Friends of Lansdowne recently released the following statement to clarify their position and give details on the recent developments at Lansdowne.
There are a lot of different things going on with Lansdowne right now and it's hard for people to get the full picture from media coverage. In this, we respond to some of the misleading news coverage of the zoning appeals, as well as media attacks on Friends of Lansdowne. This is long, but we think it is warranted to clarify the situation.
There are 7 different challenges/review/approval processes underway, namely:
1. The Lansdowne Legal Challenge about municipal governance and democratic process
2. Ontario Municipal Board Appeals relating to land use planning and zoning
3. Conservation Review Board Appeals about the De-Designation of the Horticulture Building
4. Ontario Heritage Trust Approvals Related to Heritage Conservation Easements for the Aberdeen Pavilion
5. Ministry of the Environment Approvals relating to treatment of contaminated soils
6. Design and Site Plan Approvals
7. Final Agreements and Governance models
Each is completely separate, and has a different purpose, timeline and cast of characters. None of these is settled at this time.
1. The Lansdowne Legal Challenge about municipal governance and democratic process
The Friends of Lansdowne application to the Ontario Superior Court contends that the City of Ottawa violated the Ontario Municipal Act by failing to respect its procurement by-laws, by giving bonuses to developers, and by acting in bad faith. This legal challenge relates to the irregular process by which the Lansdowne Partnership Plan was approved and the give-away of public land to private entrepreneurs. It deals with very serious issues of whether fundamental democratic principles have been respected and whether the public interest has been protected. This case will be heard from June 21-23, 2011, but it will likely take months before the judge renders a decision due to the complexity and importance of the issues.
2. The Ontario Municipal Board Appeals relating to land use planning and zoning
In fall 2010, 14 different appeals were made to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) about the City's rezoning of Lansdowne Park to permit commercial and residential use, including high-rise buildings. These appeals are made under Ontario's Planning Act. Two of the appeals were withdrawn, 9 have been settled through mediation, and 3 are going forward to a final hearing which will begin on May 9 and last several weeks, with a decision expected several months later.
This week, you will have heard news about the settlement of 9 appeals, including those by the Glebe Business Improvement Area, the Old Ottawa South Community Association, the Glebe Community Association and a group of residents living mainly on Holmwood Avenue. These groups agreed to withdraw their appeals in return for some major changes to the plan, especially the removal of some residential towers along Holmwood Avenue and proper zoning of the so-called urban park (which had surprisingly been zoned for commercial and residential use rather than parkland). While the City and the media has portrayed this settlement as community support for the Lansdowne Partnership Plan, a press release by the two community organizations states that settlement should not be taken in any way as support or endorsement of the project or its design and that they had compromised "reluctantly" due to the high costs of arguing an appeal in a full hearing and because the OMB process is stacked against community associations.
However, 3 appeals by individuals (Frank Johnson, John Rive, Catherine Caule) will be heard by the OMB. The OMB can overturn or make modifications to the zoning bylaw that will affect permitted land uses and heights of the buildings.
3. The Conservation Review Board Appeals about the De-Designation of the Horticulture Building
The Conservation Review Board (CRB) is an administrative tribunal that deals with municipal decisions made under the Ontario Heritage Act . Appeals have been filed by Heritage Ottawa and by Jean-Claude Dubé asking the CRB to review the City's decision to repeal the heritage designation bylaw for the Horticulture Building. This de-designation is to allow the City to relocate the building to a new site northeast of the Aberdeen Pavilion.
The CRB hearing takes place this week. The hearing starts at 10 a.m. April 18th, 2011 in the Council Chambers at Ben Franklin Place, 101 Centrepointe Drive. On April 19-21, the hearing will reconvene in Room 1A and 1C. The hearing is open to the public and people may address the tribunal, as long as they stick to the topic of heritage (de) designation. Please consider attending and asking questions about the value of heritage designations if they can be removed to permit commercial development. It is expected that the CRB will render a decision in 30 days.
The CRB is an advisory body so if it upholds the appeals, the matter would come back to Ottawa City Council for a final decision to de-designate. It would be unusual for a municipality to ignore the advice of the CRB but it is also unusual that a City would de-designate its own heritage building in the first place. This is an example of the City's unprincipled behavior that we have encountered throughout the Lansdowne process.
4. Ontario Heritage Trust Approvals related to the Aberdeen Pavilion National Historic Site
There is another heritage approval process underway that does carry significant legal weight. Since the Aberdeen Pavilion and its protected view corridors, including sub-surface archaeology, are legally protected by heritage conservation easements, and since the Lansdowne Partnership Plan proposes to infringe on these easements, the plan cannot go ahead without approval from the Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT).
The OHT heritage approval is a legal process that kicks in automatically, without any citizen appeals. Discussions have been ongoing for months and there is no given timeline for a decision. The OHT has been very clear in saying that the current plan is unacceptable because the new buildings will block views of the Aberdeen Pavilion. It is quite likely that the site plan will have to be changed in order to get OHT approval.
5. Ontario Ministry of the Environment Approvals of the treatment of contaminated soils
The soil at Lansdowne Park is contaminated. There are old landfills, chemical waste and even old weapons discharge buried on the site. There is little risk to the public or the environment when the soil is undisturbed, but the proposed construction will excavate contaminated materials that will then have to be properly dealt with. Usual practice demands that the contaminated material be hauled to an approved landfill. Instead, the City intends to bury the contaminated material on site. To do so, the City must apply to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment for Lansdowne to become a Waste Disposal Site, in effect, a landfill.
Before the project goes ahead, a more complete environmental examination of the site must be done and a proper environmental management plan approved by the Ministry of the Environment, a process that normally takes 12 to 18 months and involves public consultation.
Like heritage approvals, environmental approvals are required by law before a project goes ahead. It is worth noting that an expert estimates that clean-up costs could be in the order of $20 million and not the $35,000 the City has set aside so far for environmental work. Exceeding a certain 'predetermined maximum' of costs for remediation is a legitimate reason for the current Partnership Plan to be stopped. However, the City has not disclosed what that maximum amount is.
6. Design and Site Plan Approvals
Right now, there is no approved integrated site plan for Lansdowne Park. The design for the urban park has not yet been presented and the site plan for the commercial and stadium area has not received stage 1 approval. The stage 1 approval has taken more than 6 months so far, and must be changed to reflect the recent OMB mediation results. There is yet another stage of site plan design development and approvals to go through after this.
These design and site plan approvals come at the City level--some from delegated staff authority, some from a special Design Review Panel and some from Council. However, according to Councillor David Chernushenko, who is a member of the design review panel, the site plan development process has stalled and is not progressing.
In a recent update sent by the City Manager to Council, it was mentioned that it was unlikely that the site plan would be final until later this summer.
7. Final Agreements and Governance Model
Finally, it is worth noting that City Council still has to approve the final agreements with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group and approve a governance model. Right now, the proposal is to create a Municipal Services Corporation to run Lansdowne, similar to something like the airport authority. Yet there are fundamental questions about how this corporation will be governed, what public control will remain and how monies will flow. The initial proposal is to transfer ownership of Lansdowne Park and $129 million in taxpayers' money to this new share-based Corporation which will then enter into numerous agreements with OSEG, including the provision of 10 acres of land for the shopping complex at $1/year for 30 years and a similar $1/year lease of the stadium and arena.
Approval will have to come from Council, probably this summer.
What we are fighting for
Some in the media have questioned the motives of Friends of Lansdowne (FOL) supporters, and have even suggested that we are simply trying to delay redevelopment of Lansdowne Park. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, had the City not abandoned the international design competition it launched in early 2008, redevelopment of Landsowne Park would already be underway. But that open, transparent and competitive process was discarded by the City in favour of a back room deal and an overly-complex scheme to privatize a large part of this valuable public land.
The reality is that it is not FOL that has slowed the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park. The delay is due to the City's decision to proceed with a complex, ill-conceived redevelopment scheme that has disregarded virtually every rule of prudent public planning and fair process. We have hired three of Canada's leading experts in public procurement and accounting who have given sworn evidence roundly criticizing the redevelopment plan as failing to meet any reasonable standard of due diligence.
If the Ontario Superior Court agrees with us, the City's approvals for the partnership scheme will be set aside. It will then have to do what it should have done from the outset and develop the park responsibly. That will unfortunately mean more delay.
We certainly regret the path the City has taken and the delay that has caused. But Lansdowne Park, which has belonged to the people of Ottawa for well over a century, could and should be a great public place. We want it to be developed for the public good. The unimaginative backroom deal that is currently on the table squanders the potential of this amazing site, and does so at taxpayers' expense. Getting it right for the future of Lansdowne Park is something we believe is well worth fighting for.
We also believe that the City of Ottawa has a responsibility to act in good faith and to protect the interests of citizens. If Friends of Lansdowne wins in court, our case will certainly establish some very important national precedents for fundamental questions concerning accountability and transparency in municipal governance.
And finally, don't believe it if someone suggests that Friends of Lansdowne is against football or soccer. Had the City simply gone ahead with the renovation of the stadium, reconstruction would probably be complete by now. In fact, the City could issue a tender call to renovate the stadium today, if it were not trying to push through this land development partnership first. None of the legal actions, appeals or approvals prevents the City from renovating the stadium. Taxpayers will pay 100% of renovation costs either way. The City has already agreed to cover the costs and approved the budget for it.
What Can You Do?
Please continue to spread the word and dispel myths about what is going on at Lansdowne Park. We need people to call and write in to media when you encounter a story which distorts the facts and misrepresents what the Friends of Lansdowne is doing. Also, let the Mayor and your councillor know how you feel. It is important too to advocate with your provincial and federal representatives and candidates.
Please continue to support the Friends of Lansdowne financially and come out to Lansdowne events. This week you can enjoy two great shows:
You will find everything you need to now on our website: www.letsgetitright.ca.
Thank you for your ongoing support. Let's Get it Right.