Shortly before I took office in December 2010, I was appointed to the Lansdowne Design Review Panel. The LDRP has final review authority over the integrated design, landscape and architectural plans for the Lansdowne Park redevelopment that was approved by the previous City Council.
At the time, I was well aware that the majority of Capital Ward residents objected strongly to how the redevelopment had been handled, and to the form it was taking. More than that, I shared your views. So why agree to join the LDRP?
I wanted to be in a better position to influence key decisions and make improvements to a project that was moving forward with or without my support. I saw an opportunity to lend my expertise as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional, and as an international consultant on sustainable sports facilities and events.
That didn't mean I would buy in to the project as a whole. As I made clear to Mayor Jim Watson and others, I was there to be a constructive critic and advocate for the interests of Capital Ward, the residents of Ottawa, and the City's long-term financial and environmental health.
Without exception, my colleagues on the LDRP have supported my stance and many specific suggestions. As a result, we've made progress on some fronts:
- Better access by public and active transportation by increasing bus frequency and improving cycling routes — including a new lane on Bank, a better connection to Queen Elizabeth Drive, and better paths along the Canal side
- Detailed design of many retail buildings to better reflect the site's history and the existing architecture on Bank
- Improvements to the urban park, which will be a major new local and regional asset
- Refinements to the stadium, including an architecturally spectacular "veil" on the Canal side
- Achievements in sustainability, including LEED certification for the commercial area and high "green building" standards for many structures, energy and water conservation features, at least one green roof and reflective roof, and solar energy generation
- Lower building height for the cinema, reducing the impact on views of the Aberdeen Pavilion
But there are still several fundamental concerns, which I'm struggling to have addressed before the design is finalized:
- Traffic Demand Management (TDM) measures are inadequate to accommodate daily traffic and parking requirements, never mind special events. Although consultants' studies claim otherwise, local residents and I fear the site simply can't be reached or serviced without severe impacts on surrounding communities: Traffic and parking challenges, noise and pollution will affect an area stretching from the Queensway to Billings Bridge.
- Heritage elements are insufficiently protected and respected. Site corridors for the Aberdeen Pavilion will be dramatically reduced from two sides.
- Opportunities for a major sustainability demonstration project have been only mildly embraced. This could be a showcase for world-leading practices, drawing tourists, boosting local business, and bringing dramatic cost savings over the long term.
- Lansdowne Park as a pioneering (for Ottawa) pedestrian-only precinct will not be realized.
- Space allotted for the Ottawa Farmers' Market is inadequate to meet current or anticipated demand.
- The cinema remains too large, limiting other opportunities for design improvements.
Modest improvements to sustainability, pedestrian priority and space for the Farmers' Market may still be possible, but much is now locked in by decisions already taken. The will isn't there to change building footprints or envelopes, mostly dictated by the revenue generation required by the financing model. As for traffic management, the site is a victim of its location and cannot be adequately served by public transportation. None of these realities can be changed without starting over.
So why do I stay on the LDRP if there's still such a gap between what's possible and what's likely? First, I want to do all I can to defend the interests of Capital Ward residents and like-minded people across the city. Second, I would hate to see my seat filled by someone with different priorities.
The redevelopment plan has taken some small steps in the right direction. But overall, it's plagued by one fundamental problem: This is the wrong place for a new major stadium and such a concentration of retail activity, never mind both. That was never something the LDRP could change, because it was built into the original project proposal approved by the previous Council.
Will this approach to redevelopment contribute to our local community? Will the overall experience be attractive enough and will traffic move sufficiently well to draw Ottawa residents and visitors to the new Lansdowne? Will this mix of retail, residential, sport and leisure activities be the right one? I remain unconvinced.
Councillor for Capital Ward