Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Posted by Alistair Steele
For Ottawa's youngest city councillor, it's a damned if you do, damned if you don't kind of situatuion. For a group of residents he's supposed to represent, it's an 11th-hour "bombshell" that effectively leaves them without a voice at City Hall. And it couldn't have come at a worse time.
People living in the quiet corner of Lowertown they call 'The Wedge' have been battling Claridge Homes over this planned development on Bruyère Street, facing Bordeleau Park and the Rideau River. While the five-story condo complex is lower than the builder's original design, residents say it's still too dense, and just doesn't fit in. They'd been working with their councillor for six months, preparing for today's Planning Committee meeting, where councillors were to decide the fate of the site. Then last Thursday Fleury declared a conflict of interest, and informed them neither he nor his staff would be helping them on the file any longer.
It turns out Fleury's father works for Claridge. The councillor isn't entirely sure what his father does, but last he heard he was working as a quality control inspector. Fleury describes his relationship with his dad as "distant." His parents split when he was just eight, and he always lived with his mother. He sees his father rarely. The last time they spoke was at Christmas, and the conversation wasn't about Claridge Homes. Fleury says they've never discussed that subject.
Fleury says given the nature of that relationship it never really occurred to him he might have a conflict. It was only after a chance conversation with a more experienced colleague and advice from the city solicitor that he sought the opinion of his own lawyer. He's still awaiting the official word, but says he's recused himself from any and all matters involving Claridge "just to be safe."
In Rideau-Vanier, this is no small thing, and Claridge is no bit player. There are seven or eight major Claridge projects in the ward, either built, under construction, or, like the Bruyère property, in the planning stage. They include this one and this one. Fleury's declaration of conflict means he can't talk to residents (or by the same token, to the developer) about any of them. When issues involving Claridge Homes arise at committe or council, Fleury must leave the room.
Fleury points out he's not a member of Planning Committee anyway. While it's true he has no vote, councillors routinely sit in on committee meetings even when they're not voting members. There was an example of that today, when David Chernushenko spoke, questioned staff, and had another councillor introduce a motion on a new heritage conservation district in the Glebe. Other councillors generally respect that kind of intervention, and vote according to their colleagues' wishes (there have of course been exceptions to this rule). Fleury says his residents can appeal to other councillors for help. In fact Planning Committee chair Peter Hume and mayor Jim Watson are working behind the scenes to find Fleury a proxy. The committee's vice chair Jan Harder appears to be taking on that role, at least temporarily. But let's be honest. Councillors are busy enough putting out fires in their own wards to douse someone else's, and many of them said so today.
Conflict is of course all about appearance. Fleury -- or at least his advisors -- have now recognized that if he were ever to side with Claridge on an issue, someone could call him out. Better to eliminate that threat now. On the other hand, how real is the conflict? According to Ontario's Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, "the pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, of a parent...shall, if known to the member, be deemed to be also the pecuniary interest of the member." But the Act doesn't apply when the relationship "is so remote or insignificant in its nature that it cannot reasonably be regarded as likely to influence the member." And the Act defines a parent as "a person who has demonstrated a settled intention to treat a child as a member of his or her family." Under these terms, it's difficult to see how the "distant" relationship Fleury describes constitutes a conflict.
For his constituents though, none of that matters now. They'll have to rely on whichever councillor will adopt them. They've been given a brief reprieve: They now have until mid-August to prepare their case, and recover the six months' of work they say they lost when their councillor cut them loose.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Posted by Paul Jay
By Giacomo Panico, CBC Ottawa
Friends of Lansdowne lawyer Steven Shrybman is arguing the city's Lansdowne Partnership Plan (LPP) unlawfully "bonuses" OSEG.
A key part of his argument centers around the franchise fees for the CFL and OHL teams.
As the previous post shows, the "waterfall" payback system sets how much money the city and OSEG each get from any revenue generated at Lansdowne (rents, parking, events, etc..)
The pecking order is straighforward: Level 1 gets paid first. When that cookie jar is full, the revenue flows to Level 2. If there's still some after that, the revenue flows to Level 3, and so on.
How much each side gets is based on their equity in the LPP.
At level 2, once a maintenance fund is filled (level 1), each side gets an annual return (investment interest) worth 8% of their main equity. Under the proposed deal, the city's equity is about $13mil. OSEG's is a minimum of $30mil.
At Level 4, revenue is used to payback the actual equity.
How each amount of equity was calculated is tricky. But Shrybman will point out that of OSEG's $30mil equity, $19.2mil of it come from the franchise fees for the CFL team ($9.2 mil) and the OHL team ($10mil).
The allegation from FOL is that the city is subsidizing sports franchises by allowing OSEG to count the franchise fees as equity. FOL says OSEG will be paid back for bringing the teams into the plan.
In its factum, Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group said Friends of Lansdowne has oversimplified the ownership of the franchises.
It said both the CFL team and the Ottawa 67's would be acquired and operated by a partnership that includes both the city and OSEG as a limited partner. OSEG said while the city is a partner, the cost of acquiring the teams has been borne entirely by OSEG.
If you're curious, here's the breakdown of who's investing how much:
The city is actually spending $172.8mil when you include:
- $35mil for the urban park (although $6mil of that is to move the Horticulture building which is a big deal for the retail space to work)
- $8.5mil for the new trade show and exhibition space near the airport.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Posted by Paul Jay
by Paul Jay, CBC Ottawa
Lawyers for the Friends of Lansdowne plan to argue in court Wednesday the City of Ottawa gave Ottawa Sports and Entertainment preferential treatment in its partnership over the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park.
In particular, Friends of Lansdowne alleges the city provided OSEG leases at below market value, provided financial assistance to acquire and operate CFL and OHL franchises, and gave preferential terms for OSEG to get money back from their investment in the deal.
Much attention is likely to be spent today on the "waterfall" payment system, in which payments are to be delivered in levels, where level one payments are first handed out before any money is delivered to level two.
The CBC's Giacomo Panico will be reporting today from the court proceedings, but we thought it would be worth it to explain the waterfall levels here online, for a better understanding of how the city fares, financially, under the waterfall scheme, and what issues Friends of Lansdowne has with the plan.
The priority payment structure, as laid out in the partnership plan, is as follows:
Level 1: Annual payments to the City's lifecycle fund - for maintenance and other costs associated with the park - take precedence over all other payments. This is estimated to be $1.3 million in 2013, growing with inflation in years after;
Level 2: Annual payments to both OSEG and the City of eight per cent of their equity stake in the project. OSEG's stake is estimated at $30 million, though expenditures could push that higher, while the city's funding equity is about $13 million.
Level 3: Annual payments to the OSEG partners of a return of additional equity above the $30 million minimum.
Level 4: Annual payments to OSEG based on OSEG's minimum equity of $30 million and the city's equity of $13 million.
Level 5: Annual payments to the City of Ottawa of eight per cent of its deemed equity, valued at $23.75 million;
Level 6: Cash balances after levels 1 to 5 have been fully met are split evenly between the City of Ottawa and the OSEG.
If cash flows are not enough to pay out to all of these levels, annual deficits will accumulate and be paid out in subsequent years.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Posted by Alistair Steele
Last week I asked whether anyone else out there had seen evidence of critters gnawing holes in their City of Ottawa green bins. I was curious because here's what my own bin looked like when I returned from a two-week vacation:
Turns out I'm not alone. Here's a pic from Dave Bownass:
I went for a stroll around my neighbourhood the evening before garbage day. About one third of all the green bins I saw at the curb had been gnawed. Some had holes like mine. At first I suspected those nocturnal bandits, raccoons. Or rats, though I've never seen a rat, dead or alive, anywhere near my house. But according to a couple animal control experts I showed these pictures to, those are squirrel holes. That theory is borne out by this video, shot and posted to YouTube by Marty Price. Apparently it doesn't take one of our fat, black squirrels long to gnaw a sizeable hole through that thick green plastic.
The City recommends menthol vapour rub to repel persistent critters that chew on the lid. But I got the distinct impression no one at City Hall was expecting this level of persistence. A green bin with holes is useless, and needs to be replaced. The good news for homeowners is that getting that replacement is easy, and free. The good news for the City is that the bins are covered under a five-year warranty, so replacing them isn't costing taxpayers anything. For now. Environment Committee chair Maria McRae says she's asking the company that manufactures the bins about the problem. She should also ask why Toronto, which purchased a slightly different model from the same company, and which has had its green bin program running in some neighbourhoods for nine years, hasn't experienced the same damage (there the problem was with the latches, which weren't raccoon proof). Norseman Environmental Products didn't return my calls last week. And after days of badgering the city's communications people, no one's been able to tell me how many residents have called 3-1-1 to request a new bin. The City says it doesn't keep stats on how many bins were chewed through, versus cracked or crushed. But when I called for my new bin, I was asked why, and the 3-1-1 operator dutifully entered "squirrel holes" into her computer.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Posted by Alistair Steele
Busy day on the Lansdowne front! The OMB has dismissed the remaining three appeals of the special by-law that paved the way for the redevelopment plan. In part, the appellants were challenging the project on the basis that it didn't coform to the City's own zoning rules, or its Official Plan. Here's how the City resonded to the OMB ruling:
Ontario Municipal Board Rules in favour of Lansdowne Redevelopment
Ottawa - The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) today released its decision on the appeal of City of Ottawa By-law 2010-329 which approved the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park. The OMB dismissed the appeals and approved the by-law as amended to reflect modifications agreed upon in the mediation sessions with the BIA, the Community Associations and the Holmwood Residents Group and later ratified by Council.
The mediated settlement was the result of significant effort, a willingness to work together and goodwill on all sides during the mediation sessions. "Reaching this mediated settlement with key stakeholders from the area marked a turning point in the City's working relationship with the community on this important project and today's decision is another step forward," said Deputy Mayor Eli El-Chantiry.
The Board found that the Amended Zoning By-law is in conformity with the Ottawa Official Plan and consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement. The Board's ruling released today stated that the amended zoning is "considered to be in the public interest and based upon good planning grounds so as to make the Proposal fit with the surrounding community." (Page 19)
"We are now one step closer to making Lansdowne a place the whole city can enjoy and be proud of," said Planning Committee Chair, Peter Hume. "With a favourable decision from the OMB, an important condition directed by Council in November 2010 has been satisfied, allowing work to continue in advance of final site plan approval."
In dismissing the appeal the OMB made the following findings:
"The process has been fulsome.....The Board finds the City zoning planning process to be in accordance with the Planning Act." (page 11)
"The effect of By-law 2010-329 is to rejuvenate a blighted area of the City and to restore it to its grandeur. A gated community as it is now will be opened to the Community nearby and the Community at large. The planning concepts well known across the Province of sustainability are hard at work in this case. The goal is to live, work and play in close proximity in a complimentary manner. Throughout the process there have been modifications so that the proposal will fit in terms of compatibility and design. The amendments sought in this hearing and granted are but a part of the continuing planning process. For all of the reasons given in the decision, the Appeals of the Appellants... are dismissed." (page 19)
On April 13, 2011 the City of Ottawa, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) and two community groups, representing nine appeals, reached a significant mediated settlement. This compromise resulted in changes to this project that includes:
ü Elimination of mid-rise residential buildings along Holmwood Avenue
ü Reduction in the height of the residential tower at Bank and Holmwood
ü Restrictions on vehicular access to Lansdowne from Holmwood Avenue
ü Collaboration between the City and community groups on traffic and parking issues
ü A cap of 280 total residential units
This past May, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) heard the remaining appeals, filed by three individuals. The three remaining appellants pursued their challenge of the Lansdowne zoning by-law related to land use planning matters including conformity to the City of Ottawa Official Plan.
With the conclusion of the hearing, the Board reviewed the evidence tendered and rendered its decision earlier today. The final decision of the OMB dismissed the appeals and gave approval to the modified zoning by-law.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Posted by Alistair Steele
Here's the City's factum in the Lansdowne legal case, filed today in court.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Posted by Alistair Steele
I will never fully understand why the City of Ottawa so openly shares these speaking points with us. I often suspect staff and some councillors are reading from a page when I'm asking them questions, and this just confirms it. Anyway, here it is: Instructions to the mayor and members of council from the City Manager's office in the event some pesky reporter starts asking about some of the claims made by Friends of Lansdowne in their factum. In short, "no comment."
The purpose of this email is to provide the Mayor and Members of Council with a concise update on the upcoming Friends of Lansdowne Legal Challenge. The City of Ottawa and Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), its Lansdowne partner, are pleased that dates have been confirmed to deal with the legal challenge that the Friends of Lansdowne (FOL) have put forward.
The Superior Court of Ontario hearing is set for June 21, 22, and 23, 2011. A decision is expected later this summer.
The sooner these allegations are dealt with by the Court and cleared up, the sooner the revitalization of Lansdowne can get fully underway.
A recent media report indicates that the FOL are planning a news conference next week to lay out its argument before the big hearing.
In anticipation of the potential press conference mentioned in this article we are providing the following messages for your consideration in speaking to the media:
It would be inappropriate to speak to the media while the case is before the courts.
The Friends of Lansdowne legal challenge is proceeding as scheduled.
The City remains confident of their position.
The City hopes to have a decision on the FOL application by mid-summer.
The City will not be drawn out into a debate about the issues in the media.
If there is anything left unsaid after the decision by the Court, the City will be happy to respond.
The City is not interested in, nor is it appropriate to, comment on a case before the courts. The City would not want to appear to be influencing the outcome of the case through the media. The City respects the legal process and encourages FOL to bring their evidence before the court.
After the court hears the case and make their ruling the City will present their position to the media.
There will be a time for the City to respond and we are looking forward to that date.
The Lansdowne redevelopment is a large, complex project, and City staff is working to proceed according to Council's direction and the associated timelines.