Written Submission to
City of Ottawa Planning and Economic Development Committee

Approval of the Canada Lands Proposal for the Rideau Veterans Site

I write as a long-time resident in the area which will be affected by this proposal. The site for this project is owned by the Federal Government, which presumably has decided to sell it off for residential development (via its agent the Canada Lands Corporation), rather than leaving it as a green space within the Health Complex

This is entirely consistent with the world-wide urban planning philosophy that if there are blades of grass left standing within the limits of a municipality, then the owners must be allowed to make a profit by having them paved over, unless an exceptional case can be made by opponents for not doing so. Any attempt at a cost benefit analysis is usually along the vague and familiar lines of economic growth, job creation, making the city competitive, attracting business, and so on and so forth.

The reality is usually quite different. If the development is industrial/commercial, the jobs created are almost never suitable for unemployed people on the welfare rolls of the municipality, who are there either because they are single parents who cannot afford daycare, or have limited education and skills. Instead, the new jobs attract people into the city from elsewhere. They in turn will need housing, which means clearing more land - like the truly massive developments along Conroy Road and Hunt Club Road for example, which are already causing a correspondingly massive cut-through traffic problem in our area. I understand that large chunks of the Health Complex site are earmarked for even more office building, which will of course feed into this no-win urban-sprawl cycle.

Who are the beneficiaries of this process? Is it the residents of the municipality who were there to begin with? Hardly, their quality of life will be steadily eroded by the increased congestion, pollution, traffic noise and all the other down-sides of increasing population density. The beneficiaries are of course the owners of the land that is sold and the developers who build and market the houses or office buildings. Do they have any further interest in the site or the effect of it on the community adjacent to it? They most certainly do not, and in most cases immediately move on to another community where there is a green space and repeat the process.

There is frequently a not-so-subtle pressure on a local community by such people to refrain from blocking approval of a project by hinting that something even more undesirable might be put there eventually ("...now listen up folks, how would you like a nice glue factory, or an experimental zero-security detention centre for dangerous offenders, with free burials for residents involved in 'incidents'..."). I call this attitude to community objections the: "God bless the Squire and his relations and keep us in our proper stations" syndrome.

The cycle of course continues pretty much indefinitely, even when it has become obvious to all concerned that yet more growth will actually be detrimental to all the inhabitants of the city or municipality. The problem is that there is no mechanism in our society for declaring an urban centre as being full and putting up a 'NO VACANCY' sign. No way to say: "enough, no more, take your new jobs and new people somewhere else, because additional economic development has now become a law of diminishing returns for us". There is one solution which some capital cities like London and Ottawa have adopted and that is the Green Belt. It only works if governments take control of undeveloped land and have the intestinal fortitude to insist that it remain that way, thereby drawing a line around the city and effectively limiting any further expansion within it. We recently had to do a lot of spine-reinforcement with our federal government to prevent the NCC from succumbing to the temptation to sell of chunks of that green belt as we all know.

The specifics of the Canada Lands Proposal

Suppose we apply some of the above reasoning to the Canada Lands Project. Number one, who are the beneficiaries? First and foremost in line is the federal Treasury, next will be the employees of the Canada Lands Corporation, obviously some of the proceeds go to paying their salaries, otherwise it would not be a self-supporting Crown Corporation. Then we have the consultants they retain and finally the developers who will eventually build and sell the bricks and mortar.

Does the owner of the land need the money?

The really glaring anomaly in all of this is the idea that the federal Government is so strapped for cash that it needs to sell off pockets of green space in sites like the Health Complex to make ends meet. This at a time when that same government is projecting substantial surpluses for years to come! Has anyone in the Government thought this one through? Will there be rejoicing in the halls of the Treasury at the news of the sale - and a party with cake and ice cream? Of course not, they will not even know it has happened, it is just 'policy' to let semi-autonomous crown agencies like Canada Lands go with the flow, and keep on the right side of the wealthy developers who are firmly in the camp that regards urban green spaces as its legitimate mother-lode. I am sure however that there will be a party in that quarter if the deal is done, (never mind cake and ice cream - how about oysters and champagne).

Is there a pressing need for residential housing and office space in the Health Complex?

Not exactly, in fact quite the reverse, a key concern of the consultants on this project has been that it must be marketable. In other words, having dumped this additional housing-plus-office project onto our community, with the attendant unwanted side effects, the perpetrators must then get their marketing machine into gear to make sure that they can fill it with warm bodies! The land could be put to much better use if the Federal Government were to cede it to the Ottawa Hospital Board, for the inevitable expansion over the next few years, which will probably require such items as long term care facilities and the like. It won't happen because all governments regard urban green spaces as liabilities which require maintenance but do not generate tax revenue. Such is our collective myopic vision when it comes to urban planning. We hear now that Cattle ranchers with property close to the foothills of the Rockies, west of Calgary, are already under pressure to sell out to developers anxious to put in trendy upscale housing subdivisions with breathtaking mountain scenery. The ranchers could use the money, but are nevertheless banding together to prevent it. Something which governments should be doing, but (true to form) - are not.

Has the budget been put in place for the necessary infrastructure?

While the Planning committee probably cannot consider whether or not a project is needed, it does have the authority to insist on conformity with the official plan and any amendments thereto. There is now a proposal on the books to make major expansions to the various hospital facilities in the Health Complex, for which no doubt there really is a clear and compelling need. Nevertheless, in spite of an amendment to the official plan calling for commitment by the region to a road linking the Complex to Riverside Drive, before any further development takes place, nothing is likely to be done because the Region (whose responsibility it is) won't do it unless the province pays for it.

This makes the addition of a totally unnecessary residential housing project and office building into the Complex a double folly, especially when leaving that area as green space to offset the additional building, should be the top priority in the planning of a major multiple hospital complex, where the environment should be as benign and calm as possible. Calm it will not be, because all the additional traffic will be funneled in and out of the complex with the already overloaded Smyth Road and Alta Vista Drive as the only access routes.

Again this is typical, governments at all levels always try to delay needed infrastructure, hoping that the crisis will pass, or the community will eventually get used to the lower quality of their environment. Does anybody remember Mirabel airport, built in the middle of nowhere in the early 70's? "Of course there will be a highway, and probably a light rail link as well, to whisk passengers to downtown Montreal" said then federal Transport Minister Otto Lang. Here we are almost 30 years later and still waiting, which is why the monumentally stupid decision was taken recently to push all the passenger flights back to Dorval.

Finally I have to say that Canada Lands and their consultants have made every effort to accommodate community concerns and the designs they have come up with are probably as good or better than average. Nevertheless, given the scale of the proposed new and additional building now on the books for this site (almost half a million square feet), the lack of any specific need for additional residential/office development in the area, and the failure to meet the requirement concerning the building of a new access road, I feel that at the very least approval should be deferred until the official plan catches up with the new proposals and the additional infrastructure (which will then become even more imperative), has been put in to the municipal budget at some level. It may well be that it will have to await the establishment of the single-tier administration, which will then have the authority to deal with all aspects of the problem.