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Past News: 2012

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]

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

City planning committee rejects Sussex demolitions

The city's planning committee has unanimously rejected the NCC's plan to demolish heritage homes along Sussex. From the Citizen:

Two old buildings on Sussex Drive can't be demolished to widen the road where it curves east along the Ottawa River, city council's planning committee decided Tuesday morning.

[...]"It's time to stop the steady erosion of our unique and modest community," said resident Donna Kearns, one of numerous local history buffs and community-association types to argue against the move. "Each and every property is important."

She blamed the National Capital Commission, which has worked steadily to turn Sussex Drive into a major ceremonial avenue with Parliament at one end and Rideau Hall at the other, for denigrating local history in pursuit of a national goal. The commission "has behaved like the worst kind of landlord," buying up properties along Sussex and letting them fall apart because it plans to tear them down someday.

[...]if city council endorses the planning committee's vote, the city's staff and the NCC will have to come up with some combination of these moves, something Daigneault said after the meeting is a challenge they'll have to deal with.

The councillors' message couldn't have been clearer, with nearly all the committee members making a point of rejecting the plan before the vote.

"We can't say this is a heritage district and then proceed to figure out how to reduce the heritage district," Rideau-Rockcliffe Councillor Peter Clark said.

"The priority seems to be cars. It's almost as if the NCC's living in a fantasy world, where protecting the national interest is the same as protecting the interests of cars," agreed Kitchissippi's Katherine Hobbs.

Citizen: NCC can't demolish houses to widen Sussex Drive, planning committee rules [23 October 2012]
CBC: City committee rejects plan to demolish historic Sussex buildings [24 October 2012]
Sun: Committee rejects NCC plan to demolish Sussex Dr. homes [23 October 2012]
EMC: Lowertown wins fight to save Sussex homes [27 October 2012]

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mile of History threatens actual history

Joanne Chianello points out the evident irony of demolishing history to build the 'Mile of History'. From the Citizen:

There's some pretty rich irony in the fact that the National Capital Commission's "Mile of History" project includes decimating some of the city's history.

[...]Building a straighter Sussex means that the NCC plans to tear down two properties it owns at 273 and 275-79 Sussex, both of which are in the Lowertown West Heritage Conservation District. Neither building has individual heritage status. Instead, they are considered so-called "Category 3," which in heritage-speak means they add to the character of a historic district.

The attractive, detached home at 273 Sussex was built by local grocers in 1949, but it's likely not as important to the history of that neighbourhood as the rowhouses at 275-79. They're modest but charming. And at more than 100 years old, they are the last remaining example of the working-class housing that once existed all along Sussex. If they disappear, so will a part of this city's history - there will be no visual reminder of the character of the street, which is exactly what the conservation district is supposed to protect.

[...]The city insists that Sussex be four lanes wide to accommodate traffic, while the NCC insists on sidewalks being 3.6 metres wide (for pedestrians, benches and light posts) and having separate, 1.5 metre-wide cycling lanes. It's worth mentioning that this segment of Sussex, between Cathcart and Bolton streets - across from the Royal Canadian Mint - is beyond the prime tourist area and sees little foot traffic.

The NCC says moving the building is too expensive, although that's a relative concept. Is $750,000 to move the rowhouse "expensive" when seen in the context of the $30-million price tag for Sussex Drive project?

The real problem is that heritage considerations are all too often an afterthought. Instead of starting from the premise that the Sussex rowhouses were protected by the conservation district, the city and the NCC drafted their criteria for the project first, and only then tried to figure out if they could save the building.

[...]The issue goes to planning committee next Tuesday. Here's a strategy they might consider: wait.

This streetscaping project has been on the books since 1962. That's right - 50 years.

What's the rush now?

The NCC doesn't have any immediate plans for the site other than flattening the homes, although it proposes to develop the land a few years down the road. If everyone can't come to a solution at this moment, why not straighten Sussex when the property is redeveloped? That way, a developer can help to defray the costs of moving the rowhouse, or at least keeping the facade.

A 50 year plan to straighten a road + No plan for the site of the demolished buildings = Another stop on the NCC Watch Confederation Boulevard Walking Tour of NCC Planning Disasters.

Citizen: NCC's Mile of History threatens actual history [19 October 2012]

Thursday, October 4, 2012

NCC houses in west end to be demolished

The NCC is demolishing some houses near the Greenbelt in the west end, presumably before they burn down. From Ottawa Business Journal:

These houses form part of a portfolio of some 240 NCC residential properties that the commission owns with the intention of "renaturalizing" the areas, said Mary Ann Waterston, director of real estate management at the NCC.

[...]The NCC leases out the houses and performs periodic assessments of the dwelling conditions. Once the house requires extensive work such as a roof replacement, the NCC terminates the lease and puts the building on a list for demolition. "The intent is they would be demolished at the end of their lifecycle (to) return the land," she says.

The properties are 4052 Old Richmond Rd., 3836 Carling Ave., 2675 (529) Robertson Rd., 2835 (649) Robertson Rd., 27 Moodie Dr.

OBJ: Five NCC houses slated for demolition [4 October 2012]

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Heritage Committee rejects Sussex demolitions

The Ottawa Built Heritage Advisory Committee met September 20 and heritage advocates took the opportunity to slam the city and the NCC for their road-widening scheme. From EMC East Ottawa:

Heritage advocates accused the city and National Capital Commission of paving over a compelling national story as they plan to demolish three Sussex Drive homes to widen the road.

[...]The widening is a longstanding project led the NCC to purchase the three homes in the 1980s as part of a plan to redevelop the "Mile of History" section of Confederation Boulevard.

But during an Ottawa Built Heritage Advisory Committee meeting on Sept. 20, heritage advocates said the project attempts to rewrite Canada's history where a compelling national narrative already exists.

The committee rejected city staff's recommendation to allow the demolitions. That recommendation will go to the planning committee and then city council for final approval.

[...]"It makes you wonder why the national interest couldn't be to protect what they have already almost erased," said Chris Mulholland, heritage committee chairman. "If you erase all the heritage that's there, what's worth having it as a national boulevard?"

Retaining the homes, especially 277 Sussex Dr., would "speak eloquently to the humble roots of our country," said Leslie Maitland, president of Heritage Ottawa.

"The history of Ottawa is more than embassies," she said.

[...]A plan to widen the road has been in the works since the 1960s due to the need to increase safety at the curve, said John Smit, manager of urban development review. The $30 million worth of changes will better accommodate cyclists and pedestrians, he said. There will be bike lanes in both directions and the sidewalks will be up to three metres wide.

The speed limit in that 1.5-kilometre section is currently 40 kilometres per hour and the city plans to increase it to 50 kilometre per hour after the curve is straightened out.

David Jeanes, a heritage advocate who spoke at the meeting as president of Transport Action Canada, said the transportation rationale for the project is flawed.

The natural traffic calming of the curve slows traffic down as it approaches one of the few pedestrian crossings in the area.

If cyclists aren't comfortable sharing the road with motorists, there are side street options nearby. The city could get away with including chevron markings called "sharrows" that indicate cyclists and motorists should share the road, Jeanes said.

"Do the sidewalks need to be widened? What is the pedestrian volume here?" Jeanes asked. "Here, it has not been shown that transportation trumps heritage."

[...]The demolitions will also mean a $14,000 reduction in annual tax revenue for the city.

EMC: Heritage group rejects Sussex demolitions [27 September 2012]

Saturday, September 15, 2012

City to help NCC complete Confederation Boulevard

As part of its Sussex widening project, and in a spirit of cooperation, the city wants to help the NCC finish the job of demolishing Lowertown, in progress lo these many decades, for a green, park-like setting. From the Citizen:

Planners are looking to tear down rental homes owned by the National Capital Commission at 273 and 275-279 Sussex Dr. for a project that includes adding two cycling lanes to a curved stretch of road near Bolton and Cathcart streets as part of larger improvement work between King Edward Avenue and St. Patrick Street. The project is led by the city with NCC involvement.

In July, the NCC's board endorsed the idea of knocking down the homes for the work, and the plans now go to the city government for approval to remove the buildings from the Lowertown West Heritage Conservation District.

Although such demolitions should not be supported "as a general principle," the city's planning department says various issues are at stake, and safety, transportation and the NCC's wishes to complete its ceremonial route are most important.

"The Department supports the proposed roadway and the demolitions it entails as it will solve a safety issue that has been identified for decades, will provide mobility choices through its incorporation of dedicated bike lanes and will support the NCC in its goal of completing Confederation Boulevard," staff say in a report going to the Ottawa built heritage advisory committee on Thursday.

"In addition, the proposed interim landscaped area will enhance the pedestrian experience in the area by providing views across the river from a green, park-like setting."

[...]As conditions of approval, staff recommend the buildings be documented before they're torn down, and the leftover vacant space landscaped until the NCC decides what it wants to do with it.

"Such landscaping would serve a number of purposes in the interim: enhancing the pedestrian experience by providing an opportunity to experience the views across the Ottawa River towards the historic Alexandra Bridge and beyond to the Gatineau Hills; animating this portion of the street; and, masking the side and back yards of the adjacent properties on Bolton and Cathcart," the report states.

So, a park on the new, wider, straighter and faster Confederation Boulevard - until the NCC gets around to deciding who gets to put their embassy there - and more work for city archivists. But frankly, we're not sure what this talk of "masking" those unsightly yards is about - why not tear down those adjacent properties for an even bigger green, park-like setting? More buildings to document, more green - what could be better?

Citizen: Sussex Drive homes should be demolished for road project, city staff say [15 September 2012]
YourOttawaRegion: Road widening threatens to demolish heritage homes [20 September 2012]

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Protecting Lowertown heritage

Late last year, the Lowertown Community Association met with the City and the NCC to go over the recently approved plan to widen and straighten Sussex Drive between St Patrick and King Edward, which includes demolishing the two houses that remain, between Cathcart and Bolton. In April this year, they wrote a thoughtful letter to the NCC opposing the widening and suggesting a variety of alternate approaches for rebuilding the street. The NCC's reply is instructive:

It is important to note that the Sussex Drive Reconstruction Project is a project piloted by the City of Ottawa on an Arterial Road. The NCC's contribution to this project is the specific elements associated with Confederation Boulevard added to the urban reconstruction, which is usually under City responsibility.

The need for a larger right-of-way in this sector for road reconstruction purposes dates back to the early sixties. The buildings in question were situated on the planned right-of-way and it was for this reason that expropriation notices were issued at that time. The buildings were finally acquired in 1980.

The residential vocation of these properties has been continuously maintained since their acquisition. The vocation of all NCC properties in this sector, as defined in the 2005 Canada's Capital Core Area Sector Plan, is residential in nature. We stopped leasing the houses when we learned that the reconstruction project was to go ahead.

As part of our objectives to build a user-friendly and safe capital for all active transportation enthusiasts, whether they are pedestrians or cyclists, the NCC strongly supports the bicycle lane that is included in the reconstruction project.

Rest assured that we have asked the City of Ottawa to examine several scenarios, including the one mentioned in your correspondence, in order to preserve the residences between 273 and 279 Sussex Drive. The City of Ottawa, which is responsible for traffic on its territory, has not accepted any of the scenarios to preserve our properties and the dedicated bicycle lane.

The NCC position all along, then, amounted to:

  • It's hardly anything to do with us!
  • It's been the plan for ages!
  • Bicycles! Group hug!
  • The City! Ever tried to say no to them?!

One supposes that we should thank the NCC for their incompetence in taking 20 years to act on an expropriation on behalf of the City, which is finally getting around to executing some neanderthal plan from the 60s. This is all nonsense of course. When the City asked to put light rail next to the recently renamed Sir John A. Macdonald commuter freeway, the NCC somewhere found the stones to say No. And the NCC expropriated all the properties along Sussex ages ago because they thought the Embassies of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia would look ever so much nicer and more official looking.

The Lowertown Community Association followed up with another letter; the NCC never saw fit to respond.

LCA: Letter to NCC on Sussex reconstruction [2 April 2012]
LCA: NCC reply [12 April 2012]
LCA: LCA response [20 April 2012]
Citizen: 44 Bolton: NCC lets house decay [29 June 1992]

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Canal-side bars not buried in red tape

In the Citizen, Joanne Chianello reports that, unaccountably, the NCC has so far not screwed up its first timid foray into animating the waterways:

Sachin Anand was as surprised as anyone when he got word that the National Capital Commission was going to allow him to serve alcohol by the side of the Rideau Canal.

Yet as of last weekend, Anand and his business partner, Jason Victor, were indeed pouring beer and wine on the east bank of the UNESCO World Heritage site, practically in the shadow of the Ottawa Convention Centre. The old high-school friends' new venture, Pop Up Patios, is the result of an NCC initiative to liven up the shorelines of the canal.

"Initially, I expected them to be a much harder sell," Anand says of the NCC bureaucrats. "But they have been extremely pleasurable to work with."

You read that right: A pleasure. The NCC. But there was plenty of red tape, right?

Apparently, not so much.

"When we submitted the design for the patio, the NCC was back to us pretty quickly," Anand says. "The choice of furniture was up to us, but considering it's a site where people take a lot of photos, they wanted to make sure that it doesn't look too rag-tag, that it has a certain amount of class."

Also singing the NCC's praises these days is Colin Goodfellow. The commission bought into his ambitious concept for a large cedar deck and faux beach (it's more of a large sandbox), also on the east side of the canal. Just north of the Corktown footbridge, it was also chosen as one of the five NCC's features along the canal.

Goodfellow's project, called 8 Locks Flat, got off the ground just this past weekend and is still a work in progress.

[...]"The NCC bent over backwards to be supportive," says Goodfellow, who is, amazingly, also the CEO of the Kemptville Hospital. [...]The commission approved the project within two days of receiving Goodfellow's engineer's report.

[...]The NCC is again keeping eye on the capital's esthetic with the canal-side attractions, but this time, taxpayers aren't paying a cent. The NCC is allowing the proponents to use the land for three seasons (which run anywhere from May to October, depending on the project) and providing staff support. But the operators are taking all the financial risk.

Citizen: From Bixi to canal-side bars [10 July 2012]

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ottawa's one-dimensional waterfront

In the Citizen, Ottawa architecture critic Rhys Phillips takes a look at the NCC's one-dimensional waterfront, as compared to other cities, and pitches a few ideas for how Ottawa could be improved:

Certainly, waterside parks are necessary components of good urban quality of place. But too much green can become just as much a barrier as industry or railway tracks.

Ottawa's so-called "Parkways" along the Ottawa River, a product of the car-focused and deeply flawed Gréber Plan of 1950, are primarily low-speed controlled-access freeways. Similarly, the canal roads, especially Colonel By Drive with only a narrow path between road and water, operate as commuter arterials. On the sunniest of summer days, beyond the beaches, only a minuscule percentage of Ottawans can be found along any of the city's numerous waterways. A decent latte, much less a meal, cannot be had along the over 60 kilometres of trails along the Ottawa or Rideau Rivers; and the canal is little better.

The American Project for Public Spaces, in its guide How to Transform a Waterfront, argues for the "power of 10," that is, there should be at least 10 "destinations" along a successful waterfront. A focus on connected destinations, rather than "open space," they argue, is a requirement for success. "Creating these connections ... entails mixing uses (such as housing, parks, entertainment and retail) and mixing partners (such as public institutions and local business owners)."

[...]Unlike many cities, Ottawa appears frozen in a planning time warp. Internationally, comparable cities such as Helsinki and Copenhagen are embracing their waterways as places for living, learning, working and playing.

[...]A prime candidate would be anchored by the long-in-planning brownfield redevelopment of the city-owned Bayview Yards but extended across NCC lands to the Ottawa River and out the peninsula leading to Bell Island. The Ottawa River Parkway would swing inward to become a more pedestrian friendly boulevard. Mid-rise residential blocks - including condos, rentals, co-ops and social housing - with street based retail, commercial services and cultural facilities would extend daily life to the shoreline although quays, interspersed with softer but quality landscape architecture would remain public spaces.

Descending from homes or professional offices beside the river, residents could join visitors from other parts of the city at outdoor terraces on the public quays for a Bridgehead coffee or a meal at a three-star restaurant featuring local produce from a market square. Perhaps, as at Selkirk Waters in Victoria, people could launch or rent a kayak to paddle Lazy Bay or the nearby Islands.

The cycle shop next door will tune up your bike before a daylong ride or a morning commute across the converted railway trestle bridge, again copying Victoria's Galloping Goose trail bridge. Of course, the Gatineau side of this bridge could also emerge as its own bayside village, thus creating twinned communities linked by the trestle.

In addition, village development of the Hurdman Station lands and the NCC's un-poetically named riverside National Interest Land Mass could include a pedestrian bridge across the Rideau River to city-owned vacant land on the north shore. While this also serves to finally put to rest the lamentable Vanier "Parkway" plan, I would still envisage a village friendly tram - as can be found in downtown Portland, Oregon, or countless European cities - linking Lees Station to Hunt Club. At the northeastern edge of our new village, the existing Hurdman pedestrian trestle bridge connects into the University of Ottawa's south campus.

The NCC recently authorized some food trucks to operate near the canal, and has solid long-term plans to set up some folding chairs at undisclosed locations.

Citizen: Bring life to the water [8 July 2012]

Friday, July 6, 2012

NCC CEO Lemay moves on

NCC CEO Marie Lemay is moving further up the bureaucratic greasy pole in Ottawa. From the Citizen:

Lemay will step down next month as the NCC's chief executive to become Associate Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, one of a spate of senior public service appointments made Friday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Lemay told NCC employees that she is leaving the commission after 4 1/2 years "with mixed feelings," but she is secure in her own mind that her mission to drag the much maligned agency into a new era of accountability, openness and relevance is done. She told the Citizen that what's considered her defining project - a new plan to succeed Jacques Gréber's 1950 capital blueprint - is in good hands and would be completed as planned.

"The challenge I had when I came in was to champion openness and transparency, and if I look at the organization today and what it was, I am very proud of what we have done. I am leaving an organization that has a total different way of thinking ... a whole cultural shift in how we do business," Lemay said in an interview.

"We've become a much more nimble and flexible organization, we've become open and transparent and the way we do things is part of who we are. I am quite confident that we are not going back, no matter who steps (into) that role."

[...]Lemay championed many things, but said she is proudest of the BIXI bike-sharing program, of buying more land in Gatineau Park to prevent development, and of the ambitious new plan for the capital's next 50 years.

While many praised Lemay's infectious enthusiasm, critics said she lacked the vision to do the big things that really define great capitals. Waterfront development, redevelopment of Sparks Street and animation of Ottawa's shorelines were not far advanced under her leadership. University of Ottawa professor Gilles Paquet, who chaired the review panel that led to her appointment, once said that Lemay's NCC became too "timid" to do much good.

Lemay dismissed that criticism Friday, saying like most people, she wanted things to happen fast. But the reality is that the NCC can't just wave a magic wand and things would happen, she said. It operates in a complex world of different players and conflicting interests.

"There are some things that you'd like to happen faster. There are so many good ideas and projects and you want to see these happen, but you have to be realistic because there are different players," she said.

"You have to learn to be a little patient."

Lemay can be certainly credited for not overstaying her welcome, unlike the late unlamented imperial chairmanship of Marcel Beaudry.

Citizen: Lemay leaving NCC to take senior Public Service appointment [6 July 2012]
Citizen: Ottawa's loss [6 July 2012]

Saturday, June 30, 2012

NCC endorses road widening

The NCC Board has approved the demolition of the last two original homes on a stretch of Sussex so that the city can widen the street. From the Citizen:

Planners have settled on the idea of demolishing NCC-owned rental homes at 273 and 275-279 Sussex Dr., and adding cycling lanes to the four lanes of traffic. Green space would be created by some of the area left vacant once the homes were knocked down, the board heard.

No real improvements have been made in the area since the 1960s, NCC project manager Richard Daigneault told board members. A staff report to the board said that the need to fix the curve to improve sightlines and make the road safer was first identified that same decade.

"Lane widths are inadequate and the curvature of the road does not meet design and safety standards," it says.

Residents and heritage advocates have raised concerns about the potential loss of the homes, which sit in the Lowertown West Heritage Conservation District. Former governor general Adrienne Clarkson lived in one of them for a brief period while growing up.

The city and NCC looked at other options that would save the homes, such as building a cantilevered road and installing shared lanes, but found they were too expensive or didn't provide adequate safety.

Reducing the number of vehicle lanes was the NCC's preferred approach, but the city said that would cause too many traffic problems, especially at rush hour.

Just one more small step in the destruction of Lowertown. While road-widening and straightening to increase traffic speeds is absolutely typical of the City, the NCC's record of managing the properties that they expropriated in this area is pretty poor. As this classic from the Citizen archives makes clear, by allowing the demolition of these last two houses, the NCC is simply finishing the job they started decades ago.

Citizen: NCC endorses demolition of two Sussex Drive homes [30 June 2012]
Citizen: 44 Bolton: NCC lets house decay [29 June 1992]

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]

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Paquet takes another swipe at the NCC's timidity

Gilles Paquet, the Ottawa U academic in charge of the NCC mandate review a few years back, continues to criticize the NCC for its "timidity":

Gilles Paquet, an expert in public management and professor at the University of Ottawa's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said he hopes the public brings transportation up at the NCC's annual public meeting where the organization is welcoming citizens to learn more about its initiatives and directly address its board members with ideas and comments.

"There has been very, very timid action taken by the NCC over the past few years on the key issue of transportation," he said. "They've had a number of interesting improvements in doing business by offering these public consultations, but the substance of what they've achieved is very minimal."

The hundreds of buses that clutter the bridges between Ottawa and Gatineau on a daily basis, Paquet said, are creating chaos on the roads and hindering the growth of the city.

"We still live in the chaos and nothing has been done to coordinate starting work on the both sides of the river," he said. "I would rather hear they're working on a light train that links Ottawa and Gatineau. Then we would have a real transportation hub."

Metro News: NCC's "timid" plans under fire from Ottawa U Prof [17 April 2012]

Saturday, April 10, 2012

Sussex widening threatens heritage district

The City intends to widen and rebuild Sussex, and some NCC expropriated houses are to be demolished:

A major reconstruction project scheduled for a section of Sussex Drive in Lowertown has put the future of several Lowertown houses, including former governor general Adrienne Clarkson's first Canadian home, in doubt.

The city is planning to widen and add cycling lanes along Sussex, a project that would see National Capital Commission-owned houses at 273, 275, 277 and 279 Sussex Dr. demolished.

[...]The properties set to be demolished lie within the Lowertown West Heritage Conservation District and will require the NCC to apply to the city under the Ontario Heritage Act to obtain permission to have the buildings torn down.

This application is scheduled to happen in the summer and will be accompanied by a Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment.

According to Ziad Ghadban, an infrastructure services manager for the city, the project would not be able to go ahead as designed without the demolition of the buildings.

"The need is to correct the curvature and alignment of Sussex Drive between the Royal Canadian Mint and Boteler Street in order to include safe and continuous dedicated 1.5-metre cycling lanes in each direction," Ghadban said. "The dedicated cycling lanes would not be possible without the realignment."

Members of the Lowertown Community Association, however, aren't convinced. The group doesn't want to see Clarkson's former home or any of the other homes demolished.

In a letter addressed to the National Capital Commission, the city and area politicians, association president Marc Aubin made an appeal for the homes to be saved.

"Taken as a whole, losing another one or two buildings is not going to affect this neighbourhood's heritage," Aubin wrote. "However, when one considers how much has already been lost... then the question becomes are we reaching a point where it has become meaningless to call this a heritage district?"

As for the city's claims the demolitions are necessary to accommodate the cycling lanes, the letter expressed the association's stance that the need to preserve Lowertown's heritage should be paramount.

If the plan goes ahead, the City will effectively be finishing a process started by the NCC years ago.

YourOttawaRegion: Sussex widening threatens heritage district [10 April 2012]
Citizen: 44 Bolton: NCC lets house decay [29 June 1992]

Friday, March 16, 2012

Raise my rent - bookstore edition

Much ado about the announcement that Sussex Street bookseller Nicholas Hoare will close rather than pay the 72 per cent increase demanded by his landlord, the NCC. The NCC is one of the largest landlords in the region, with extensive property holdings and no shortage of unhappy tenants. The confusion stems from people mistaking the NCC's role - that somehow all that bumph on their website about protecting and building a capital means the NCC is something other than just another landlord. In fact, they are notably incompetent landlords. The Citizen's editorial sums it up best:

There are many reasons why bookstores are struggling these days, reasons that have nothing to do with the NCC. A Nicholas Hoare store in Montreal is, reportedly, also set to close.

But in Ottawa, it doesn't help that the NCC is raising the rent by 72 per cent, according to what an employee told the Citizen. Other stores and restaurants in the area complain that the NCC, like some other landlords, requires businesses to pay extra whenever their revenues exceed a set amount. It's an approach that penalizes businesses for doing well.

The NCC does have a responsibility to get market value for its properties, and a spokesman points out that anything else might be criticized as an unfair business practice. It's a fair point, but it illuminates the contradiction inherent in state ownership of commercial properties. If the NCC's bound to push rents to the limit the market will bear, the private sector could do that on its own.

If there's a need for a state landlord in the area, there must be considerations other than money in play. If not, Canadians should rethink whether it really needs the federal government to act as a commercial landlord, especially at a time when government should be getting smaller.

It's true that bookstores have to adapt to a changing market, but there's no reason to make it even more difficult for them to do so. Bookstores are community spaces, not just businesses. That's the kind of thing the NCC should care about.

If the NCC treats its landlord role as a simple commercial operation, Canadians should question why it has that role at all.

Why indeed.

Citizen: Unforgiving landlord [15 March 2012]
Citizen: Closing puts focus on NCC as landlord [15 March 2012]
Post: Bookseller Nicholas Hoare addresses Ottawa store closure [15 March 2012]
Citizen: NCC rent demand angers bookseller [16 March 2012]
Citizen: Bookseller Nicholas Hoare says negotiations with NCC 'like dealing with a brick wall.' [16 March 2012]
CBC: Ottawa yacht club calls NCC expensive landlord [20 March 2012]
NCC Watch: NCC landlord archive

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

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Canada and the World Pavilion for rent

When last heard from, the long-vacant Canada and the World Pavilion was the subject of rumored turf battles by various federal agencies vying to occupy it for office space, and filling with mould. Well the mould problem has been sorted apparently and the NCC is now putting it up for rent. From the Citizen:

The former Canada and the World Pavilion, whose future has been the source of lively debate over the years, is for rent.

The National Capital Commission (NCC) is seeking a public or private sector tenant who can turn the vacant building beside the Rideau Falls into a national attraction.

"We're looking for any kind of proposal," says Mary Ann Waterston, NCC director of real estate management. "Public access is very important to us. We are looking for something that would have a national purpose so that it could benefit all Canadians. It's an absolutely stunning building."

[...]Waterston didn't want to speculate on possible uses. "We want to see what's out there. What people's ideas will be."

However, a museum rather than an office building would be an example of something with broad public interest, she said. "I wouldn't accept a restaurant."

In the past, the NCC considered leasing it to an embassy but decided "that isn't what we want for that particular location," says Waterston. "There are other places in the city where that can take place."

According to a 2010 market analysis, the annual rent should be $254,000, not including operating costs and taxes.

[...]In 2007, the Governor General's office eyed the pavilion as a showplace for its Chancellery of Honour. At the same time, the Ottawa Art Gallery lobbied for it.

Then mould was discovered in 2008, which has since been remediated, said Waterston. "There's no mould."

Expressions of interest will be accepted until April 30.

Citizen: Wanted: Tenant for former Canada and the World pavilion [28 February 2012]
CBC: NCC looking for tenant for former Canada museum [28 February 2012]
Modern Ottawa: Someone please help save this building from the NCC [2 March 2012]

Friday, February 17, 2012

Talkin' 'bout 2067

In the Citizen, Kelly Egan compares the NCC's vision for 2067 to a local plan for a tourist streetcar:

On Feb. 21, the NCC is having a big public meeting to talk about Ottawa in 2067.

Horizon 2067, it is called. It is not subtitled Things to Do in Ottawa Long After You're Dead, only because I'm not in charge of promotion.

[...]But it is a moment to ask the following question: Should the National Capital Commission, and every other government or public authority, not be focusing on 2017, the country's 150th birthday, instead of day-dreaming about the capital in - let's just check the math - yes, indeed, 55 years?

Instead, we have two "workshops" scheduled to talk about Ottawa in the Starship Year 2067, but perhaps we're belabouring the point.

The Streetcar Committee has an intriguing idea. It would like to run a new, but old-fashioned looking streetcar down a short portion of downtown, with possible expansion into a loop across the Ottawa River.

[...]You can't help but admire their pluck. Lots of volunteer groups start with a burst of energy, run into bureaucratic molasses, get lost in the funding desert, and lose momentum. But they have stuck with it.

[...]It it not meant to be a form of rapid transit, or a replacement for planned light-rail service. Because of all the pedestrian traffic on Sparks, the car would slowly cling-clang along, stopping at intersections, making frequent stops and, on the whole, giving an impression of steady, big-city movement, sorely needed on the sad mall.

[...]In light of the NCC's insistence on a 50-year vision quest, here is an idea we can actually talk about - even do by 2017 - without having to take on the burden of a mega-project or go begging, cap-in-hand, to the John Bairds of the world.

To that end, Eltaher said a public-private partnership is on the table, meaning the taxpayer would not assume all the risk. He reports that the NCC is keen on the project while the city, which owns Sparks, has an interest that has ebbed and flowed over the years.

This is not to say this is perfect. Maybe it isn't feasible. But at least we have a concrete idea to start the conversation.

The NCC, meanwhile, is having two public "workshops" on what the capital should look like on our 200th birthday. The whole exercise is costing in excess of $600,000 and has involved a road show to several Canadian cities.

That, people, is not a idea. It is that most horrible Ottawa creation: meaningless busy work.

Citizen: Changing our capital should start now, not 2067 [17 February 2012]

Friday, February 6, 2012

The NCC's Helicopter Planning

Manifesto Multilinko provides an excellent summary of the NCC's helicopter planning, and why it has been such a decades-spanning failure. To wit:

Models tell us a lot about the people creating the model, and often much less about the thing being modelled. In this case, to the NCC the actual city of Ottawa, the downtown (Centretown) simply doesn't exist. It's flattened out, nothing but a grid of streets. In NCC world, all that exists are two things:

1. First and foremost, CONFEDERATION BOULEVARD, a shining ribbon of gold where imaginary 1950s-era tourists in cars have Sunday drive promenades gasping at (a very select set of) built wonders.

2. Secondarily, the built form that NCC considers significant, spanning Parliament (which is fair enough) to ... Place du Portage. Place du Portage, an inward-facing clustercuss of 1960s era design that presents a blank yet ugly and hostile concrete face to anyone unfortunate enough to be outside it at street level.

It's no wonder that if you think Ottawa is a golden street ribbon edged by two dozen buildings, you're not going to do so great at urban planning.

[...]The problem is that when you look down godlike, like Christos looking down on his artificial town in the Truman Show, it looks like you can control everything. It looks like it’s all just a matter of arranging shapes and lines, and everything else will sort itself out. It's actually even worse. At the helicopter scale, all you see is streets and the tops of buildings. Check out the NAC.

Wow! Hexagons! Cool! But you can stare down from the sky all you want and you will never know that the canal front space is dead, blank brutalism, to the point that even though there is a public patio overlooking the canal in the heart of downtown, no one ever goes there. To know that, you have to look across, look at the three storeys that span the the viewing field of people walking around.

You can stare down from the sky at some red zone called "Sparks Street Capital Core Character Area" and never be able to understand why it is a dead zone at ground level.

[...]Ottawa is just Detroit, except worse by a factor of at least 10, except our single industry didn't collapse and they haven't been able to (yet) move Parliament Hill into the suburbs (although they do invite the suburbs right to Parliament's doorstep, with sprawling parking right on the river, using land in the most scenic, most historic area of Ottawa for ... empty asphalt).

Where Ottawa actually went wrong, where you can actual blame it for a unique failure, is that as everyone was pulling themselves out of their car death spiral starting in the 80s but really ramping up in the 90s and the 2000s, to the point where New York simply reclaimed an entire stretch of Broadway for pedestrians, Ottawa is still a suburban-flight, car-commute "city".

[...]So this is what it comes down to: if you look at the city from the sky, all your solutions are about big scale plans, wide roads, traffic flow, a bunch of abstract architecture BS that doesn't touch the actual street level experience of being in the city. We live in sentences, not in exclamation points. We went from Robert Moses road heroics to Gehry Bilbao magic buildings. That's not how you build a city. How you build a city is: constraints, culture and lots of time. That's why Lansdowne and LeBreton are so utterly disheartening. You don't do city building with some master-planned community. That doesn't work.

[...]LeBreton should have been sold off in parcels with good overall constraints, to become an actual Market-like neighbourhood (as it used to be before they flattened it), not some Claridge condo tower in a field "we're building the urban village any day now" disaster.

The NCC - stuck in a time warp, always looking for a monumental success to make up for its endless monumental failures.

Manifesto Multilinko: The Sky Gods Are Puzzled [6 February 2012]
Citizen: Building a better capital [3 February 2012]
NCC Watch: The Future as Seen From the Past

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]

Thursday, January 26, 2012

NCC wants to expand Greenbelt

The NCC has announced a plan to expand the Greenbelt over the next 50 years. From the Citizen:

Over 50 years, parcels of land - large and small - belonging to provincial and municipal governments, as well as private holders, would be added to the Greenbelt through purchase or negotiations. By 2067, the Greenbelt would grow to about 24,000 hectares (23,875) from 21,875 hectares today.

Overall, 57 per cent would be natural environment, up from 50 per cent. Nearly 5,800 hectares would be set aside to promote sustainable agriculture, mostly small-scale operations of crops and livestock. About nine per cent will be buildings and other facilities. More than 25 per cent of the Greenbelt would be devoted to a variety of farming enterprises.

The biggest parcels of land the NCC hopes to add to the Greenbelt include privately owned land in Shirley's Bay and provincially owned woodlands and natural areas near the Mer Bleue Bog. The NCC believes it can negotiate with provincial and city governments to make their land part of the Greenbelt while maintaining ownership. Other pieces of land would be part of a study to determine if they should be added to the Greenbelt. The trickier part for the NCC, which is hard-pressed for cash, is to find the money to buy private lands.

Marie Lemay, the NCC's chief executive, said Wednesday the decision to expand the Greenbelt and prevent new commercial development is an affirmation of its value to the city.

Despite its failure to prevent suburban development, the NCC says the Greenbelt is still relevant, and continues to definitely pay dividends "by safeguarding forests, fields, streams and wetlands and species, and by filtering our air, cleansing our water, and moving toward sustainable agriculture."

NCC consultant Cynthia Levesque says with the new plan, there will no longer be any doubt about the Greenbelt's role: protection of the natural environment, a place for sustainable agriculture and recreation.

Of course the NCC only barely manages to run the Greenbelt as it is now, letting many properties simply go to ruin or burn down, and more or less bankrupting farming tenants through incompetence and indifference. So - onward with the sustainable agriculture!

Citizen: NCC unveils plan for Emerald City [26 January 2012]
Citizen: NCC will focus Watson's vision [26 January 2012]
NCC Watch: Greenbelt farming archive

Friday, January 6, 2012

Highway 5 protest begins

The highway 5 extension has spawned a protest. From the Citizen:

A massive 300-year-old white pine close to Wakefield was the focus of a demonstration Thursday to protest the destruction of trees to make way for the planned Highway 5 extension.

"We're trying to attract attention to the ecological devastation that will happen here in the next two to three weeks," said Jean-Paul Murray, secretary of the Gatineau Park Protection Committee.

"We're standing right where the highway will pass. We want to attract attention to the destruction of these last giants of the forest," he said.

[…]The National Capital Commission has said the work won't have a significant effect on the park since it lies just outside the park boundary. It points to a federal environmental assessment that concluded: "The authorities are of the opinion that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects."

Citizen: Highway plan sparks protest [6 January 2012]
OpenFile: "Occupy Gatineau Park" protest begins over Highway 5 extension [5 January 2012]

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

NCC risks irrelevance

Gilles Paquet, the Ottawa U academic in charge of the NCC mandate review a few years back, which led to some minor (albeit welcome) reforms but also gave the NCC more money, is apparently surprised to find the NCC is so useless today. From the Citizen:

He gave the National Capital Commission a new lease on life when many were calling for its head.

But five years after his review panel gave the NCC a strong vote of confidence, University of Ottawa professor Gilles Paquet has soured on the agency, saying it is in danger of becoming irrelevant.

"What we need at the NCC is leadership that is going to take the advantage of all the precedents that exist to be a champion for the federal capital region, rather than the timid operator they are now," said Paquet, senior fellow at the university's Centre on Governance.

"The fact that they are invisible or they indulge in evasive thinking is condemning them to become more and more irrelevant. To my mind this is the kiss of death."

[…]He says it has failed to live up to its "burden of office."

Instead of taking advantage of its strong mandate to be an active federal advocate in the region, he says the NCC has been something of a bystander on the big issues of the future. It has focused more on programming, not capital-building.

While the NCC has been travelling around the country seeking ideas for a new capital plan, Paquet says there are things it could be doing right now that would dramatically transform the capital.

"The city is going to be crippled because of decisions that are not being taken now. They will die of a slow death if they have nothing to show except that they are travelling around the country looking for ideas."

Paquet points to numerous proposals, including rail links to the Ottawa and Gatineau airports and loops around the capital, that have gone nowhere.

Waterfront development has been talked to death, but nothing has happened. He says the fact the nation's capital hasn't been able to create a modern, integrated transportation system is a testament to the NCC's failure.

"Transportation is the key element in this region. If you were able to deal with the transportation issue - not just railroads and bridges, but the river as well - this would be a different place," he said.

"The one magnificent dimension of this city is the river, but we don't know what to do with it. The timidity of the NCC is the reason things are not happening."

One wonders what it was about the NCC's incompetence of the last five years that so distinguished it from the 50 before that.

Citizen: 'Timid' NCC could become irrelevant, scholar warns [3 January 2012]

Gréber wouldn't OK highway extension

Meanwhile, as work on extending highway 5 along the edge of Gatineau Park continues with the blessing of the NCC, a descendant of Jacques Gréber says Jacques would have been "shocked". Gréber was the French planner who created the plan for Ottawa in the 50s, implemented by the NCC and is still quoted by them when convenient. From the Citizen:

Half a century after Jacques Gréber's death in 1962, a newly found letter from the French architect and planner suggests that Gatineau Park needs stronger protection.

Both the letter and Gréber's descendants also suggest that the man who designed Ottawa and Gatineau wouldn't think highly of the extended Highway 5.

From Paris, Xavier Reynaud says his great-grandfather loved Gatineau Park, and would be shocked to see highway construction cutting through the forest near the park's eastern edge.

Reynaud has a copy of a letter Gréber wrote in 1952, which says Gatineau Park - not central Ottawa - is the heart of his plan for the National Capital. Reynaud called the Citizen this week to discuss it.

Calling the park a "magnificent forest reserve," Gréber's letter adds that its unique status - wilderness just outside a capital city - demands a "permanent program of enlargement and protection."

It says the "natural structure, the infinite variety of its beauty and the possibilities that its attractions present are far greater than the attributes of an ordinary municipal park in the service of the population."

Then the kicker: "In fact, this is really the central nucleus of the overall management plan for the national capital of Canada."

"I recently saw an interview that he gave to the CBC in 1961, in which he was asked what he considered his most important commission," Reynaud said.

"He responded without hesitation that it was the planning of the national capital region of Canada."

It was only recently that Reynaud, who is married to a woman from Toronto and regularly visits Canada, learned of the extension of Highway 5. Crews are currently blasting away steep hills and cutting forests to join Wakefield to Gatineau with four lanes.

"If my great-grandfather were still alive today, he would be simply devastated to learn about Highway 5 and would have expressed his opposition, obviously," Reynaud said.

It doesn't matter that the National Capital Commission has shifted the boundaries to ensure that the road is outside the actual park, he says, since the clear-cutting still affects trees that are part of the park's ecosystem.

[…]Gréber shows his overall vision for the park in his 1952 letter to the Federal District Commission, the forerunner of the National Capital Commission. Reynaud sent a copy to the Citizen.

[…]And his warning extends to land outside park boundaries. He clearly describes the danger of letting major development crowd the edges of the park:

"It would be very sad if one authorized such degradation of the landscape just outside the park limits while the FDC is trying by all means to protect the zone inside these limits."

The current highway extension is just outside the eastern park limits, according to the NCC - but inside them according to its opponents on the Gatineau Park Committee, which doesn't recognize the validity of a boundary change.

Citizen: Gréber wouldn't OK Hwy. 5 extension [3 January 2012]
Citizen: Developing past the park [6 January 2012]