City staff endorse NCC plan for embassies west of downtown

City of Ottawa planning staff recommend allowing the National Capital Commission to rezone its vacant land along the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway for five new embassies.

Residents filed more than 100 questions and concerns with the City of Ottawa

A sign that says "trees not embassies" is posted on a tree above a metal fence.
The plan for five new embassies has faced opposition from nearby residents and the local city councillor. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

City of Ottawa planning staff recommend allowing the National Capital Commission to move forward with a plan to rezone its vacant land along the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway for five new embassies.

The plan has been opposed by nearby residents and the city councillor for Kitchissippi ward who argue the development would cut off residents from greenspace they use every day when open space in the urban core is increasingly under threat from intensification. 

The NCC amended its original plan to ask for five lots for diplomatic missions, down from the six originally proposed. It also nearly doubled the size of the federal park to be created to 0.66 hectares.

There is no timeline for construction, according to the NCC, and no country has expressed a desire to build a new embassy on the land. The federal Crown corporation explained it has to keep a bank of federal sites available to meet demand, and the parkway location was chosen for embassies during consultations over the past decade. 

In the report that goes before planning committee on Sept. 23, staff write the NCC's proposal to ready the site with a rezoning ticks all the planning policy boxes. 

The plan would develop underutilized land and help form part of Ottawa's role as a capital city where diplomatic missions and other functions take place, according to city staff.

The National Capital Commission revised its application for future embassies in Mechanicsville after talks with city staff and the community. (NCC/Fotenn)

Councillor, residents remain opposed

Coun. Jeff Leiper urges his colleagues on planning committee to reject the application next week.

Maps produced by the City of Ottawa show Mechanicsville has less than a hectare of parkland per 1,000 residents, although the city's goal is to have more than two hectares for that many people.

Residents are already skeptical the city will protect tree canopy or find ways to create new parks even as it allows denser and taller buildings under the new official plan, Leiper writes in his comments attached to the report.

"Allowing the paving over of existing green space for a use that can be accommodated elsewhere, to privilege diplomats over residents, will only confirm for residents their existing suspicion that council doesn't even intend to try," Leiper writes.

Jeff Leiper says the plan would remove valuable greenspace for residents who are already dealing with a limited supply. (Ahmar Khan/CBC News)

Daniel Buckles of the Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital calls the staff recommendations a "complete capitulation on oversight." Not only does the development remove trees and wildlife habitat near a shoreline, he said by email, but residents remain concerned about security risks posed by international missions. 

Those were among the dozens of questions and concerns the city compiled from residents during public consultations that ended in May. The city heard from 117 people who opposed the NCC's rezoning, while two supported it. 

The NCC's consultants at Fotenn have said policies don't prohibit embassies from being located in the city's residential areas. They wrote in a resubmission to the city in May that diplomatic missions have long been "woven into the fabric" of neighbourhoods in central Ottawa.