Welcome To The Tewin Twilight Zone: STANKOVIC



Ottawa has now entered the planning Twilight Zone.

That’s due to secrecy that extends to city council, developer hiring of planning officials to conduct city oversight of the developer, burying information in the city Official Plan, questionable practices and the erosion of public trust coming out of the controversial Tewin deal.

The close working relationship between the developer and city staff raises serious concerns around maintaining public trust and values such as municipal autonomy, transparency, and the protection of public (and political) interest when dealing with developers and private sector investors.

At the Thursday city planning committee meeting, only one item was on the agenda – the city’s infrastructure  master plan.

However, the future of the controversial Tewin subdivision dominated the discussion.

Questions from Capital Councillor Shawn Menard to city staff and followed up by others from Knoxdale-Merivale Councillor Sean Devine revealed a memorandum of understanding between the city and the Tewin Landowners – Algonquins of Ontario Realty Corp.,  Anderson Fairlawn Inc. and 2595469 Ontario Inc. — dealing with city staff assignments and funding commitments.

The last two companies are both owned by Taggart Group. Taggart is AOR’s developer/financial partner for the Tewin development proposal.

It turns out that the MOU commits the city to dedicate three senior staff members to work solely on the Tewin subdivision file in the areas of community design, transportation planning, and infrastructure planning. The Tewin Landowners in turn will pay the full salaries of the three staff positions. Although city staff indicated at the meeting that such an arrangement would cover a five-year period, there is no fixed completion date defined in the MOU. The MOU only expects the staffing and funding arrangement  to last “multiple years.”

Moreover, it seems that the committee members were not aware of this MOU as it never reached city council for approval. In fact, the MOU or at least the intent of preparing a MOU, is referenced in the deep depths of the new official plan approved by  city council on November 24, 2021 during former mayor Jim Watson’s tenure.

Part of the Official Plan titled Principles for the Tewin Financial Memorandum of Understanding states that a “separate memorandum of understanding will also be prepared with the intent of outlining the city staff positions or consultant assignments required to manage the Tewin development, the cost for which will be covered by the Tewin landowners.” This separate MOU was executed on September 23, 2022, by the then interim general manager of planning real estate and economic development, the chief financial officer, the city solicitor, and the Tewin Landowners.

Presumably city staff attending the Thursday committee meeting had lost track of the “principles” contained in the official plan as they did not use them in defense of the staffing arrangements when asked about it. After all, two of the three city signatories are no longer with the administration and the previous treasurer is now the city manager. It is also worth noting that plan is silent where approvals of the MOUs lie – either at the council level or delegated to city staff. This would suggest that council has also not seen the financial MOU dealing with the capital funding agreements to support growth in the Tewin urban expansion area.

It could well be that the MOUs are well intended on the part of city staff in terms of facilitating the construction of new and hopefully affordable housing and supporting the creation of a “new 21st-century suburban community that reflects Algonquin design and  place-keeping principles.”

However concerns have consistently been raised recently for projects such as the Lansdowne redevelopment, planning approvals of major intensification developments, LRT construction etc.

Another issue relates to the hiring of outside consultants if a particular technical expertise in the the areas identified above is not “available within the city’s resources”. In such instances, the Tewin Landowners will fund a consultant to undertake the specialized work. Even though the terms of reference for such assignments will be developed collaboratively with the city, the approval of the consultant’s contract who will be “acting on behalf of the city” is required only from the Tewin Landowners.

It is also unclear what the original city staff rationale for pursuing the MOU arrangement was in the first place.

When new subdivision proposals come forward through the municipal approval process, all the technical and  planning studies such as the preparation of secondary plans are typically private, not city-initiated. City staff at the committee meeting did acknowledge that the staffing arrangement with the Tewin Landowners has never been done before.

Could the Tewin approach to obtaining council planning approvals set a precedent for future proposals? Can the Tewin Landowners take compensatory action if city council does not approve the secondary plan and design planning requirements 5+ years from now? That’s after spending much money on city staff and specialized consultants acting on behalf of the city not to mention the financial costs for delaying the start of the new subdivision?

Dan Stankovic is an Ottawa consultant and former municipal public servant in economic development and housing.

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