Planning committee approves amendments to cash-for-parks policy

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Adam Feibel, Ottawa Citizen

The city’s planning committee has approved amendments to its cash-in-lieu for parkland policy that would now give councillors the ability to repair parks and recreational amenities using money originally designated only for new park space.

A report first submitted in July recommended sweeping changes to make the policy better reflect the city’s transparency and accountability goals, allow for an expanded range of projects and ensure funds are used in a “fair and consistent manner.”

The cash-in-lieu money comes from property developers: When they build something new, they have to hand over either land for parks for the new residents to whom they’re selling homes, or cash for the city to use on parks instead.

The funds have strict guidelines that state that they must only go to creating new parks or new and upgraded amenities at existing parks.

Debate at Tuesday’s committee meeting centred on a recommendation to allow those funds to also be used for repairs and replacement of existing amenities.

River Coun. Riley Brockington said he was concerned that wards “blessed with development” will end up with “Cadillac-style” parks because they’re in areas with more development and thus better access to cash-in-lieu funds than others.

But what might look like a “pot of gold” in certain wards could actually be for a much-needed, expensive long-term project, said Capital Coun. David Chernushenko. He said there’s a “double-edged sword” with putting pressure on repairs and neglecting new projects to account for growth.

Several councillors argued that park renewals are supposed to be covered by the city budget, paid for by taxes, rather than coming from cash-in-lieu funds based on ward intensification.

Dan Chenier, the city’s general manager of parks, recreation and cultural services, said his department mostly gets requests to spend cash-in-lieu funds when amenities desperately need renewal and aren’t being used because of it.

Another amendment called for cash-in-lieu funds to not be allowed to pay for plaques engraved with the names of councillors whose offices paid for a park or recreational facility.

Coun. Allan Hubley objected to the recommendation — which came after former River Ward councillor Maria McRae spent thousands of dollars in her final year in office on commemorative benches, many of which feature $570 bronze plaques emblazoned with her name — that sought to prevent those dollars from funding anything that could be perceived as “promotional.”

“I find it very objectionable that you suggested councillors were using them to promote themselves,” Hubley said at Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s not about putting up a $200,000 splash pad just so we can put our name on it … It’s a thank-you.”

Instead, councillors voted to allow recognition of cash-in-lieu funding sources only on projects over $10,000, and remove the word “promotional” from the policy amendment.

The committee eventually voted 6-3 to approve the amendments, minus one recommendation to create permanent cash-in-lieu project planner positions.

The matter goes to council for approval on Sept. 9.

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