Community Newspaper Columns

Councillor Chernushenko writes a regular columns for the local community newspapers OSCAR, the Glebe Report, The Mainstreeter, the Heron Park Herald and the Riverview Park Review.

Who’s in charge of planning anyway?

March 2014

A funny thing happened at a recent Council meeting. A developer’s rezoning application — supported at the previous Planning Committee meeting by all but one dissenting councillor — became a target for councillors who seemed to want to demonstrate that they won’t simply rubber-stamp any development proposal that comes before them. That this agenda item garnered a surprising eight votes against it (but still 16 in favour) should not be a surprise. But it was.

How did the state of planning/development in Ottawa reach this point? A reasonable person might expect a pretty standard level of scrutiny for any application for rezoning or for additional “variances” (height, reduced setbacks from lot lines, removal of significant trees, addition or removal of on-site parking and more). First by City staff, then the councillor’s office, a local community association and maybe at a public meeting. Finally, if required, it might be reviewed by Planning Committee and Council or, in certain circumstances, the Committee of Adjustment.

The same reasonable person might expect City staff, ultimately supported by Planning Committee/Council, to inform developers that their requests will only be granted in exceptional circumstances. This should be true whether it’s a large company seeking rezoning or a resident who wants a variance to build an addition.

One might expect changes to only be approved if a strong case can be made that neighbourhood character will be maintained (e.g. height, on-site parking, front porches), that compensatory measures will be taken (e.g. planting of replacement trees of a similar type), and that the project is compatible with the Official Plan and/or a Community Design Plan.

To some degree, this is happening. And yet it appears to most reasonable people that the norm is to approve almost anything developers ask for. In the rare instance where an application is rejected, the ultimate indignity is to then see the Ontario Municipal Board side with the developer.

What’s in the works for 2014

February 2014

City Hall is unlikely to launch big new initiatives during an election year. The focus will be on keeping current projects on track and on budget (Light Rail, road/sewer/water infrastructure renewal), and wrapping up others (new rules for infill development, Lansdowne Park). Here are some issues I’m working on that are of particular interest to Old Ottawa South residents:

Park improvements
It’s difficult to create new parks in a dense, older neighbourhood, so I’m working with City staff and OSCA to make minor improvements to existing parks with a specific fund available to the ward councillor, and to identify medium- and long-term needs requiring larger capital investment. Brewer Park is slated for a major renewal (arena, pool, change hut, etc.) in the next 7-10 years. I would like to see public consultation start early, so we can clarify our needs and approve a plan to make them a reality. By doing the work in phases, we may be able to start sooner than planned.

Active transportation
The Bronson Avenue safety initiatives approved last year are central to my vision for safer, more attractive walking and cycling routes. We should be able to start work on redesigned ramps connecting with Colonel By Drive this year, then add a signalized crosswalk south of the Canal in 2015. I also expect detailed design of the Rideau River Western Pathway to go ahead, providing a river’s edge route all the way to the Lees transit station.

Ottawa can do more to prevent urban isolation

January 2014

Speaking to a neighbour while shovelling snow, I learned of her plans to retire in Toronto. Thanks to our harsh winters, Ottawa just isn’t a place for seniors, she said. “They feel isolated. It’s not healthy.”
I was tempted to rhyme off my usual lines in defence of the city and season I love: “It’s not that bad. Winter is just a state of mind. You’ve got to get outside and embrace it …” But I had a feeling that if I were 20 years older, perhaps with mobility challenges, I might not be so enthused about winter.

Just that day, I had been slip-sliding my way home from my Bank Street bus stop. It’s just three blocks, but they felt plenty long even for me, fit and active at 50.
What must it be like for somebody older, less fit, living alone or reliant on an assistive device? How likely would I have been to venture out that day to run errands, attend a fitness class, meet friends at the local cafe? Not very! I would have needed someone to drive me. If no such someone was available, if the wait for Para Transpo were lengthy, if I couldn’t afford a taxi, or if I just didn’t feel up to making those calls, I would likely have stayed home, perhaps alone.

Long and lonely winters are the reality for many amongst us, and the number of people facing such challenges will only grow as our population ages.
Yes, there are ways to connect virtually with friends and family. Between Facebook, email, Skype and the good old telephone, can you ever really feel alone? We’ve never been more connected and in touch with our “friends.”

Three years serving you: Wins, losses and ties

December 2013

After three years as councillor for Capital Ward, what have I/we got to show for it? Let’s take stock of big issues facing the ward and Old Ottawa South, with an eye not just to where we’ve been, but to where we’re going next. We’ll call it wins, losses and ties.

WINS

Residential infill study – Phase One: Council approved new guidelines and bylaws to define and enforce residential intensification design that respects neighbourhood character. This first phase addressed “visible from the road” issues like location of parking, permitted projections, front yards and grade.

Complete Street policy and a Main Street for all: In a first test of Ottawa’s policy to promote “complete” streets — ones that cater equally to all kinds of users — Council voted 18-6 to transform Main Street. The redesign will subtract one motor vehicle lane, add a “cycle track” and wider sidewalks, and create a streetscape suitable for vibrant retail and spaces where you might actually want to linger.

Light Rail movement, at last: After years of false starts, Council approved a design for the first section of light rail and construction has begun. In a bold move recognizing public transit as the key to a more mobile and livable city, Council recently also approved a “Stage 2” proposal to extend LRT further and faster than originally planned.