Proposed Salvation Army church hits turbulence with Ottawa airport

The Ottawa International Airport opposes a Salvation Army church and community centre in Barrhaven because its operation would lead to complaints about noise from aircraft flying overhead.

Airport says opposition is based on aircraft noise levels, not opposition to Salvation Army

The Ottawa International Airport Authority opposes a proposal to build a community centre and church in a nearby business park because it could lead to noise complaints and restrictions on flights. (Mike Hillman/CBC)

The Ottawa International Airport Authority says its operations are too loud to accommodate a Salvation Army church and community centre proposed for the southwest Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven. 

"What we don't want to have happen is have noise complaints impact our operation, our ability to maintain our hours of operation," said airport spokeswoman Krista Kealey.

The Salvation Army says it's preparing to fight for the project, which still needs to go to city hall's planning committee.

There's no central location for the Sally Ann's volunteering and outreach activities in Barrhaven, according to James Mercer, branch captain and pastor. He has high hopes for the new space.

"It's not your traditional sanctuary-only. It's a setting that entails a gymnasium, with a lot of space — program space, office space," Mercer said.

​The Salvation Army announced it had bought a parcel of land at 102 Bill Leathem Dr. last year. The land is inside the Airport Operating Influence Zone (AOIZ), an area that bans "noise-sensitive" development because aircraft fly low overhead. The zoning rule excludes developments like schools, places of worship, daycares and retirement residences.

The Airport Operating Influence Zone (with a dark orange outline) is an area that restricts 'noise-sensitive' development such as the proposed Salvation Army church. (Supplied)

Mercer said the Salvation Army plans to adapt to the noise level.

"Buildings in those kinds of areas would likely have to make sure that there were materials in the building that mitigates noise, so we're doing that," he said. "We're not asking anyone to change policies, but look at each case individually."

The proposed site is 2½ kilometres from the Ottawa airport's busiest runway, according to the airport authority. Kealey said that could mean flights by dozens of jets and other planes in a given period on Sunday mornings.

"Sound attenuation measures only go a certain extent in minimizing noise," she said.

"We know what that kind of level of noise is and we know what kind of impact that can have over time. We just really believe that it's important that kind of noise-sensitive use not be permitted within the [zone]."

Navigating council and the OMB

Mercer said the Salvation Army faced resistance a few years ago when it proposed building on another location. 

"It was in a residential area and there was some opposition with that, and we didn't get support of the city at that point for our application," he said. "So we searched and the only place we could find that we could afford is this Merivale business park area."

It's up for the city to decide. Local Coun. Michael Qaqish said he recognizes the airport's concerns, but is leaning toward supporting the Salvation Army.

"I know we're very interested on a local level to see programming and activities and recreation and social services like this in Barrhaven. In that regard, I'm very much supportive of this application," Qaqish said. "I understand the site is not ideal, but if we can reach a compromise that would be in everyone's interest."

If city council doesn't approve the project, Mercer said his organization is ready to go to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), which hears applications and appeals related to land-use planning laws .

"I grieve when I think of that reality. Would we end up there one day? Maybe," he said. "We're too far along the journey to turn back. I just hope there's a positive result at the end of the day."

Mercer said the OMB allowed the Metropolitan Bible Church, nearby on Prince of Wales Drive, to build in the Airport Operating Influence Zone, though the airport has argued that was not a precedent-setting case.

The Ottawa International Airport Authority said it would fight the project at the OMB.