Council split on ‘certainty’ of community design plans

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Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen

A split vote Wednesday on a proposal to build a 27-storey tower on Metcalfe Street has revealed a divide on city council over the weight of neighbourhood development plans.

For years, the documents known formally as community design plans — or CDPs — have been used to fine-tune high-level city planning documents for specific communities.

CDPs are supposed to give residents a reliable sense of what they might expect to see built in their neighbourhood.

But these neighbourhood planning blueprints, according to planning committee chairwoman Jan Harder, should not be misconstrued as the be-all and end-all.

“A CDP does not give certainty,” she told reporters after the meeting. “A CDP does not out trump official plans, secondary plans, zoning that’s in place, it doesn’t, it’s more of a clarifying document of what people want.”

“Certainty doesn’t mean certainty.”

It’s a semantic distinction that seems to suggest that the plans — reached after months of work on the part of engaged community volunteers, business owners, planning department staff and developers — are important, but can, at times, be overruled.

That’s what occurred with another planning proposal that was up for a vote at the same council meeting on Wednesday. Council approved a 14-storey tower on Rideau Street despite concerns such an approval ignores the established plan for that area, as well as the new Uptown Rideau CDP, which should be finished this fall.

The Rideau-area plan calls for a height limit of just six storeys on the south side of Rideau between Chapel Street and the Rideau River, though a decade-old Ontario Municipal Board decision ruled nine storeys was OK for 560 Rideau.

Richcraft Homes wants to construct buildings of seven and 14 storeys at 538, 544 and 560 Rideau St., as well as a 3 1/2-storey lowrise apartment at 501 Besserer St., which is a slim parcel of land connected to the Rideau Street property.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury dissented on the vote and told council he hopes outstanding community concerns can be addressed during the site plan approval process.

As for Metcalfe Street, council was considering a developer’s plan to rezone an 87-year-old Art Decostyle Medical Arts Building. The rezoning application, approved by the planning committee in June, paves the way for a 27-storey tower on the site that will incorporate the existing heritage building at 180 Metcalfe St. into a complex that will also include a six-storey boutique hotel.

But the plan doesn’t sit well with Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney and several of her colleagues because it runs counter to the newly-minted CDP for Centretown. Completed in 2012 and approved by the province earlier this year, the plan does not allow for commercial use, such as hotel rooms, above the first two floors.

Council was to vote on the application at its July 8 meeting, but instead deferred the decision until Wednesday to give McKenney, Harder and city staff time to revisit the plan with the developer.

McKenney hopes to meet with the developer, Toth Equity, in the coming days to come up with something more in line with the CDP.

“We all understand they’re not written in stone, nothing is that clear, but at the same time, it’s the first real test of this CDP and to agree to that mass of hotel use is wrong. It’s a violation of the CDP,” she said.

She’d like to see the developer come forward with a proposal that includes a community benefit, such as green space, or a reduced commercial use.

Harder, who said she met with the developer and planning staff over the summer, said she was shocked by the 11-11 tie vote, especially because two members of the planning committee — Riley Brockington and Rick Chiarelli — voted against the application on Wednesday after having supported it at committee.

“This should not have happened the way it did today,” Harder said.

The motion before council on Wednesday resulted in the 11-11 tie, which means the recommendation to approve the proposal was defeated. However, council agreed to another two-week deferral in hopes of seeing whether a compromise can be reached before making a final decision on Sept. 9.