Ottawa·Analysis

Riverside to lose field house, gain commercial strip in 'revised' Bayview school site plan

There's one key question in the saga of the Bayview school site redevelopment and it's this: Why did the city waste residents' time with visioning exercises and meetings and consultations if it was going to simply ignore them afterward?

Lack of pre-zoning for property could make it easier for buyer to appeal to OMB

The finance and economic development committee will vote on a redevelopment plan for the former Bayview school site on Riverside that potentially swaps a fieldhouse for a strip mall. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

If you're lucky enough to have a field house at your neighbourhood park, you know how valuable that community space can be.

It's the site of everything from gardening and bridge club get-togethers, to low-cost yoga classes and toddler playgroups.

In the parlance of urban revitalization, a field house is a community hub, where neighbours can just as easily hold meetings or winter carnivals. It's one of the physical spaces that helps build a community out of what is otherwise a collection of homes.

And so it is odd to see the promise of the field house fall out of the original plan to redevelop the former Bayview school site on Riverside Drive.

Field house could be replaced by strip mall

City council approved the purchase of the 4-hectare school site across from Mooney's Bay park in 2007.

That was followed by rounds of visioning exercises and consultations with the community and city staff and former River ward Councillor Maria McRae.

The "concept plan" that resulted — and that was approved by council in 2009 — called for most of the property to be turned over to low and medium-density residential development, to match the surrounding area.

About a fifth of the land was to be set aside for a sports field and a field house, together estimated to cost just over $1 million.

In March of 2014, the land was transferred to the city's community land development arm with the condition that, among other things, the concept plan be respected. Any changes to the plan has to be reported back to three committees before the land could be sold and redeveloped.

Fast forward to Tuesday's finance and economic development committee meeting. On the agenda is the new proposal for the revised 2016 concept plan.

The previously proposed soccer field has now morphed into a "multi-purpose programmed park." There is no field house, but in its stead, "mixed-use" and "local commercial" uses are being proposed.

"Local commercial", as one might expect, refers to small convenience and service shops. So it is quite possible that the field house, which would have cost the city $1 million, could be replaced by a strip mall along Riverside.

Coun. Riley Brockington conducted more consultations in 2015. In a memo, he said he did not support building a fieldhouse. (Chloé Fedio/CBC)

Brockington against field house

Coun. Riley Brockington, elected in 2014 after the original concept was approved, launched more consultations in 2015. He sent out a memo, and asked for responses by mail or phone.

Brockington stated he had no "significant divergent views on what should be done with the land." The question of introducing commercial uses into the plan does not come up at all.

However, he went onto say that he was "not supportive of building a field house. That money can be better spent revitalizing the Mooney's Bay pavilion or other recreational assets at Mooney's Bay or other parks in Riverside Park."

Now, the field house is no longer in the plans. It's difficult to know what the results of Brockington's consultation were, but if the community called for cancelling the field house, that'd be a first in the history of this city.

And, as we heard last week at council, there is no guaranteed money to improve the Mooney's Bay pavilion.

So the folks in that community will have neither a field house at the redeveloped former school site, nor properly working washrooms at the pavilion.

But they might get a convenience store.

What's the point of consultation?

It may be that a commercial development along Riverside Drive is better urban planning than a park and field house — more suitable to the city's policies for intensification for the inner city. This may well be a great opportunity to take an institutionally zoned piece of land and come up with some sort of main-street, proper mixed-use development.

But that's not what's happening.

The city appears to be selling this land before it is rezoned. The city can try to put restrictions on what can be built on the property after the sale. But why not do it before? Because the absence of any sort of official development blueprint backed by pre-zoning will just make it that much easier for whomever buys the property to appeal whatever it doesn't like to the Ontario Municipal Board.

More to the point, though, why did the city waste residents' time with visioning exercises and meetings and consultations if it was going to simply ignore them afterward?

If a commercial development was thought best for that stretch of Riverside, then that's what the community consultations should have been about from the start. Or if the planning thinking changed in the last eight years, the visioning and consultations should have been repeated.

Instead, residents have been lead to believe they had a voice in how their community would be developed, only to be victims of the old bait and switch.

About the Author

Joanne Chianello

City affairs analyst

Joanne Chianello is an award-winning journalist and CBC Ottawa's city affairs analyst. You can email her at joanne.chianello@cbc.ca or tweet her at @jchianello.