Ottawa's Planning Committee unanimously approved a rezoning request for the massive redevelopment of a former industrial site on the Ottawa River considered sacred to First Nations people.
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Windmill Development has plans to build condos, shops and offices on the former Domtar lands — a 37-acre property that include Chaudière and Albert Islands, as well as a large piece of shoreline on the Gatineau side of the Ottawa River.
Dozens of people crowded the planning committee meeting to weigh in on how to use the land.
Christopher Wong, a board member of the Odawa Native Friendship Centre, has his own vision, which includes returning the Chaudière Falls to their natural state.
"It would be nice to see the space and to see the falls freed — that would be the ultimate dream, to turn it into a green space, back to its original nature. That would be plan A," he said.
"But plan B would be to work in partnership with Ottawa and the rest of Canada to make a mutual vision happen together."
The president of the Fairlea Community Association echoed the need to restore the former industrial site to nature.
"We need a central park for Ottawa and Gatineau," said Peter Stockdale,. "We're losing an opportunity just by filling it up with some condos. We're missing the possibility of restoring the number one tourist destination that the Chaudière Falls used to be."
The matter will go to city council next week, and to Gatineau City Council later in October.
Developer promises 'much more greenspace'
Developers have promised the redevelopment will include a gathering place with lots of parks and access to the Chaudière Falls.
"As much as there will be development on this site, we are naturalizing this site, we are providing much more greenspace than currently exists," said Windmill's Jonathan Westeinde. "It is our goal to make this a fully accessible place for all people."
However, Wong said First Nations people were not sufficiently consulted about "fair use" of the space.
"I have no problems with development or partnerships as long as the essential spirit and vision of the site remains the same. If it's partnership and equality and respect, then there's no reason why we can't move forward," he said.
"We just want to keep it a sacred space."
Wong said the board is also making a move to move the Odawa Native Friendship Centre to nearby Victoria Island — a central location that would serve people from Quebec and Ontario.
"The Friendship Centre is a door, is a bridge between First Nations, indigenous communities and Canada. So it provides a services to make that link for a successful life between the two communities," he said.
Victoria Island is not part of the Windmill Development rezoning application.