Ottawa

Ottawa city councillor lashes out at 'lying' developers

Coun. David Chernushenko says he's come to believe that developers and architects are being deceitful '95 per cent of the time,' after a renovation in his ward quietly expanded from 12 to 27 bedrooms.

David Chernushenko is steaming over developer's plan to build 27-bedroom residence after promising just 12

Coun. David Chernushenko says he's reached the point where he 'cannot trust an architect or a developer or a planning consultant 95 per cent of the time.' (Roger Dubois/CBC)

An Ottawa city councillor whose ward could soon be home to a 27-unit bunkhouse is excoriating local developers and architects for what he calls near-constant lying about the size and scope of city projects.

Capital Ward Coun. David Chernushenko made the scathing remarks Friday on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

I have to assume they're lying to me. Because 95 per cent of the time, they have been.- Coun. David Chernushenko

"Just what are [these] people doing? You know, I started in this job seven years ago feeling like, 'Take people at their word, but watch carefully what they're doing,'" Chernushenko said.

"I'm at the point now where I realize I cannot trust an architect or a developer or a planning consultant 95 per cent of the time. I have to assume they're lying to me. Because 95 per cent of the time, they have been. And that is a really shameful thing."

Chernushenko's comments come after a builder in Old Ottawa South received approval last fall to expand a six-unit apartment building on Hopewell Avenue by making assurances it would have only 12 bedrooms — only for that number to have now ballooned to 27.

Application approved last fall

Jordan Tannis's application appeared before the city's committee of adjustment in October 2016, where a planning consultant he hired repeatedly said the refurbished building would have six two-bedroom units.

The committee — a council-appointed tribunal that makes decisions on minor planning issues — granted the application.

However, when the latest version of the plans for 177 Hopewell Ave. came forward to Chernushenko's office a few weeks ago, they revealed five units with four bedrooms each and a fifth seven-bedroom unit spanning two floors.

The committee of adjustment approved Tannis's application just before council placed a one-year freeze on new construction or renovations involving buildings with a large number of bedrooms.

Tannis told CBC News that he followed city rules and that the committee of adjustment does not have the power to regulate a building's floor plans.

What 177 Hopewell looked like before construction began, according to "planning rationale" documents submitted by the consulting firm Fotenn.
The proposed expansion of the six-plex on Hopewell Avenue, from planning rationale documents submitted to the city's committee of adjustment.

'Deceptive' but not illegal

Chernushenko acknowledged that the committee isn't concerned with the interior layout of a building, but its exterior footprint — a focus he said "clearly has to change."

"There was no rule saying it can't have more than this number of units," he told Ottawa Morning. "And that's the challenge: there's nothing illegal done here. Deceptive? Absolutely. What else could I call it." 

I like most of my job, but this is the part that I hate. - Coun. David Chernushenko

"The critical thing for me is: at what point do people choose to not share critical information? Did you have an architect who after the fact accidentally slipped [up] and ended up with 27 units?" Chernushenko added.

"Do you have professional planning consultants who were advising them, who accidentally forgot it was going to double in size? And failed to give that information?"

Chernushenko also told Ottawa Morning that he tried to have a stop work order issued for the project, but it was unsuccessful because the expansion didn't break any rules.

"I like most of my job, but this is the part that I hate. Because I feel like I'm powerless," he said.

"We're constantly playing catch-up to people that are trying to get away with things."

Architect fires back

At least one local architecture firm, however, has taken issue with Chernushenko's characterization of the industry.

Dreessen Cardinal Architects issued a statement Friday afternoon calling on the councillor to apologize, calling his comments "very disparaging."

I understand the sense of frustration. I certainly get that. But to say all architects are like that is unacceptable. And that really is insulting.- Toon Dreessen, Dreessen Cardinal Architects

The firm, which has designed Ottawa multiple downtown condo developments plus a handful of car dealerships, wrote that the majority of architects "have a high professional standard and regard for the broader public interest."

"He's painting a broad picture, using a large brush, to tar all architects as lying or not being ethical or not being honest. And that's incorrect," said Toon Dreessen, the firm's president and past-president of the Ontario Association of Architects.

"I understand the sense of frustration. I certainly get that. But to say all architects are like that is unacceptable. And that really is insulting."

Dreessen said he would have preferred if Chernushenko had focused his attention squarely on the city's approval process and whether it was contingent upon plans and drawings that weren't followed.

"If what's now being constructed is not in accordance with those, then the city's own process somewhere along the way has fallen off the rails," Dreessen said.

Chernushenko later apologized on Twitter for "succumbing to hyperbole," but maintained that he was still being misled "too often."

2nd councillor 'increasingly concerned'

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper said the same developer has received zoning permission to build on Eden Avenue in his ward — a project that now has nearby residents concerned, given the way the Hopewell Avenue development has turned out.

Leiper recently spoke up after two low-rises in his ward initially approved as three-unit buildings ended up having a fourth unit OK'd by the city, part of an approval process he described as lacking transparency.

Leiper said more "granular" development plans should be delivered to the city's committees, and that the city needs to be able to enforce those plans if developers unjustly stray from them.

He also said he was prepared to take that demand to the provincial legislature.

"I've become increasingly concerned that we need to start a discussion at Queen's Park on an urgent basis to ensure that the city has the power to enforce the plans that are shown — either at the committee of adjustment, or at city [council]."

With files from Ottawa Morning