Lansdowne: So Many Reasons To Vote No: BENN




So few reasons for, so many reasons against. For and against what? Lansdowne 2.x of course.

Let’s start with the reasons for a renewed renewal of Lansdowne.

On the high road, a new north stands and event centre, with newer amenities. In short, a shiny, new, expensive toy.

On the low road, the perception that past political favours, dating before the current term of council, are being repaid – with city-owned assets. Not a good look.

On to the reasons against. I have tried to organize them into a few categories, based on how I perceive certain segments of society view them. No doubt I have missed some that are near and dear to the people who have spent so much of their time opposing Lansdowne 2.x.

For those on the progressive end of the spectrum, the two biggies are inadequate affordable housing and the conversion of existing green space into, well, not green space.

Lansdowne 2.1 shifted from the illusion of 10 per cent of the units being “affordable” to a $3.9-million contribution to affordable housing. Of note is that the standard cash in-lieu-contribution to affordable housing is 25 per cent. Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group is offering 10 per cent. As an aside, 25 per cent of what? Total residential project costs? Original cost of the land? Market value of the land/air rights?

On the green-space issue, by the time Lansdowne 2.x is completed, there will be less parkland space at Lansdowne than there is today.  How much? According to ReImagine Ottawa, 30,000 square feet less. More on this later.

For those who focus more on matters fiscal, the two biggies are the overall cost and the lack of a reasonable prospect of the finished project being able to cover the long-term debt the city will have to incur.

Over the course of the last year, the estimated cost of Lansdowne 2.0 rose by $87 million. To get a smaller outcome. A 26 per cent increase, to get less. Shrinkflation squared. In fairness, construction costs have been rising at a rate well above the inflation rate. But that is the point. It is not reasonably possible to estimate the cost to demolish and construct a project of this size, complexity and time line. Who will be responsible for any cost overruns?

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The revenue projections prepared by OSEG were reviewed by the independent public accounting firm Ernst and Young and found to be at the upper end of possible. Put another way, a low probability of reality.

For those who are more concerned with due process than where the issues fit on the political spectrum, there are four biggies. Unsolicited, sole-source projects; failure to adhere to major elements of the recently approved Official Plan; municipal priorities; and traffic.

More than a decade ago a group of developers, now known as OSEG, submitted an unsolicited proposal to rework Lansdowne. For reasons of expediency, the council led by them mayor Larry O’Brien decided to forego any pretense of an open competitive bid and awarded the project to OSEG.

A couple of years ago, after scoring their profits on the residential units, OSEG was incurring underwhelming operating results on the commercial and retail elements of Lansdowne. So, OSEG presented another unsolicited, sole-source proposal to renovate the not so long ago renovated Lansdowne. The previous council, of whom about half continue to sit on the current council, decided to handcuff its successor by giving staff a mandate to review OSEG’s proposal. Not to review Lansdowne as a whole. Not to consider alternatives. No, to evaluate the unsolicited proposal as if it was the only flavour of ice cream available. Sound like solid, objective due process?

A major element of the Official Plan, the ink on which is barely dry, was not only ignored by the OSEG proposal. It was flouted. There is requirement to ensure that adequate parkland is set aside in areas subject to intensification. The existing parkland in the Glebe, Old Ottawa South and Old Ottawa East neighbourhoods does not meet the city standard. Yet the OSEG plan will reduce that by 30,000 square feet. And planning staff are in favour of this? The same planning staff that presented such a bold vision for an intensified Ottawa.

The city has so many demands for its resources. Resources that are limited. An outdoor sporting stadium and a small- to medium-sized event centre are both important elements of a city’s infrastructure. But we already have both of those. They are older, not fitted out with the most recent amenities but functional. Is spending somewhere in the order of magnitude of half a billion dollars on renovating existing facilities more or less vital than directing those same resources to replace aging sanitary and storm sewers? How about that city declared crisis, affordable housing? The concept of prioritizing is deciding that some things are more important than others. Judgmental? Yes, but in a good way.

Traffic management. Bank Street is the main north-south roadway into and out of the city centre. It is notionally two lanes in each direction road from Billings Bridge in the south to Wellington Avenue in the north. Notionally because of on-street parking, frequent bus stops, endless left turns and right turns. When a couple of buddies and I joined less than 10,000 fellow fans to watch a couple of women’s international rugby games this summer, we parked at Carleton University and walked along the Rideau Canal, on the Colonel By Drive side. As we crossed over the canal on Bank Street, we walked past the traffic. Not at a pace that would qualify for the Olympic speed-walking team. And that is the point. Traffic to and from Lansdowne is slow when there isn’t an event. When there is? Pedestrians travel at a faster pace than OC Transpo.

So there you have it councillors. Two reasons to vote for a Lansdowne. For a shiny, new, expensive toy, or to repay political favours. You might want to think carefully about which tag people place on you.

Against? I have only articulated a few. It doesn’t matter which reason you choose to vote against Lansdowne 2.x. Only that you vote against it.

Just like former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney mused after his Charlottetown Accord constitutional amendment went down in flames. Too few reasons to vote for it. So many reasons to vote against it.

Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association for the better part of three decades.



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1 Response

  1. Been There says:

    Same could be said a year ago about electing Sutcliffe so many reasons not to, but look what happened. If this vote gets past committee to full council good bye park hello condos.

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