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Past News: 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dodging a bullet at Chaudiere

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 4, 2013

Dewar: NCC blindsided

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 13, 2013

NCC close to naming new CEO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 30, 2013

NCC to think about re-thinking the flats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 16, 2013

Gatineau Park critic profile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Concrete replaces granite on Confederation Boulevard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 26, 2013

NCC agrees to crosswalk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 28, 2013

NCC fountain still dry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Watson calls for reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 22, 2013

NCC loses public programming to Heritage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 25, 2013

History of the Vanier Parkway

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

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Whither the NCC CEO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Greenbelt Club plan off the table

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was with that question that the real trouble began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 3, 2013

How parkways are renamed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too good a job, apparently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bookstore location remains vacant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

NCC Board slams NCC planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NCC: taking care of the motherhood.

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

Thursday, January 17, 2013

NCC looking for better ways to manage its rental properties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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