCC."

[...]I asked her whether she enjoyed sitting on this board, and her reply was particularly candid.

She said: "I love coming to Ottawa, but we basically rubber- stamp everything the chairman gives us. But at least we get to fly business class!"

[...]In response to growing discontent about the NCC and its handling of a variety of issues (LeBreton Flats, Champlain Bridge widening, and the proposed demolition of parts of Metcalfe Street) the NCC appointed former Privy Council clerk Glen Shortliffe to bring forward recommendations on how to improve the organization.

The NCC, in typical fashion, received Mr. Shortliffe's report -- which in part called for more transparency -- then proceeded to discuss its 11 recommendations at a secret meeting.

The most pressing and relevant suggestion -- that board meetings be held in the open -- was not even put forward, and so we are left with a dog-and-pony show called the Annual General Meeting.

Interestingly in Mr. Shortliffe's report, a public opinion poll stated that "more than 90 per cent of residents think that the NCC should be open and accessible to the public in all its dealings, and meetings should be regularly held to account to the public for its plans and decisions." Yet despite this overwhelming response, the best Mr. Shortliffe could come up with was an annual public meeting and two semi-annual meetings.

Even then, Mr. Shortliffe's recommendation allows the chairman to keep a tight grip on his board members. This section of the report concludes: "The format will permit members of the board, with the permission of the chair (emphasis mine), to ask questions of the interveners."

[...]I know of at least two commissioners whose terms were not renewed because they dared to question actions of the chairman and management and who were viewed as not being "team players" in the eyes of Mr. Beaudry.

Citizen: It's time to end NCC secrecy [24 Feb 2003]

Monday, December 16, 2002

NCC floats aboriginal centre again

The NCC is once again claiming progress on some sort of aboriginal centre for largely vacant Victoria Island:

NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry, who has identified the aboriginal centre as his personal priority among the multitude of projects on the federal agency's agenda, says the 15-year-old idea has faltered in the past due to a lack of co-ordination and will.

But he says amicable talks between the NCC and a native group led by Algonquin elder William Commanda, new ideas about how the centre might be financed and operated, and the passionate involvement of renowned aboriginal architect Douglas Cardinal have all rekindled interest in the concept.

And Mr. Beaudry says the ongoing redevelopment of nearby LeBreton Flats -- where completion of a new Canadian War Museum is expected to kickstart a decade of commercial and residential construction -- will provide a timely opportunity to extend modern sewer and water services to Victoria Island and literally lay the groundwork for the project.

"If we sit back and we don't keep on the pressure to move ahead, then the same thing might happen as what happened back in 1990," Mr. Beaudry told the Citizen. "There was interest at one point in time, it never got picked up and it was all forgotten. So we brought it back in 1998 and I'm trying to push it as fast as I can."

He added that he would like to see the centre begun in earnest "within the next couple of years. Once we've got the momentum, we need to keep it going and we need to achieve it."

[...]"The NCC came up here a week or so ago and presented us some of their ideas," said Mr. Whiteduck. "This was brand new -- they were coming to us. That was a real first. It is a positive development. And they have remained in contact and they are going to share with us archeological reports, preliminary reports, etc., so we can react."

During the 1990s, the NCC held discussions with the Assembly of First Nations about creating a national aboriginal centre at Victoria Island that would double as the AFN's headquarters. Despite interest at the time from Mr. Cardinal -- whose wavy-walled Canadian Museum of Civilization has become one of the capital's most recognized landmarks -- the project never got off the ground.

[...]"All of this is going to be tied in together at one point in time in the future," insisted Mr. Beaudry. "When it's going to happen I don't know. But it is going to happen."

In other words, we can all go back to sleep, we're dealing with LeBreton Flats timeframes on this one.

Citizen: NCC rekindles plan for national aboriginal centre [16 Dec 2002]

Saturday, December 14, 2002

NCC floats Chaudiere Island plans again

Every few years, the NCC mentions how much they'd like to do something with Chaudiere Island. Thus:

Mr. Beaudry noted during a speech in September that the NCC has been in discussions for two years with paper manufacturer Domtar Inc. about acquiring property on the eastern end of Chaudiere Island and converting the former Booth Board Mill into a federal government building.

Built in 1912 but unused since 1980, the former cardboard factory has been described by one heritage architect as a stunning candidate for "adaptive re-use" as an office building.

During an interview with the Citizen, Mr. Beaudry revealed that the NCC and Public Works are, in fact, interested in creating an office building at the site to serve as a new home for Parks Canada, which currently shares space with its parent department, Canadian Heritage, and several other federal agencies at Les Terrasses de la Chaudiere complex in Gatineau.

And, as usual, Domtar notes its disinterest in the whole business:

[...]Domtar spokesman Patrice Bourgoin said the company hadn't heard of the Parks Canada idea but is familiar with the NCC's determination to purchase all or part of Chaudiere Island and other industrial lands along the waterfront.

He said that although discussions occur from time to time with the federal government about Domtar's properties, the company's active paper-making operation on Chaudiere Island is "very profitable." And while Domtar has no immediate plans for the abandoned cardboard mill, he said, the company is inclined to maintain ownership in the event of a possible business expansion.

Mr. Beaudry said there's no urgency about deciding what should become of either Victoria or Chaudiere, but added it makes sense to consider extending services to the islands now as part of the LeBreton Flats redevelopment rather than doing it as a separate project in the future.

Mr. Bourgoin added that selling the eastern part of the island for an office building would probably lead to conflicts between the paper plant and its new neighbour. He said Domtar would prefer to retain the entire island to help maintain a "buffer" between industrial operations and other public or commercial activities.

So, as usual, nothing is happening.

Citizen: NCC eager to move into old mill [14 Dec 2002]

Friday, December 13, 2002

LeBreton development angers residents

The NCC got an earful at a consultation meeting last night:

About 30 residents attended the public consultation at Tom Brown Arena. Many were upset that the development, which will include office towers, retail, residential and the new War Museum, would put even more traffic pressure on Booth Street, especially heavy trucks. "It takes me 15 minutes to back out of my driveway every morning as it is," said Dany Paraschivoiu, who lives on Booth Street. "They're destroying the beauty of old Booth Street."

[...]NCC project director Peter McCourt said the meeting is "sharpening our understanding" of the residents' concerns.

Citizen: LeBreton development angers residents [13 Dec 2002]

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

An eyesore next to Parliament Hill

Researcher Ken Rubin assesses the NCC's Metcalfe Lite parking garage plan in the Citizen:

The above-ground "plaza" on Metcalfe will be sterile and foreboding if the existing drab area in front of the NCC's visitor centre is any guide. The plaza will entail the demolition of three heritage buildings and the moving of two other buildings, including the visitor centre. Far from being a lively, well-located town square, the plaza will essentially function as the concourse to the garage below, making it more like a mass-transit entrance -- lacking, of course, the mass transit.

[...]Documents show that more-distant parking-structure sites were rejected. Options such as park and ride or a tasteful light-rail transit link through the core area, stopping at the Hill, were not seriously considered. And the plans are not connected to a recent City of Ottawa report suggesting an expensive bus-only tunnel downtown.

The parking garage/plaza project, if proceeded with, seems destined to bring more downtown disruption. Bus and car pick-up and drop-off points will overly dominate area traffic and pour hundreds more visitors into a small area. Documents indicate that the project could mean reopening Sparks Street for some traffic, severely restricting Queen Street traffic, and more than occasional area road closings when bus and vehicle flows are unmanageable.

The cost estimates for this parking garage/plaza and related projects are still well hidden and not thought out, but no doubt will be exorbitant. For an initial idea of cost, turn to the already inflated millions of dollars the NCC spent on purchasing Sparks Street office buildings. And recall the high maintenance and repair bills associated with such downtown parking structures as the National Arts Centre underground lot for an idea of the future costs.

Such a parking garage/plaza configuration will not kick-start downtown revitalization, of Sparks Street in particular. Set against the magic of Parliament Hill, it just does not work. It's about as imaginative as the national "vista" created by putting up a 66-year leased condominium concrete tower on what was the promising Daly site nearby.

[...]It's too bad that the federal government has learned little from the controversy it faced over tearing down more of Metcalfe Street further south for a larger and equally questionable mall.

After all, these are the same folks who "renewed" the downtown core of the former Hull in the 1970s with massive federal buildings and parking complexes, and who now want to create a high-rise, high- traffic community in and through LeBreton Flats. They see nothing out of the ordinary or undesirable about plunking down a mega- parking garage opposite Parliament Hill.

Citizen: An eyesore next to Parliament Hill [11 Dec 2002]

Friday, November 22, 2002

LeBreton Flats open house

The NCC will present its design for LeBreton Boulevard at an open house 12 December 2002 at Tom Brown Arena, 5PM to 9PM.

Thursday, November 7, 2002

NCC Annual Meeting the second

Well, the second annual meeting has come and gone, and once again it was an exemplary exercise in petulant self-justification on the part of our favorite Crown corporation. The NCC chose to describe their new animal regulations, their plans for the LeBreton Flats, and those events in the capital that they don't believe they get enough credit for. Kudos to area dog owners, who take the award for exasperating Chairman Beaudry the most during the question and answer session.

CBC: NCC talks new bridges, dogs at annual meeting [7 Nov 2002]
Centretown News: NCC faces public scrutiny [22 Nov 2002]
NCC 2002 Annual Meeting page

Friday, October 4, 2002

The NCC's golden design opportunity

Citizen columnist Randall Denley takes a look at the NCC's plans for LeBreton Flats:

[NCC official Peter McCourt] says the NCC isn't trying to wring the last dollar from the site. The idea is to sell the land at a price that lets developers put more quality into the buildings without making them unaffordable to buyers.

These are reassuring things to hear, because the NCC's track record doesn't inspire confidence. Remember the Daly Building?

The idea of these people organizing whole neighbourhoods is frightening, but we have to approach this positively. There's no other choice, since ordinary people don't really have any further say in what goes on the site. The NCC has been consulting the public since 1994, but the useful point of consultation is when the NCC can say, "Here's what the new LeBreton's actually going to look like. What do you think?"

We aren't there yet, and may not get there until developers start to build. The closest we will come is when the NCC releases its detailed design guidelines several months from now.

Many problems must be overcome for the new LeBreton to succeed.

LeBreton Boulevard bisects the site, separating the public spaces on the north side from the offices and homes on the south side. The road is being planned at six lanes. If it's too wide, or too busy, it will cut the neighbourhood off from the museum and the river.

The buildings that face the boulevard will have a maximum height of 12 storeys. That has the potential to create an intimidating visual wall. McCourt says this effect will be avoided by limiting most buildings to six storeys and using the full 12-storey height only for corner tower buildings.

The population of the new LeBreton won't be very large, no more than 5,500 people. Will that be enough to sustain neighborhood services, or will everything close up by 5 o'clock, once the office workers have gone home?

Another key issue is the role the NCC chooses for itself. The commission hasn't decided if it will act as developer and sell lots to small builders, or release larger chunks of land to big developers. The first option offers the most control, and makes the most sense. We ought to take advantage of the fact that this land is publicly owned.

Citizen: The NCC's golden design opportunity [4 Oct 2002]

Sunday, September 29, 2002

NCC has cyclists on a road to nowhere

Road to nowhereThe Ottawa Cycling Advisory Committee (OCAC), who have been tracking the NCC's performance from a cycling perspective, has some pointed criticisms. From the Citizen:

"The NCC treats bicycles as toys for tourists," Brett Delmage said. "They say they don't have a mandate for transportation, but the decisions they make affect transportation for people all the time. They think about roads, but they don't think about commuters on bicycles."

At the south end of the newly renovated Champlain Bridge, for instance, a bike path runs straight into a traffic sign.

"It's a new project," said John Kane, an NCC spokesman. "There are going to be things that have to be worked out."

Mr. Kane said he didn't know who would have been responsible for painting lines that, if cyclists were to obey them, would cause serious injuries.

When the Champlain Bridge was closed for construction, Mr. Delmage said, the commission suggested cyclists use the next one over -- a six-kilometre detour.

The NCC, he said, considers its pathways recreational and thinks nothing of closing them or creating detours without warning, and doesn't consider the safety of cyclists who might be on the paths after dark.

According to the committee, cyclists have been badly hurt when they've run into barriers the commission has placed to stop cars from running into its paths -- which are painted black.

The OCAC recently got the NCC to change its plans for a proposed biking detour to accommodate the LeBreton Flats construction. The NCC was going to have cyclists crossing Booth Street walk or ride their bikes through crowds of people waiting for buses at the LeBreton Transitway station. OCAC has assembled a list of the NCC's more notable blunders:

  • Leaving marker lines unchanged during construction projects: During a construction project at Britannia in the mid-1990s, a cyclist was led into a snow fence by path lines that didn't change to indicate a detour.
  • Portage Bridge: Closed to cyclists during construction in 1998; reopened with a poorly designed bike path.
  • Champlain Bridge: When the Champlain Bridge was closed for construction, the NCC suggested cyclists use the next one over -- a six-kilometre detour. Cyclists had to use a 1.5-metre-wide, 1.7-kilometre-long sidewalk during a three-year reconstruction. And when finally reopened, it had wide bike paths, but multiple obstacles when exiting the bridge, and a bike path that runs straight into a traffic sign (see photo).
  • Alexandra Bridge: Vendors' booths were placed across the marked bike path during the Francophonie Games in 2001, while the existing bike path leads cyclists onto a pedestrian sidewalk.
  • Wellington Street: During reconstruction of Wellington Street in 1998, the NCC placed a sign to car drivers across a nearby bike path.
  • Ottawa River Parkway: Cyclists ordered off the road during reconstruction in the early 1990s.
  • Black bollards: Low poles to keep car drivers off bike paths are black and nearly invisible in the dark.

Citizen: Advisory committee says NCC is oblivious to city's cyclists [29 Sep 2002]
Ottawa Cycling Advisory Committee
Champlain bridge cycling hazards

Friday, September 27, 2002

For all Canadians

The NCC and its defenders claim that critics don't really understand the NCC's role, that it serves a far grander purpose than serving the necessarily parochial interests of the residents of the national capital region. It is an insidious argument, as it allows the NCC to dismiss criticism out of hand as the time wasting provincialism of an idle and feckless citizenry, while granting themselves a mandate so vague that it allows them to justify anything.

Suppose then that the NCC proposed, in the interest of all Canadians, to explode a neutron bomb over the city. Is there some point at which one could stand up and say "I disagree" without being dismissed as a yokel? An absurd example, perhaps, but that's more or less what the NCC did to the LeBreton Flats in 1963. Now I don't care if the NCC demolished the flats for all Canadians, for their mothers, or for baby Jesus -- whether I lived in Vancouver or Wawa, given the salient facts I would conclude that that was a monumentally boneheaded thing to do.

Of course, chances are that if I lived in Vancouver or Wawa, I wouldn't be aware of the NCC, because while the NCC may be doing whatever it does for all Canadians, most Canadians just aren't paying attention. It therefore falls to those Canadians who are paying attention (not improbably, largely residents of the NCR) to hold the NCC to account for its actions. Why, you could even say we are criticizing the NCC on behalf of all Canadians. We judge the NCC's behaviour on its merits -- and the NCC has no one but themselves to blame if it is so often found wanting.

Friday, September 20, 2002

NCC reveals more of LeBreton Flats plan

Complete with colour-coded map and the now familiar artist's conception, the LeBreton Flats plan is making the rounds again. From the Citizen:

The NCC released the first detailed artist's rendering of how it expects LeBreton Flats to look in a few years.

The 12-storey buildings, containing apartments or offices, will be on LeBreton Boulevard, a new street on the south side of a triangular park in the area just west of Parliament Hill.

The new Canadian War Museum is scheduled to open in May, 2005 on the north side of the park, close to the Ottawa River.

Elisabeth Arnold, councillor for the area, said last week she feared a "highway hell" if too many high-rise buildings were permitted on LeBreton Flats.

That the proposal includes 12-story buildings now seems to be causing controversy. But as the Citizen recently pointed out, "If we insist on buildings that are only a couple of storeys high, we're not going to get a lively concentration of people living, and working in offices, stores, bars and restaurants. We'd just be buying into more loose suburban development." Just make sure the streets have a human scale, like Bank Street in Centretown. Unfortunately, they appear to be planning King Edward Boulevard II.

The plan to demolish three heritage buildings and move two others on Sparks Street to make way for a parkade is also being shopped around again. All that's changed is the NCC is now using the post-September 11 security arrangements on the hill to justify the demolition.

The need for more parking in the Sparks Street area has been made more acute by the federal government's decision to close Parliament Hill to tour buses and automobiles, he said.

The decision followed last September's terrorist attacks in the United States.

Mr. Beaudry said he expects the federal government to decide next spring whether to demolish three heritage buildings on the north side of Sparks Street, and to move to two others, in order to create space for a large underground parking garage along three blocks at the north end of Metcalfe Street.

Demolishing and moving buildings would permit a parking garage large enough for 650 automobiles and 30 buses, Mr. Beaudry said.

If no buildings were demolished or moved, the parking garage could accommodate 300 automobiles and no tour buses, he said.

The plan, of course, dates back to before 2000, and originated with the Metcalfe Grand Boulevard scheme.

Citizen: NCC looks to change face of Ottawa [20 Sep 2002]
Radio-Canada: La CCN veut démolir 3 édifices historiques sur la rue Sparks [20 Sep 2002]
CBC: 12-storey towers planned for LeBreton [20 Sep 2002]
Centretown News: NCC plan for downtown called 'robbery' [27 Sep 2002]

Friday, September 6, 2002

LeBreton Flats Public Open House

The NCC is hosting a public open house Wednesday, September 25, 2002, from 7 pm to 9:30 pm at the Tom Brown Hall, in the Tom Brown Arena 141 Bayview Road, Ottawa, Ontario. On the agenda will be the environmental assessments for the construction of water and wastewater works and the reconstruction of Booth Street. The environmental assessment reports for these two projects will be available on September 23, 2002. Comments will be accepted by the NCC until October 7, 2002.

A note to cyclists, if you use the route through the flats, you may want to voice your concerns at this meeting, as they are proposing a temporary sidewalk that will involve lots of walking for cyclists.

Friday, September 6, 2002

NCC 2001-2002 Annual Report released

We've yet to plow through this piece of self-congratulatory fluff, but a quick scan reveals that, as usual, their recollection of events is self-servingly selective. Project of the year is the LeBreton Flats, and the NCC is so proud of its accomplishments that they couldn't even wait for the Table of Contents to review their own "progress":

LeBreton Flats was the single most important NCC project in 2001-02. A large piece of empty land along the western edge of the downtown Capital, LeBreton Flats has lain virtually idle since it was cleared of housing and light industry in the 1960s. For several years now, the NCC has been working - with municipal partners - on a plan for redevelopment of LeBreton Flats.

In the interest of providing some sort of perspective on the whole situation, we just wanted to mention the unfortunate fact that it was the NCC itself that expropriated and demolished the flats and that the NCC is responsible for the flats lying idle ever since. So, nice work on the flats, guys.

Monday, July 16, 2002

LeBreton Flats Environmental Assessment Reports

Now available from the NCC. Comments will be accepted until July 25, 2002.

Friday, May 31, 2002

LeBreton Flats meeting

The next public meeting (fourth in the ongoing saga) about the NCC's progress on the LeBreton Flats will be held on Tuesday, June 11, 2002, from 7 pm to 9 pm at the Tom Brown Hall, in the Tom Brown Arena, 141 Bayview Road. The final Environmental Assessment (by consultant Dessau-Soprin) and the final Environmental Screening Report (by the NCC) are also now available to the public. Sounds like good bedtime reading.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

War Museum offers three designs

The War museum has posted three proposed designs for its new museum, to be constructed on the LeBreton Flats.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

LeBreton Flats work begins

Work has begun on the LeBreton Flats; archaeologists are to finish searching for artifacts in the area and decontamination work to begin next month. However, researchers are concerned they won't have enough time to properly investigate the site. Just one more thing the NCC could have been doing in the 40 years the land has been vacant.

CBC: Redevelopment work starts at LeBreton Flats [25 Apr 2002]
CBC: What's the story in LeBreton Flats? [26 Apr 2002]

Saturday, April 7, 2002

LeBreton Flats reports available

The draft Environmental Assessment Study (by consultant Dessau-Soprin) and the draft Environmental screening Report (by the NCC) are available to the public. Comments accepted from the public until the 18th of April.

Friday, April 6, 2002

Urban blight a fitting symbol of NCC decay

The Toronto Star ripped into the NCC today in an editorial:

By any measure, it is the capital's - perhaps the country's - most conflicted, revealing and evocative empty lot. A two-minute stroll from Parliament Hill, next door to the faintly lugubrious Chateau Laurier and across the street from the conference centre where the deal to bring home the Constitution was cut, the Daly site is spectacularly located at Canada's symbolic epicentre.

Sadly, it is equally well-located at the heart of bureaucratic bungling by another symbol: the starkly undemocratic National Capital Commission. After dithering over the Daly site since 1978, the commission is finally doing something. If all goes well - and it rarely does when the NCC puts on its developer overalls - nine floors of luxury condominiums will rise over street level shops on a historic, prime piece of property that belongs to all Canadians.

It wasn't supposed to end this way. At one time, the NCC was so committed to integrating the original home of Ottawa's first department store into grand - some say grandiose - plans for the national capital that it snubbed public demands for a temporary park that citizens, in a fit of civic pride, offered to build with their own hands.

Instead, the NCC, claiming to act in the national interest, built hoardings, dumped some benches, ran up a few flags and for more than a decade allowed a site with stunning potential to become an eyesore. True, the commission and Marcel Beaudry, a well-connected former developer who is now its reclusive chairman, were hardly idle. There was bold talk about a people place that would attract tourists while connecting a political sector that is silent after dark to the city's bustling Market. A 1997 shortlist of proposals led to a bizarre, fatally flawed plan to turn a quintessentially Canadian asset into an overflow hotel for the Chateau Laurier and, wait for it, an aquarium.

In contrast, the deal that will see a private developer build some 70 condominiums seems positively inspired. Artist drawings promise an appropriately handsome building and the units, ranging from just over $300,000 to just under $1 million, will bring more people and energy into the city core.

But what the NCC and Canadians get out of this is surprisingly small and out of sync with national interests. Leasing the land will cost the developer a modest $100,000 annually, money the NCC will use to fulfill its mandate of "Creating Pride and Unity Through Canada's Capital."

Again according to the NCC, the three tenets - that's tenets, not tenants - of that mandate are to "communicate Canada to Canadians, to create a meeting place for Canadians and to preserve national treasures and lands." How building condominiums fits that objective is a mystery at the heart of the NCC enigma. A crown corporation created in 1959 to safeguard federal buildings, monuments and parks, the NCC is much more. It is a mini-municipality that controls 10 per cent of the land in the sprawling National Capital Region. And, horrifying its many critics, it is often a developer, one with a nasty record of costly projects that regularly inflame a local population that has no control over an essentially unaccountable political institution.

Officially, Beaudry and 15 directors from across Canada are ultimately responsible to Parliament through Heritage Minister Sheila Copps. Reality is a little different. Too often, key decisions are made in private with mandarins or the Prime Minister.

That process can put the capital on a convoluted course. Last year, Beaudry and Jean Chrétien abruptly relocated the planned new military museum from a superior site on the Ottawa River to the downtown wasteland of LeBreton Flats as part of the search for the Prime Minister's missing legacy. And then there was the lunatic notion that a significant part of Ottawa's centre should be gutted to open a panoramic view to the Peace Tower.

Much less flamboyant, if almost as damaging, is the NCC's inept management of the Daly site. In less than 25 years, this deformed public-and-private-sector hybrid has levelled the last Canadian example of the Chicago school of architecture and created urban blight, only to build condominiums.

There were alternatives. The park, a public place capturing the spirited openness of Rome's Spanish Steps, a plaza of the provinces and a lasting tribute to the contribution of aboriginal peoples were all discarded.

A price should be paid for such wanton disregard of the public interest. Despite recent NCC efforts to let taxpayers occasionally peep inside its meetings, despite good works more in keeping with its mandate, it's far past the time for an autocratic, anachronistic institution to close its doors. Turn public lands over to Parks Canada, let Beaudry the developer return to development and let elected politicians, federal and local, shape and implement a national capital vision in the full glare of daylight

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

LeBreton Flats update

Cleanup of contaminated land is set to begin next month, apparently.

CBC: LeBreton clean-up to go ahead [20 Mar 2002]
Radio-Canada: Décontamination des plaines Le Breton [20 Mar 2002]

Friday, March 8, 2002

LeBreton Flats public meeting

Third in an ongoing series, Tuesday March 19 at 7 PM, Tom Brown Arena (upstairs). The NCC intends to provide a "general update" on our favorite 40 year old project. Sounds like a gas.

Monday, December 24, 2001

Concerns linger about Flats plan

The NCC presented its plans for the LeBreton Flats at a public information session last month. They are typically grandiose. The most notable feature is a six-lane "boulevard" that will bisect the development. And they still haven't decided on what to do about the contaminated soil.

Centretown News: Concerns linger about Flats plan [24 Dec 2001]
Centretown News: LeBreton clean-up delayed until spring [9 Nov 2001]

Friday, November 9, 2001

LeBreton clean-up delayed until spring

The NCC is selecting a contractor for the work of cleaning the flats, which now won't begin until spring 2002. Meanwhile, the NCC is holding a public information session Tuesday, Nov. 13, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Tom Brown Arena to provide an update on the Flats development.

Centretown News: LeBreton clean-up delayed until spring [9 Nov 2001]

Wednesday, November 7, 2001

It's not too late to do it right

Citizen letter writer Ken Rubin takes the Chairman Beaudry to task for the NCC's public consultations on LeBreton Flats:

National Capital Commission Chairman Marcel Beaudry has missed the point. He erroneously claims widespread public consultations were done on the questionable parts of his plans for the site that I challenged.

There have many examples: the abrupt decision to locate the Canadian War Museum there; the development of environmental assessment arrangements for the serious, widespread contamination problems on the site, which include dumping contaminants on-site at the Nepean Bay Landfill near the Ottawa River; the lack of truthful public disclosure and debate about creating heavy traffic on up to a six-lane highway through the site; and the concept plans being developed behind closed doors for blocks labelled as X, W, O, U and T so that disposal and private-sector construction can begin next year. The NCC chairman takes wide liberty if he really believes the general public was consulted on such basics.

There is time to remedy and improve these LeBreton Flats plans with more than token public consultations. After all, Mr. Beaudry writes in his letter that the site is a national significant place to be "treasured by Canadians and residents of the capital for generations to come."

Citizen Letters: It's not too late to do it right [7 Nov 2001]

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

NCC, Chretien must slow their half-baked development plan

Researcher Ken Rubin argues in the Citizen that the NCC's plans for LeBreton Flats are muddled and rushed:

The arbitrary and autocratic nature of development became apparent earlier this year when the Prime Minister and NCC Chairman Marcel Beaudry, along with Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, abruptly announced that a new War Museum would be plonked down as a central part of the LeBreton Flats "plan." This happened even though there were already advanced plans and private fundraising in progress for the War Museum at a much more suitable location on the former Rockcliffe air base.

It also bumped the planning under way to use the same northern part of LeBreton Flats as the future home of a cultural complex with a combined National Library, National Archives and Science and Technology Museum.

The public was never asked which of these multimillion-dollar plans made more sense in helping establish a vibrant downtown. Nor were any alternate uses of this space raised.

The other part of the current LeBreton "plan" calls for the sale of the remaining larger southern section of the Flats for private residential and commercial development. Right now, the NCC is pushing for construction of a few blocks of highrises and lowrises, to begin as early as next year. This, too, is viewed as a fait accompli, with no regard for the public costs and before environmental cleanup plans are aired and developed.

The NCC's own secret polling of developers indicated that not all of those responding were convinced of the viability of proceeding now with such development, or the wisdom of a wholesale sell-off of the southern lands. Some developers also told the NCC that this massive project was beyond the NCC's ability, and that the likely result would be just another mundane suburbia project.

[...]"Urgent" top-down planning began in earnest on LeBreton Flats once the NCC, notorious for its unaccountable nature and with an unenviable track record as a developer, assumed prime ownership of the site a few years ago. About 40 years ago, it was a heavy-handed government-driven process that resulted in the wholesale destruction of many homes and businesses at that site.

Alternative plans for what could be an exciting downtown area, with ample open space that rehabilitates and reinvigorates the area's environment, have not been adequately debated and reviewed. Too much wheeling-dealing has gone on behind closed doors.

It's a one-sided, ad hoc, and highly political development "plan" that does not add up unless the public wishes to give the NCC and the PM a blank cheque to proceed. It's a Daly site project writ large, complete with on- and off-again plans, increasingly expensive costs and a relatively unimaginative and counter-productive design.

Citizen: NCC, Chretien must slow their half-baked development plan [24 Oct 2001]

Thursday, September 27, 2001

NCC General Meeting predictably irrelevant

The National Capital Commission's first annual general meeting went pretty much as anyone with a passing familiarity with the NCC might expect. The meeting, one of the superficial recommendations made by Glen Shortliffe in a report released late last year, lived up to its billing in every respect. For roughly an hour and a half, the NCC presented some slideshows and an amateurish video extolling their own virtues. And then the crowd got to hector Marcel for another hour and a half during a meaningless question and answer session.

With the members of the NCC Board of Directors flanking him on either side, serving much the same purpose as the stage backdrop and the potted plants, Chairman Beaudry got things rolling with a 15 minute speech that was as bland and uninformative as it was patronizing. Four slide show presentations, on Sparks Street, Leamy Lake Park, the Daly site, and the LeBreton Flats, followed in quick succession. The NCC finished its presentation with a branding exercise, in the form of a short amateur video entitled "Our passion, our mission, your capital." Whatever.

The question and answer session was enjoyable if only for the pleasure of watching Chairman Beaudry and his 14 apparatchiks maintain their plastic smiles throughout the entire charade. Members of the Moffatt Farm Citizen's Coalition and the coalition opposing the Lac Leamy golf course were best represented. Chairman Beaudry fielded virtually all the questions, responding with some breathtakingly patronizing bromides, at one point even going so far as to credit the NCC and its forbears for whatever quality of life the region has.

NCC: Summary of the question and answer session
Citizen: NCC's meeting frustrates opponents of casino golf course [27 Sep 2001]
Centretown News: Open doors, now open ears [12 Oct 2001]

Saturday, July 21, 2001

The NCC's War museum plans

Here's a good summary of the National Capital Commission's plans for the LeBreton Flats from the Centretown Buzz.

Centretown Buzz: The NCC's War museum plans [21 June 2001]
Citizen: LeBreton time frame 'too ambitious,' councillor says [21 June 2001]

Tuesday, July 17, 2001

BluesFest forced to move from LeBreton after all

The National Capital Commission is forcing the Ottawa BluesFest to move from the LeBreton Flats because, get this, no one expected the Flats to be developed so quickly: "Guy Laflamme of the NCC says they weren't even dreaming of developing LeBreton Flats in such a short time frame." Guy, it's been 36 years.

CBC: BluesFest forced to move from LeBreton after all [17 July 2001]

Friday, July 13, 2001

The National Capital Commission's planning disasters through time

The NCC has redone its web site ( Fear not, the site is still rich with irony, and apparently they still can't get enough of themselves, particularly their own special brand of planning genius. In a new section Planning Canada's Capital Region, they go on at length about their perceived planning victories. As a public service, NCC Watch offers this alternate planning time line:

"Stalinist Planning Writ Small: A people's history of the NCC"


First settlement on the north side of the Ottawa River. Notably, this was done without the aid of NCC planners.


A town is founded on the south side of the river when the building of the Rideau Canal begins. Incredibly, this too was done without any advice from the NCC.


Ottawa is chosen as Capital of the newly formed Province of Canada (created from Upper and Lower Canada, parts of today's Ontario and Quebec). The NCC regrets that it wasn't around at the time so that it could come up with this idea first. But if they had been, they would have, you bet.


Formation of the Ottawa Improvement Commission "to beautify" Ottawa. It clears industry from around the Rideau Canal and creates parks and Ottawa's first scenic parkway. It then snubs the remaining industry by spreading vicious rumours about it and never inviting it to dinner.


Todd Plan: Expresses the idea of a Capital region framed in a network of parks. Pushes for a boulevard to link the Parliament Buildings to Rideau Hall. The story behind this is classic Federal Government planning in action: Sussex was one of Ottawa's first and most successful commercial streets, but Lady Aberdeen, wife of the Governor General, wanted to enjoy a "beautiful ride on her way from Rideau Hall". She eventually got the government to expropriate the entire west side of Sussex, except for the Daly Building (that would be taken care of later). The Connaught Building was built between 1913-1915, but then the rest of the land stayed vacant. It was used as a parking space for decades. The U.S. Embassy was finally built there in the 90s.


Holt Report: Recommends establishment of a federal district planning authority and extension of the park system.


Yet Another Report: Boldly supports the idea of a new planning authority, recommends removal of rail lines from the centre, building of highways, extension of the park system, general tidying up.


The Federal District Commission is formed with the authority and budget to enact past recommendations. And, according to this time line anyway, promptly does nothing for the next 20 years. This period is now looked back on as something of a Golden Age.


Greber Plan rather imaginatively recommends emasculating Ottawa's rail network and building roads, decentralizing government offices (resulting in those triumphs, Place du Portage, Les Terraces de la Chaudiere, Confederation Heights, etc.), and expropriating vast amounts of land for the Greenbelt.


The National Capital Act sets the mandate for a new kind of planning authority (just like the old planning authority).


The NCC expropriates land for the Greenbelt from people like the Woodburns.


The National Capital Commission (NCC) is formed to carry out recommendations of the Greber Plan. Of course, they've no intention of stopping there.


True to their ideals, the NCC expropriates and demolishes the LeBreton Flats. Incredibly, this was planned without consulting the people who actually lived there. The land remains vacant.


The NCC generously decides to not demolish Ottawa Union Station, figuring a vacant lot might not look so good during the Centennial. The train station was however moved to the suburbs, guaranteeing its irrelevance. The rail lines were replaced with roads such as the Nicholas Expressway.


The Federal Government expropriates the north side of Sparks Street, essentially freezing development and accelerating its decline.


Fearing its budget isn't growing fast enough, the NCC persuades the government to expand its mandate to include public programming, because the public need programming.


After neglecting the building for a decade, the NCC demolishes the Daly Building in the heart of Ottawa, quashing plans for its restoration. The land remains vacant.


The NCC conceive a Vision for the Core Area (complete with a plan to demolish Metcalfe Street), approve a Plan for Canada's Capital, prepare a Core Area Concept of Canada's Capital, and develop a Core Area Sector Plan. That's two plans, a vision, and a concept. On the practical side, the development of the Daly site flounders.

NCC: Planning chronology

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

How to develop LeBreton Flats

Ottawa architecture critic Rhys Phillips has some recommendations for the NCC:

Here, then, are a few counter recommendations for the NCC:

- Appoint a signature design firm with a stellar international reputation, such as A.J. Diamond, Donald Schmitt and Company, to carry out the plan;

- prepare a short list of the best Canadian architects for projects, augmented with competitions, to ensure showcase (not to be confused with showboat) designs;

- commission or select the winning project first, then tender to the private sector with strict performance requirements; and

- permit bids only from developers with proven, innovative records.

The above approach worked spectacularly in Berlin in the 1980s and has worked for decades in Helsinki, the western world's poster child for a delightful, humane, and livable city of "villages." Public/private partnerships in other Canadian cities are rapidly outpacing Ottawa. That's a pity.

Citizen: Parochial developers clearly not ready for LeBreton Flats [4 Jul 2001]

Tuesday, June 19, 2001

NCC and city urged to work together

The City of Ottawa's 20/20 Growth Summit is now over, and the planning masterminds have concluded that the City and NCC should share the same vision, whatever it might be. At a special session entitled "Capital City - the role of the NCC and federal government", speakers included Chairman Beaudry, among others:

"We are facing a difficult problem in bringing together all the ideas that have come forward in the last couple of days," said Gilles Paquet, director of the University of Ottawa's Centre on Governance, said yesterday during the final session of the city's Ottawa 20/20 Smart Growth Summit. "(Municipal, federal and NCC leaders) are not always singing from the same songbook."

A speech from National Capital Commission chairman Marcel Beaudry surveyed the commission's history in Ottawa and current plans for adding residences to Sparks Street, creating a Metcalfe Street plaza and building on LeBreton Flats, before he found himself defending the NCC's role.

"Most community association representatives have very little trust for the NCC," said Action Sandy Hill president Peter Marwitz, who echoed thoughts voiced by others in the audience and on the summit's Web site that the NCC should work more co-operatively with the city and community groups, or even relinquish its power.

Mr. Paquet suggested the federal government's voice in Ottawa should be concentrated in the NCC, instead of spread out among Public Works and other departments, to allow the NCC and the mayors of Ottawa and the soon-to-be-amalgamated Outaouais to negotiate effectively. But Mr. Beaudry said he saw little need to change the current arrangement.

"There are some (community associations) that have always been negative about the NCC and I don't think we're going to be able to change that, whatever we do. On the other hand I think most of the population feel that we're doing a good job," he said, adding he can't see the NCC gaining any more power than it has now. "There's so many departments involved. Transportation, for instance -- I don't see Minister (David) Collenette would be turning over his responsibility to me."

They've set up some forums, so head on over and let them know what you think of the NCC.

Citizen: City, NCC urged to share vision [19 Jun 2001]

Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Federal funding ignites rush to clean LeBreton Flats

The NCC is still casting about for options on cleaning up The LeBreton Flats. The latest proposal would have the polluted soil reburied nearby instead of moved to a more distant landfill.

Update: The Citizen reported May 23 that the NCC withheld estimates on the amount of contaminated soil from a previous (March 2000) consultant's report on the soil contamination. The report was obtained through an access to information request, but most figures in the report were deleted by the NCC.

OBJ: Federal funding ignites rush to clean LeBreton Flats [22 May 2001]
CBC: Toxic LeBreton soil's a hot potato [17 May 2001]
Citizen: NCC still looking into polluted LeBreton soil [15 May 2001]
Citizen: Clean LeBreton properly [22 May 2001]

Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Yet another strategy for revitalizing Ottawa

It's official; Sheila Copps, Canadian Heritage Minister, announced a plan to put the War Museum on The LeBreton Flats after all. The plan includes $100 million for the museum and another $60 million to clean the land and move the Ottawa River Parkway. The "Metcalfe Light" plan for Sparks Street is still on the table as well.

Citizen: New plan for Flats [15 May 2001]
CBC: New home for War Museum on LeBreton Flats [16 May 2001]

Friday, March 16, 2001

Author criticizes plan for LeBreton Flats

Phil Jenkins, author of An Acre of Time (a history of The LeBreton Flats) offers pointed criticism of the NCC's plans for the Flats. Best quote: "The only way we can make a dramatic change in the plans? I'd have to chain myself to Sheila Copps, which is not a pleasant thought." Indeed.

Centertown News: Author criticizes plan for LeBreton Flats [16 Mar 2001]

Monday, March 19, 2001

LeBreton Flats ideal for new National Library

With the scent of Federal money in the air, seems like everybody suddenly wants a piece of The LeBreton Flats. The Canadian Library Association is now getting in on the action, pressing the Feds for a new National Library, preferably an "architectural gem and a major cultural tourist attraction."

Citizen: LeBreton Flats ideal for new National Library [16 Mar 2001]

Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Rejuvenating a jewel

Talk of The LeBreton Flats finally being developed is getting more and more optimistic every day as this article attests. Best quote: the NCC claims it is "working feverishly on a servicing plan for Ottawa council approval." Feverishly? Um, it's been forty years, guys. No point in trying to look busy now.

And should the NCC's most optimistic plans come to fruition in the best possible way, will it all have been worthwhile? In a word, no. At best, the NCC is capable of creating a comparatively sterile development of modern buildings and Federal monuments.

Citizen: Rejuvenating a jewel [13 Mar 2001]

Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Falling in love on the Flats

The Citizen has an interesting article about a couple who met and married while living on The LeBreton Flats:

Gene and Edward both remember clearly when, around 1965, the hammer came down and their beloved LeBreton was levelled as part of a plan to beautify the city. They had long since moved to Carlington before the razing, but they remember the time well. While others went to see history being made -- or rather being destroyed -- they refused to go and watch as bulldozers tore down a place 28,000 people once lived in, thrived in and called home. "I never wanted to see it torn down because there were too many memories there. I was too upset to see it go," Edward said.

And today, as the Flats stand on the verge of rejuvenation, Edward has mixed feelings. He is relieved that a thriving neighbourhood that became an urban wasteland is finally being put to some use. He likes the idea of a housing development, the parks and museums planned for the area. But he still can't understand why people were forced out and the land left to sit idle for 40 years. And he is still hedging his bets on whether the development will happen in his lifetime.

"I don't think valuable land should be empty for so long. But I don't know if the development will happen in my lifetime. I am not holding my breath for it," he said.

As to "why people were forced out and the land left to sit idle for 40 years," three words: National Capital Commission.

Citizen: Falling in love on the Flats [13 Mar 2001]

Thursday, March 8, 2001

War museum could open by 2005: NCC

The NCC swears up and down that, no really, the War Museum won't be delayed all that much if it is moved to The LeBreton Flats. Forgive our skepticism. And they're sticking to their story that "it's taken years of negotiations with regional and municipal governments to get to the point where development can begin." 35 years of negotiations, apparently.

Citizen: War museum could be built by 2005 at LeBreton Flats [13 Mar 2001]

Thursday, March 8, 2001

Chretien's 'grand design' for the capital

Jean Chretien is apparently one of the driving forces behind plans for museums and monuments on The LeBreton Flats, as well as the Sparks Street plaza. Of course, the 'grand design' also included the late, unlamented Metcalfe Grand Boulevard. The NCC, meanwhile, is waiting for the government to commit to putting the War Museum on the Flats before starting development. The article ominously compares the Flats to Hull, stating "LeBreton Flats represents the largest development in the capital since the federal government turned much of downtown Hull into office towers for bureaucrats 20 years ago." Here's hoping things don't turn out quite so badly.

Citizen: Chretien has 'grand design' for the capital [8 Mar 2001]

Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Bluesfest will remain at LeBreton: NCC

According to the NCC, the Bluesfest will be able to remain at the LeBreton Flats after it is developed. No word on when that might be.

Citizen: Bluesfest will remain at LeBreton [7 Mar 2001]

Wednesday, March 7, 2001

LeBreton 'jewel' poised for facelift

Unnamed sources believe an announcement that the War Museum will be moved to the LeBreton Flats is imminent. Veterans groups remain opposed to the plan, preferring the Rockliffe site, as they believe moving to the Flats will result in delays.

Citizen: LeBreton 'jewel' poised for facelift [7 Mar 2001]
Citizen letter: Legion puzzled [15 Mar 2001]

Friday, February 23, 2001

Fine spot for a museum or two

The Citizen wants the NCC to get moving with the LeBreton Flats:

So what's stopping this ambitious LeBreton development? Why aren't the buildings going up now? The biggest stumbling block on LeBreton Flats has always been the environmental question -- what to do about the soil that is contaminated by old factories that once operated at LeBreton. What company would want to start building on contaminated soil? It's equally been the thing blocking any federal construction project.

The government simply has to start cleaning up the soil. The cost estimates have varied a lot, but today the NCC figures it could cost between $30 million and $50 million to clean such a large area. Why not just go ahead and make that financial commitment? The end cost may not be that expensive.

In fact, the consultant believes it may be cheaper, but that will remain uncertain until the work is started. It's unlikely that the clean-up cost will get any cheaper. Once the clean-up is complete, the government can start to recover its costs by selling land to developers.

After 30 years of talk and study about this land, LeBreton is ready for action. The land is now all in the hands of the federal government. An attractive plan is on the books. The only decisions that have yet to be made are which national cultural institutions get the choice riverfront building sites, and how buildings will be planned and built in financially responsible fashion.

The government would show that it's serious about going ahead with this important project by starting to clean up the land.

Indeed. They've only had 40 years to do the job.

Citizen: Fine spot for a museum or two [23 Feb 2001]

Tuesday, February 20, 2001

War museum's new home on LeBreton Flats?

The NCC, eager to transform The LeBreton Flats from a monument to its own incompetence into a monument to, erm, anything else, is lobbying to get the War Museum or Science and Technology Museum (or both) moved to LeBreton Flats. According to NCC mouthpiece Dianne Dupuis, they want to go ahead with development "sooner rather than later" (great idea, guys!). As always, they've managed to create a bureaucratic side show as the War Museum is already planned for Rockliffe, and the Museum folks seem a bit nonplussed at the suggestion of moving at this late date. Our advice to the War Museum: start digging, because if you get stuck on the flats, you're not likely to see a museum for another 35 years.

CBC: War museum's new home on LeBreton Flats? [20 Feb 2001]
Citizen: Museum plans for LeBreton Flats [20 Feb 2001]
Citizen: War Museum has its right site [20 Feb 2001]
Citizen: Liberals eye LeBreton site for museum [18 Feb 2001]

Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Local Liberal MPs content with NCC

No surprise here, the Citizen asked Ottawa area MPs what they thought of the recently released report on the NCC and found overwhelming apathy:

A major report from the National Capital Commission on how to improve its relations with local governments and citizens has been available for almost a week now, yet most Ottawa-area members of Parliament have been slow to find out what's in it. The few who have read the report seem strangely content with the idea of the NCC safeguarding its habit of secrecy.

Ottawa Centre MP Mac Harb, whose constituency includes Sparks Street and LeBreton Flats, insists that opening NCC meetings to the public would politicize its work and make it impossible to carry out the NCC's mandate on behalf of all Canadians. If some of its decisions anger his constituents, well, Mr. Harb considers that a small price to pay for all the NCC's good work in the region.

Eugene Bellemare (Ottawa-Orleans) agrees. He says the report means there will be more openness at the NCC than before, although people with "extreme views" will complain.We disagree with these MPs' analysis. But at least they were willing to share their views when we asked.

The Ottawa-area's 10 Liberal MPs (Scott Reid, Lanark-Carleton's Canadian Alliance rookie, gets left out here) will gather today for their weekly regional caucus meeting. We hope that they have all, at last, found time to review the $250,000 NCC report so they can discuss it with intelligence and even suggest improvements.

Take Ottawa West-Nepean's Marlene Catterall, who told the Citizen during the recent election campaign that "no one has worked harder" than she to pry open the secrecy surrounding the NCC. Fine, then what does she think about the recommendation that the NCC establish a Planning Advisory Committee with the mayor of the new City of Ottawa and the chairman of the Outaouais Urban Community? Do the suggestions that the NCC hold an annual general meeting open to the public, as well as semi-annual public consultations with local interest groups, satisfy her?

Quite frankly, we don't know; Ms. Catterall never bothered to get back to us. Nor did Marcel Proulx (Hull-Aylmer) or Robert Bertrand (Pontiac-Gatineau-Labelle). Gatineau MP Mark Assad did return our call -- to advise us that he wanted to consult with his Liberal colleagues today before giving his opinion. (Whatever happened to independent thinking?)

Ottawa-Vanier's Mauril Belanger also called back, to tell us he was still in the process of reading the 86-page report and probably wouldn't be ready to comment until the end of the week.

That's better than Government House Leader Don Boudria, the long- time MP for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, whose office informed us that the minister would not comment because the NCC comes within the mandate of his cabinet colleague, Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps. But fellow cabinet minister John Manley (Ottawa South) doesn't share Mr. Boudria's qualms about jurisdiction. The foreign minister's office told us he was encouraged the NCC board had accepted all 11 recommendations, which suggested the NCC was "moving towards enhancing openness and the consultative process."

That view was shared by Nepean-Carleton's David Pratt, who wants to give the NCC a couple of years to see whether the recommended changes work in practice.

The NCC's impact on the Ottawa area is too important for so many local MPs to be so passive about a major report on its future. If the local Liberal caucus doesn't care about pressing NCC accountability to the public, neither will the agency itself.

The regional Liberal caucus has a history of parroting the NCC line instead of representing their constituents' concerns.

Citizen: Ottawa's passive majority [13 Dec 2000]

Sunday, December 10, 2000

Shortliffe's short shrift

In an editorial today, The Citizen describes just how inadequate consultant Glen Shortliffe's recommendations for reforming the NCC are:

Stripped of its bureaucratic verbiage, consultant Glen Shortliffe's assessment of the National Capital Commission paints a discouraging picture of a defensive and secretive body, out of touch with the people who live and work in the national capital region. Unfortunately, Mr. Shortliffe's recommendations won't do much to improve matters.

Of course, that's not what NCC Chair Marcel Beaudry wants you to think. He prefers to emphasize the positive instead of confronting on the negative. But no amount of positive thinking can mask the issues outlined in Mr. Shortliffe's report.

There's the dysfunctional relationship between the NCC and municipal leaders, where personalities often contribute to the problems. The NCC thinks some unnamed leaders are "short-sighted, subservient to developers and only interested in short-term gains," while some municipal leaders consider the NCC "remote, unilateral and high-handed."

There's the disconnect between area residents who believe the NCC doesn't consult them in advance, and the commission's belief that it is consulting quite adequately, thank you.

And there's the not-so-surprising observation that "the more people know about the NCC, the more negatively they assess it on operational and governance issues." The report also found that municipal leaders -- who presumably know the most about how the NCC works -- were even more critical of it than was the general population.

Before you dismiss this as the result of what the NCC seems to think is a negative media campaign, note that the study's own poll shows 69 per cent of the people it surveyed felt the media treat the NCC fairly or "very" fairly. Only 13 per cent thought it received unfair media coverage.

Mr. Shortliffe's report doesn't draw attention to this aspect of the survey, choosing instead to stress the 55 per cent of respondents with a positive or very positive impression of the NCC, mostly influenced by such things as bike paths, the Rideau Canal and Canada Day. When it comes to complaints about the NCC, such as its delay in developing the LeBreton Flats and the Daly sites, Mr. Shortliffe suggests (unconvincingly) that these problems are perceptual, not real.

But that's not the most disappointing aspect of his report. Mr. Shortliffe was hired "to comment on the NCC in relation to the new local municipal structures," yet for the most part he ignores the new realities created by an amalgamated city of Ottawa.

When he does acknowledge them -- noting that Ottawa will have a single municipal authority with well-developed planning capabilities and a "vision" for the future that might differ from that of the NCC -- he quickly rejects any suggestion that the new city (or the Outaouais Urban Community) should have a seat on the NCC's board of directors, even though such a move was supported by more than 90 per cent of the people he surveyed, as well as by most area politicians.

His recommendation that Ottawa's mayor and the Outaouais regional chairman be part of a "Planning Advisory Committee" falls well short of real consultation or influence. The committee's advice will not be binding on the NCC. Nor will local residents and politicians know how the board reaches its decisions, since it will continue to meet in private.

Messrs. Beaudry and Shortliffe may think an advisory committee and an annual general meeting - this one open to the public - will reduce distrust of the NCC and somehow make it more accountable. We think they're wrong.

No question of that.

Citizen: Shortliffe's short shrift [10 Dec 2000]

Wednesday, November 1, 2000

LeBreton Flats project falters

Big surprise, right? The joke here is the article is from the now defunct Ottawa Journal, c.1976. Then, as now, great things were planned, much money spent, and nothing done. The NCC, of course, was front and centre. Best quote: "If the workshops next week...produce some concrete recommendations, LeBreton may proceed at least to its next crisis." Still, bureaucratic incompetence on a grand scale at least had one good unintended consequence: Ottawa didn't end up with its very own Regent Park.

Ottawa Journal: LeBreton Flats project falters [1976]

Monday, September 25, 2000

LeBreton cleanup will cost millions

What's this, could the NCC be making progress on The LeBreton Flats? Well, not really; what they've done is almost complete a plan to clean up the LeBreton Flats - the first baby step towards developing the site after 35 years of futility.

Perhaps the Flats project will yield some good news that the NCC desperately needs.

This month, the Crown corporation revealed that its plans for the long-awaited hotel and aquarium on the downtown Daly site had fallen apart.

That crushing news followed years of debacle after debacle.

Those have included: a protracted fight with north Ottawa residents over placing a third lane on the Champlain Bridge; enormous delays over building that extra lane; a disastrous show on Parliament Hill at the millennium; massive overpayment for a downtown office building it purchased; and proposed demolition of part of downtown Ottawa to create a large ceremonial boulevard.

All this resulted in a number of Ottawa-Carleton mayors calling for either disbanding the NCC or enormous reform of the corporation.

The NCC has hired consultant Glen Shortliffe to review its operations. He is expected to deliver his recommendations this fall.

The article neglects to mention that the NCC itself is responsible for much of the contamination of the flats, as they allowed the site to be used as a snow dump for many years.

Citizen: LeBreton cleanup will cost millions [25 Sep 2000]

Friday, May 5, 2000

Beaudry defends NCC record

Chairman Beaudry has written a letter to the Citizen in response to a recent editorial, wherein he defends the NCC's record on the Greenbelt, The LeBreton Flats, The Daly Building, public consultation, and so on. His term as Chairman is up in 2006. Not soon enough.

Citizen: The NCC is committed to public involvement [5 May 2000]

Wednesday, May 3, 2000

Open the doors at the NCC

The Citizen has some suggestions for the NCC in an editorial today:

The NCC has accomplished many things with our money, from the creation of Gatineau Park to improving the appearance of downtown Ottawa. But its relations with some citizens have soured. Land expropriations for big NCC projects such as the Greenbelt were a sore point with many local farmers, especially when some of that property was later considered "surplus" by the commission and put up for sale. Many of the commission's redevelopment projects, such as tearing down LeBreton Flats and the old Daly department store, fuelled skepticism about the commission's ability to finish a job. For many years, the NCC didn't even abide by development processes set out by local governments. Legally, it didn't have to.

Through it all, the secret deliberations of the commission generated intense suspicion, reinforced recently when the commission quietly confirmed that it had been given $40 million in federal cash to buy buildings along Sparks Street. (This fits into the prime minister's hope for a better view of Parliament Hill from downtown.) Many now ask what the commission is: a planner or a developer.

The only way to answer and build local trust is with openness. Meetings held in public will reassure citizens that the commission's work is legitimate. They will also allow city councillors to thoroughly air development issues with NCC planners. We might even start talking about a single development plan for the capital region, covering both sides of the Ottawa River, rather than separate plans and backroom chats. Public meetings will put questions of conflict of interest and proper processes into the open.

Chairman Beaudry and his enablers on the NCC board have been consistently hostile to the idea of open meetings.

Citizen: Open the doors at the NCC [3 May 2000]
Citizen: The public makes more noise than they should [24 Aug 1998]

Thursday, March 2, 2000

NCC confirms Metcalfe Lite project

The NCC released its grand plan for the capital yesterday:

The National Capital Commission yesterday confirmed what has long been suspected: It is considering moving heritage buildings to create more open space near the Parliament Buildings.

It's the plan known as Metcalfe Lite, creation of a two-block- long square beside Metcalfe Street, immediately south of Parliament Hill.

It would mean dismantling two heritage buildings standing on the west side of Metcalfe between Wellington and Sparks streets.

The buildings, which now contain Four Corners gift shop and the NCC's information centre, would be re-erected on the western edge of the new square, next to another heritage building, which until recently was the U.S. embassy on Wellington Street.

[...]The block to the south of Sparks Street would be a new development, with a 150-unit luxury apartment building at the corner of Metcalfe and Queen streets.

Marcel Beaudry, chairman of the NCC, estimated it would cost less than $1 million to move the two heritage buildings. He said they would replace buildings of little heritage value, including the former Birks jewelry story, on Sparks Street.

The NCC has already decided to create a square on Metcalfe between Sparks and Queen, and has embarked on a $40 million buying spree to purchase all properties on that block, all the way over to O'Connor Street. It hopes the private sector will pay to develop the block, which would include a large office tower at the corner of Queen and O'Connor streets.

[...]Plans for an urban square on Metcalfe Street are among seven major developments on or close to Parliament Hill that the NCC is planning.

The others are:

  • Development of an entire city block on the south side of Sparks Street.
  • Development of LeBreton Flats, just west of Parliament Hill, to include parkland, public buildings and attractions, businesses and houses.
  • Development of Victoria and Chaudiere islands in the Ottawa River, near Parliament Hill, to include an aboriginal centre on Victoria Island.
  • Creation of a park on what is now an industrial site on the Hull waterfront, directly opposite the Parliament Buildings.
  • Construction of a lookout on Parliament Hill over the Ottawa River, and putting in steps or a cable car to provide river access.
  • Construction of a new road linking Ottawa with Gatineau Park, via the Alexandra Bridge.

Together, these projects are expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, shared by government and the private sector.

Citizen: The NCC's 'significant world capital' [2 Mar 2000]

Thursday, February 24, 2000

The Senator, the Coffee Table Book, and the NCC

Here's an amusing exchange from the Debates of the Senate (Hansard; 24 Feb 2000). The Hon. Marjory LeBreton makes some good points about the NCC's profligacy, secretiveness, and penchant for back room dealing. We'll try to get a copy of A Place for Canadians, A Story of the National Capital Commission and post a review.

The Ottawa Citizen article to which the senator refers is from 24 February 2000, and bears all the hallmarks of a typical NCC story (i.e., grandiose plans developed in secret and back room dealing).

Senate Hansard: 2nd Session, 36th Parliament, Volume 138, Issue 32 [24 Feb 2000]