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Friends fume over Lansdowne tenders

Posted by Alistair Steele

As we patiently wait for a judgement in the appeal by Friends of Lansdowne, the developers behind the bid to redevelop the park are keeping busy, not to mention optimistic about the outcome of the court case. Two seperate calls for tender are going out this week, one by Trinity Developments for the new commercial buildings at Lansdowne, and another for the stadium, Civic Centre and underground parking.

That second project, valued at nearly $130-million, has a start date of March 2012. In other words, shovels in the ground in a matter of weeks. That has the group behind the legal challenge, Friends of Lansdowne, fuming. Here's part of an update they just released:

"The arrogance of the City and OSEG in going out with these tender calls at this time is disturbing. The legality of the partnership project is still before the courts; there are no provincial environmental or heritage approvals; the site plan is not approved; and Council has not approved the terms of the final agreement with OSESG. Why are the City and OSEG proceeding as if they have the green light? What makes them so confident?"

Friends of Lansdowne also say the commercial component is to be designed by Petroff Architects of Markham. "Whatever happened to the original architects Barry Hobin and Brisbin Brook Beynon and their designs?" ask FoL.

However the city's web site leaves the impression that Hobin & co. are still in charge, and the call for tender notes "Cannon Design is (still) the Architect of Record for the project.


But I wonder what he really thinks...

Posted by Alistair Steele

I've been wondering how Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson feels about Police Chief Vern White's Senate appointment. This may be a clue. Here's the mayor answering a question from "Steve" during his monthly on-line chat. Steve wanted to know whether Watson would himself accept an appointment to the Upper House:

"Absolutely not. I believe the Senate has outlived its usefulness and in the 21 st century to have an unelected group of people deciding laws in Canada should not be acceptable. My view is that the Senate should be abolished. The next best option would be to have it elected, but as we have seen in Washington, when you have two competing elected bodies, you have a recipe for gridlock. We could also save tens of millions of dollars by abolishing the upper house. There are some very good and hardworking senators, and I respect some of the work they do, but as someone who is an ardent supporter of democratic principles, I couldn't in good faith accept a senate seat (Don't think I'm on anyone's sort list !)"

A councillor's two cents on arts funding

Posted by Alistair Steele

Here's an update from Bay Ward councillor Mark Taylor, who chairs the city's Community and Protective Services Committee. He wants us to know there has indeed been plenty of cultural investment since the period covered by the Hill Strategies study:

"The study reveals that between the period of 2006 - 2009 that there has been significant progress made in Ottawa's local cultural development such as the Museum Sustainability Plan (2005), the Arts Investment Strategy (2007) and the Festivals Sustainability Plan (2007) and the development of key cultural facilities such the Muséoparc Vanier Museopark  (2006), Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre (2007), and Shenkman Arts Centre (2009).


What the study does not show is our investments and initiatives following 2009.

Since 2009 the City has continued its progress with investments such as the new Black Box Studio at Centrepointe Theatre ($4M in 2011), a new Central Archives and Library Materials Distribution Centre ($1M in 2011), the planning of the redevelopment of the Arts Court ($12.1M) and many facility upgrades to local libraries and community museums.


We've also just completed a broad, community-wide cultural planning renewal process that has produced arenewed six-year action plan (2013-2018) for arts, heritage and culture in Ottawa.


On January 19, my Committee (Community and Protective Services) will be receiving the renewed Action and Investment Plan for Arts, Heritage and Culture in Ottawa.

The renewal process brought together the strongest diversity of representation and participation ever for municipal cultural planning purposes in Ottawa, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals, Anglophone and Francophone cultural communities and new Canadians as well as several arts,heritage, festivals and fairs representatives.


The actions included in the renewed plan are aimed at closing cultural gaps, meeting emerging needs and proposes further progress for  Ottawa's per capita investment (subject to annual Council budget approval)."

What you may not know about arts spending in Ottawa

Posted by Alistair Steele

There's a surprise buried within this new study, released today by Hill Strategies. Researchers compared cultural investment in five Canadian cities between 2006 and 2009. It's probably not big news that in terms of spending on operating budgets, arts grants and capital projects, Ottawa lagged behind most other municipalities. Where average per capita spending was 35 dollars in 2009, Ottawa spent just 28 dollars per resident, placing this city second-last, after Toronto.

The surpirse comes when you look at the funding trend over the study period. Growth in net cultural investment nearly doubled from the time O'Brien took over from Bob Chiarelli, when per capita spending was a miserly 15 dollars per capita, to his last days in office. That seens strange, since O'Brien's tenure was marked by protests over cuts to cultural budgets, and a general cooling in relations between City Hall and the city's arts community. Who knew?

"It's quite a consolation prize," laughs Hill Strategies president Kelly Hill. "Ottawa's growth rate was 90 per cent so there was close to doubling of investment in culture in Ottawa from 2006 to 2009, and that is the second highest rate of increase during that period."

Second only to Calgary, Canada's 2012 Cultural Capital. Could Canada's 'other' capital be unimagined legacy of the O'Brien years?

Greatwise responds

Posted by Alistair Steele

The planner for Greatwise Developments has responded to this story. It's all over this Dec. 30 pile on in which the mayor, Planning Committee chair Peter Hume and College Ward councillor Rick Chiarelli vow, in no uncertain terms, to nip the 'surprise' expansion of a west-end residential project in the bud.

It should come as no surprise the city is taking a public stand on a development issue, given Jim Watson's tough-talking budget speech back in October. Watson put builders on notice, warning them to stop treating the city's Official Plan and zoning rules as mere inconveniences. At the same time he vowed to clarify those rules, making them less susceptible to creative interpretation.

So it was really just a matter of which unlucky developer would wander through the city's crosshairs first. It may be that few people have heard of Greatwise, so that made the company an easier target than, say, Minto. (If you haven't heard of Greatwise you soon will: The company has hired Hill & Knowlton to make sure councillors and senior staff know exactly who they are.)

Here's one thing we already know about Greatwise: They don't like being called names. In an e-mail, the planner on the Redwood project, Lloyd Phillips of Lloyd Phillips & Associates Ltd., had this to say:

"It is not surprising that controversy would surround this proposed development; it has since the very beginning more than 3 years ago. However what is surprising is the type of language used by high-ranking City officials in the news release and in media coverage to imply Greatwise's motives in amending this proposal were less than honourable. Words or phrases like "sneaky", "backdoor" and "I don't think its ethical" ascribe intentions and process to Greatwise which not only don't add anything to the discussion but are also not true.

After a long protracted debate two years ago over this proposal, it is incomprehensible for anyone to suggest that this was a "sneaky" and "backdoor" scheme preplanned by Greatwise just to do it again.  This was purely a marketing decision. Nothing more. Nothing less.  The condo market in the west end has undergone a complete change over the last two years and Greatwise had to amend their plans to reflect that change."

There follows a comprehensive Q&A outlining Greatwise's position on the matter. Their most important arguments though are these:

  • The proposal conforms "100%" to the zoning for the site.
  • There never was a specific number of units assigned to the zoning; 334 was merely the number of units arrived at under the site plan.
  • The change in units is based on a shifting real estate market, specifically a growing need for smaller units -- nothing more, nothing less.
  • This is no loop hole; city staff have always known the zoning allowed for more density, and that the developer may want to take advantage of that allowance.

This will all make for quite a show at the Planning Committee meeting on Jan. 10. (The timing of the city's attack is curious, though likely no accident; it gives Greatwise very little time to prepare their defense and lobby the players.) In the end we'll know whether the city can really back up all the tough talk, or whether they've chosen the wrong developer to pick on.