Heritage agency ready to compromise on Lansdowne plan

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By David Reevely, The Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — The provincial heritage agency that controls key aspects of the Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne Park can live with the redevelopment planned for the property as long as the historic centrepiece of the site is preserved and enhanced, according to an agreement it's reached with the city.

No final agreement has been reached between the city and the Ontario Heritage Trust, but they do have a deal on broad principles that allow planning work on the Lansdowne project to continue. Although city staff reported to councillors last week that they'd reached that deal, neither body wanted to release its terms — spokesmen for each said they were afraid of offending each other, and the negotiations are delicate.

But in essence, the agreement lets Lansdowne Park be redeveloped as long as the result is to put the Aberdeen Pavilion in a more attractive setting that gets more use than the sea of parking that surrounds it now.

The trust bought a crucial degree of control over the city-owned Lansdowne Park in 1992, when it contributed $2 million toward the $4.5-million repair of the pavilion at a time when the former city of Ottawa was scrounging for money. It secured not only the city's promise to protect and preserve the Aberdeen Pavilion, but also wide sightlines to the building from Queen Elizabeth Drive and Bank Street.

The Bank Street "viewshed" has been a major point of contention in the city's plan with the private Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group to renovate Lansdowne. To finance the project, the plan includes major new retail and residential buildings on the northern part of the site, including ones that would squeeze the sightline to the Aberdeen Pavilion to 24 metres wide, much less than the 32-metre corridor protected by the previous agreement.

The agreement on principles spells out conditions for a compromise.

"New buildings and structures extending into or located within the protected Bank Street View Corridor may be considered only if these views are preserved or enhanced and/or the quality and experience of the public realm is enhanced in the context of the view corridor," the agreement says. "Any new buildings extending into or in proximity to the Bank Street View Corridor will reflect the pavilion-style character of the historic landscape in scale, proportion, and form and contribute to defining the public realm experience around and between these buildings."

"There's nothing wrong with any of that," said David Flemming, the past-president of Heritage Ottawa, which has been critical of the treatment the city has given the historic parts of Lansdowne from the get-go. "I just don't know what any of it means."

He said protecting the sightlines to the Aberdeen Pavilion should have been a primary condition of any redevelopment plan for Lansdowne. "In principle, I think the easements were done for a reason. They were looking forward to this day," he said. He also pointed out that even this rough agreement could mean a future showdown between the trust and the city over whether the new buildings planned for the Bank-to-Aberdeen corridor are good enough to satisfy the trust.

Councillor David Chernushenko, who represents the area, said he wishes the trust had put its foot down much earlier to protect the sightline, "but at this point, for them to play the heavy, it would come at a very significant cost." He said a diminished sightline to the pavilion seems to be an unavoidable cost of the redevelopment project, and its now up to the city's design-review panel for the park, on which he sits, to make the best of the situation.

The deal promises that the protected sightlines from Queen Elizabeth Drive will be wider than the ones guaranteed in the existing heritage agreement. It commits the city to preserving a 16-metre buffer around the pavilion that won't even be touched during the construction of other buildings. And all of that is on top of a renewed promise to maintain the pavilion itself in its current state — no subdividing the inside or changing so much as the windows.

And it extends even to what happens once the construction part of the project is over: "An interpretive/arts strategy that draws from the history of Lansdowne as a significant place that contributed to the definition of the City of Ottawa and the region will provide for a variety of interpretive experiences throughout the revitalized Lansdowne that supports 'place making' and defining Ottawa's civic role," the agreement says.

The prospect of ongoing talks also concerns Flemming somewhat. He says the Lansdowne project has been "dribbled out, bit by bit" with promises that any objections will be addressed in the next stage. "It's like Jell-O. You can't grab hold of any of it."

The Citizen was unable to reach anyone at the Ontario Heritage Trust to talk about the agreement.

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