This was one of several submissions arguing against allowing office development in the Life Sciences Technology Park at the East end of the Hospital lands. The Committee ended up rejecting the application from the Ontario Realty Corporation, the agent for the Ontario government which owns the Technology Park site. We win sometimes!Written Submission to City Council Planning and Economic Development Committee
I write to the planning committee on this matter, both as a long-time resident in the community close to the Life Sciences Technology Park, and as a director of the Faircrest Heights Community Association.
First, just a couple of paragraphs of history to put this whole business of economic development in perspective. When I was a student at University College London (U.K.), I had a daily three hour commute in and out of central London (a bike ride, three trains and a walk each way). In the fog season my detachable plastic shirt collar started out white in the morning and was light grey by the evening, which is why it was plastic and detachable..
When I arrived in Ottawa, weeks after graduating, I could not believe that any nation could have a capital city with so many well maintained and accessible parks and green spaces, no smog, no walls of humanity at bus stops and railway stations, and no traffic jams. I would take a street car from Bank and McLaren streets to where the rails ran down Sunnyside Avenue and round to the terminus at Bank and Grove road, and walk down across Billings Bridge. To the right there was open farm land where the shopping centre now is, I would then turn left and walk down a narrow paved road between avenues of tall trees called Riverside Drive to a gravel road aptly named Pleasant Park. At that time you practically needed a compass and a guide if you went any further west than the Experimental Farm. I thought then that compared to dirty old hopelessly congested London, Ottawa was the closest thing to an ideal capital city that I could imagine. At an election meeting a few months later I even got to meet and chat with the Mayor who ran the city, Charlotte Whitton, and the man who ran the country, John G.Diefenbaker.
In the intervening forty-two years, successive city administrations have laboured vigorously to change all that. The mantra has always been 'Growth is good! Attract more business, more jobs, more investment, more people, more shopping centres, and of course more residential subdivisions. They have done a pretty good job, the city must be at least three times the size that it was then, we now have proper traffic jams, urban sprawl and ribbon development, and if not the walls of humanity on the London scale, the shopping malls a few days before Christmas come close. The unemployment rate is still about the same as it was then, all the new jobs of course attract people from outside the city, so it is a zero-sum game, except that all the new residents need housing. The economies of scale afforded by the bigger tax base work just about as well here as they do in London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo - they don't, and eventually in those mega-cities it becomes the economies of chaos. In Ottawa we now have people sleeping under bridges and sqeegee kids which we did not have then. In short there has been progress, we are now well on the way to emulating the city that I left in order to come to this much better one. I am much encouraged however by the general modus operandi of this city administration. It seems for the first time in a long time that some sanity is prevailing in such matters as green spaces and development binges.
It is not difficult to figure out what really drives municipal expansion the world over, primarily it is the owners at any given time of tracts of undeveloped land within any city which have the potential for juicy profits. I maintain that the ongoing development in any city (which I know full well cannot be halted), is of no real benefit to ninety-five percent of the existing residents at the time it takes place. In fact there is usually nothing but a downside for those who live close to new commercial or major mass-residential sites.
Some of those owners are governments. The Life Sciences Technology Park and the site of the former Rideau Veterans Home are cases in point. The government agencies concerned of course have a mandate to wring every last dollar from every last square foot of any of their lands which are scheduled for divestment or development. The careers and promotions of the bureaucrats involved are I am sure tied to that bottom line. In the case at hand, the Life Sciences Technology Park , your crown Landlord is none other than Mr. Mike Harris, the leading social and environmental activist of our time.
ACS1999-PW-PLN-0129 - A Grossly Misleading Document
The community members that I have contacted are not happy with the proposal to amend the existing zoning (which was originally developed in concert with the community), to permit the addition of office space in the Park. The planning documents purport to show that the office space which would be permitted under the amendment will be strictly related to the existing primary activity there, which is oriented to research and development. There are references to this sprinkled like confetti from pages 3 to 11 and I have collected them all together in the string below.
...addition of office as a permitted use would not alter the plan for a campus-style environment for the Park.......the request to add limited office use would maintain the adjacent Ottawa General Hospital complex insofar as the proposed office use would be ancillary to this facility........Said office accommodation shall remain subordinate, in terms of permissible development potential, to the existing functions permitted and associated with the Major Institutional designation of the laboratory, research and technology functions of the Park...
This is all very convincing and reassuring, but when we get to page 15 the slippage begins:
...The applicants wish to broaden the scope of these uses by adding limited office to, in part assist in spurring development within the Park.......the proposal will allow some flexibility in attracting future development to the Park.....
I spoke to Mr. Patrick Legault, the City planner about this whole matter and suggested to him that despite all the rhetoric on the theme of 'limited office use' related to the existing R&D activities, no further amendment of any plan or zoning bylaw would in fact be necessary if for example an insurance company or financial services firm or real-estate agency decided to locate a regional office in the Park. Such activities would generate a significant traffic flow because of the visiting client base, quite apart from the twice-daily flux of workers to and from the Park .
He conceded that indeed this is the case and that these sorts of commercial uses could in no way be excluded under the proposed amendment.
This means that all of the bold assertions and categorical assurances about 'limited use' cited above are absolutely meaningless, and worse still grossly misleading, because the reality is that unless the City has the power to specify with legal authority, the kind of office use that it will permit (which I understand it does not), then under the proposed amendmentit will be powerless to prevent the whole gamut of commercial office use of all kinds, entirely unrelated to the present R&D activities.
I find it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the soothing but inaccurate rhetoric was included in order to 'sell the amendment to the community'. I don't doubt that the Ontario government agency is pushing very hard indeed to get this over and done with. The R&D tack didn't work, so back to the tried and true formula for lots of well-heeled tenants - multi-storey commercial office space. You can bet the Park that they don't have any 'campus-style environment' in mind!
The proposal calls for a space index density of 0.24, which I understand means that up to 24% of the available area in the Park can be paved over for office use, which amounts to about 200,000 square feet. Under the strict letter of the proposed amendment, as pointed out above, this could eventually result in relatively high "worker-density" open-plan office space, where the inmates inhabit work-spaces of no more than fifty square feet (7ft x 7ft cubicles for example - just enough room for a coat stand, computer terminal and the inmate's ball-and-chain). Assuming that only fifty percent of the floor space of any building is devoted to actual work-space, then we are looking at the eventual possibility of one hundred thousand divided by fifty, or two thousand workers being funneled in and out of that Park at peak hours every weekday.
In their responses to the 'Summary of Public Input' (page 18 et seq), the City staff have stuck rigidly to the script and consider only the ramifications that would relate to their preferred 'limited office use' scenario. Since this is probably dreaming in technicolour, it really puts their arguments completely offside. The possibility of unrestricted use must obviously now be considered, accordingly these responses are dealt with in order below in that context.
1) There clearly would be a monumental increase in rush hour traffic on Smyth Road, contrary to what the traffic engineers seem to project.
2) This is misleading, the amendment will certainly open the door to high worker-density multi-storey office development, since the city will have no authority to restrict it to specific types.
(The remainder of the responses are mostly restatements of previous ones.)
The other morning I drove around the Park and the first thing that struck me was that there is only one access road to it, bordering the School property there, which in rush hours is awash with young people of all ages. I would deem it irresponsible in the extreme for the City to approve a zoning amendment, the stated objective of which is to encourage more development, but which (if successful in that endeavour), will dramatically increase the traffic past a school property as a consequence..
Surely it is obvious that provision for at least one additional access road must be included in any overall plan which proposes to allow up to 200,000 square feet of new multi-purpose multi-storey commercial office development.
In light of the foregoing I would strongly recommend that the application be put on the back-burner until the City has a specific development proposal before it, at which time it can tailor any necessary amendments to meet the specific requirements involved. Approval of this open-ended application may otherwise force the City to grant permits for types of office accommodation that it apparently did not envisage and which no one wants.Dr. Q. Bristow. P.Eng.