Ottawa

'Developers control city hall,' city councillor charges

A frustrated city councillor is blaming developer influence at Ottawa city hall as the reason behind a controversial decision made at the planning committee this week.

Coun. Shawn Menard frustrated by planning committee decision in Old Ottawa East

Coun. Shawn Menard campaigned on 'reining in developer influence' at city hall, and charged that was at play this week at planning committee. (Kate Porter/CBC)

A frustrated city councillor is blaming developer influence at Ottawa city hall as the reason behind a controversial decision made at the planning committee this week.

Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard was visibly frustrated at the committee's Thursday meeting, where his Old Ottawa East residents were opposing changes in the wording of a community plan they had developed over years of negotiations with city planners and the development firm The Regional Group.

After the committee passed an amendment to the official plan in a 8-to-1 vote, residents left the room calling the process "disgusting" and Menard explained to them, "that's the way it is here [at city hall]."

Developers control city hall, and it's been this way for a very, very long time​​​.- Coun. Shawn Menard

In Menard's view, his residents made good points but the decision was coloured by councillors on the committee who take donations from developers during election campaigns.

"When those planning folks take $1,200 from the developer in question, that's a conflict of interest. But that's not the way it works in our city hall here. Why? Because developers control city hall, and it's been this way for a very, very long time," said Menard.

Menard campaigned last fall on reducing developer influence. The largest donation in his filings is $1,000 from Shawn Menard Sr.

Developer donations

"I don't have any comment on this," said planning committee chair Coun. Jan Harder, when asked about Old Ottawa East residents who questioned whether the donations she has received have an influence on her role.

There is nothing illegal about developers making donations. Campaign finance rules allow individual people to give a maximum of $1,200.

The election last fall was the first in which corporations and unions were banned from donating.

The public are wary of the decisions being made at the city, how they're being made at the city, and for good reason.- Coun. Catherine McKenney

Historically, however, people in the development community have donated more to candidates than people in other sectors, and the issue of developer donations became a hot topic among some voters during the last election campaign.

Harder and vice-chair Coun. Tim Tierney, for instance, accepted $1,200 and $900 respectively from Josh Kardish, vice-president of EQ Homes, a partner in Greystone Village.

"My donations were made as a private citizen as I believe quite strongly in supporting the democratic system," Kardish told CBC News by email.

Committee makeup a problem?

Coun. Catherine McKenney said whether or not the donations directly affect her colleagues' votes, "at the very least it sets up a serious perception problem."

"The public are wary of the decisions being made at the city, how they're being made at the city, and for good reason. And it only adds to that mistrust that we're hearing and seeing from the public," McKenney said.

Residents of Old Ottawa East told Menard they were angered by planning committee after it voted to amend the official plan for the Greystone Village development. (Kate Porter/CBC)

She has had her own frustrations with planning committee and council overturning community plans in favour of a developer's application, especially Trinity Group's trio of towers that includes a 65-storey building where 30 storeys were originally allowed.

"900 Albert [Street] will always bother me. I think it is the clearest and most egregious example of a secondary plan not being adhered to," said McKenney.

She would like to see more urban councillors represented on planning committee. 

Its makeup was put to a vote at the beginning of the term, and Riley Brockington and Menard were left off. Only Jeff Leiper represented a ward in the core until Brockington was added last month.

Menard sees a solution that goes a step further.

"This planning committee needs to be split up," he said. He would like suburban and urban areas have their own committee to deal with planning applications, as happens with rural applications.

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