Immaculata neighbours thrown 'Hail Mary' in light fight

The Ottawa Catholic School Board is likely to challenge an order to turn out the lights at an Old Ottawa East soccer field earlier than usual — an appeal the city's own lawyer believes the board will win.

Catholic board plans to appeal city attempt to limit soccer field lights to 9 p.m.

Capital ward Coun. David Chernushenko calls his efforts to restrict the hours during which lights can be used at the Immaculata High School field a 'Hail Mary.' (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The Ottawa Catholic School Board is likely to challenge an order to turn out the lights at an Old Ottawa East soccer field earlier than usual — an appeal the city's own lawyer believes the board could win.

Following a two-hour debate, the city's planning committee voted Tuesday to limit the use of lights at the Immaculata High School field to 9 p.m. on weeknights and 10 p.m. on weekends, well before the normal lights-out time of 11 p.m. at city-run sports fields.

Couns. Jan Harder and Tim Tierney dissented.

But it's doubtful the city has the reach to impose such a restriction, which also limits the operating hours of Ottawa Footy Sevens, the private soccer company that spent $2 million to upgrade the field and will have exclusive use of it after school hours. 

The board's lawyer, Debbie Bellinger, told reporters after the meeting that the board plans to appeal the decision. No one from the board would comment further after the meeting, nor would Footy Sevens co-owner Chris Surgeoner. Late Tuesday afternoon, however, the board wrote in a statement that it "is considering its legal options which may include an appeal to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal."

No authority

The city's planning lawyer, Tim Marc, confirmed the city has no authority to restrict hours and said it would be an "uphill battle" to fight an appeal before the tribunal.

Marc said councillors could technically put limits on lighting through a process called a site plan approval, and on Tuesday Coun. David Chernushenko, who represents the area, attempted to do just that.

But there's a hitch: the city's own planning staff wrote to the school board in January to tell the proponent there was no existing site plan, so the property wasn't subject to an approval.

An overhead view of the Immaculata field shows how close it is to nearby homes. (Submitted by Ottawa Catholic School Board)

That was wrong: in May a resident located a site plan dating back to 1993, but by that time the board had already signed its contract with the soccer league and preliminary work on the field was underway. In fact the renovation, including the installation of artificial turf and lights, was largely completed before Tuesday's site plan debate arose.

Surgeoner told councillors that had he known that playing hours would be restricted, Footy Sevens would have never signed the deal with the board.

Board refused to consult

Four community members who live near Immaculata — including Capital ward candidate and Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustee Shawn Menard — spoke against the deal. They complained about noise and light from the field, as well as the loss of public use of the field. 

Residents also slammed the school board for what they characterized as the secrecy of the deal.

The new Immaculata High School field was renovated to add artificial turf. (Supplied)

Chernushenko said he pressed the board to hold public consultations on the deal as soon as he heard about it back in February. But the school board only held an information session after it had signed the deal.

"I flagged to them immediately that the issues where were most likely to hear about were around traffic, around noise and around light — around quality of life," Chernushenko said.

The board was given the opportunity "on multiple occasions to listen to the community, respond to community concerns and actually do something meaningful to show it. And that did not happen," Chernushenko said.

"So here we are today, a Hail Mary, a wing and a prayer."