Community Fights Massive Parking Lot Proposed for Greenspace

The community's fight to kill or at least reduce the size of the University of Ottawa parking lot proposed for the 160 Lees greenspace has yielded some positive results as the City and the university continue to consider options. In the words of Joel Thirsk of the Mayor's office, "Staff continue to request that the parking lot space be as small as possible."

At a pre-Christmas public meeting, Old Ottawa East residents and others voiced their strong opposition to the proposed elimination of the huge greenspace between the Lees Avenue apartments and Springhurst Park.

On December 19 at Old Town Hall, a packed room of residents and representatives of various sports groups peppered City representatives with questions on the proposed creation of a Light Rail Transit (LRT) construction staging area and large parking lot that would cover most of the greenspace between Lees Avenue and the Rideau River.

The City responded with a revised proposal that would eliminate the staging area on the site but would still see the creation of a "temporary" parking lot consuming about half the greenspace. While the revised proposal was seen as a positive step, residents argued there has been inadequate consultation and there is poor justification for the massive parking lot with little consideration of alternatives.

At the January 8 meeting of the Old Ottawa East Community Association (OOECA), Matt Eason of the city's LRT office provided a further revision of the parking lot plan which would use less of the greenspace and ensure there was a full playing field and more space between Springhurst Park and the parking lot.

The proposed 360-spot parking lot is how the City proposes to compensate the University of Ottawa for the use of two of the university's small parking lots required for staging areas during LRT construction. One of these parking lots with 120 spots is on the north side of Lees Avenue adjacent to the transitway station and the other lot with 110 spots is on the main campus.

No Clear Answers

At the December meeting residents repeatedly asked - without getting a clear answer - why there would be so many more proposed parking spots than currently exist (360 vs 230). They made the points that the university's existing parking lot beside the Lees station is underutilized and it is unlikely that those who currently use the downtown campus parking lot required for LRT construction would want to park almost two kilometres away at the proposed 160 Lees parking lot. Further, residents argued that now is the time to encourage university students and staff to switch to transit, rather than providing even more parking spots. The university, which boasts of its sustainable development initiatives, has not revealed any needs study to demonstrate why 360 spots are sought and deflects responsibility for the proposal to the City.

The Springhurst greenspace has become a key recreational area for the 3,000 residents of the Lees apartment buildings and for the Archville neighbourhood in Old Ottawa East. In addition, four sports associations have permits to run their games in the greenspace.

The proposed parking lot appears on a university of Ottawa plan dated August 9, 2012 but the community was not told of the proposal until December 6, just after Councillor David Chernushenko had been informed of the idea. At the monthly OOECA meeting the following week, members expressed their strong opposition and then organized the subsequent meeting at which City staff were invited to attend to explain the proposal.

Aggravating the residents' concerns was the city's tight scheduling of the City Council planning committee's consideration of the proposal for January 14. This, thanks to the intervention of Councillor Chernushenko, was delayed until February 26. The additional month and a half will allow the community to seek further information on the proposal and to pursue alternatives. The City has committed to complete several studies pertaining to the proposal before the proposal goes to planning committee.

Importance of Greenspace

The community's fight against the parking lot proposal has been led by Christine Loth-Bown, a resident of Simcoe Street. She and her family make great use of Springhurst Park and are dismayed at the prospect of losing the greenspace - along with an undetermined number of trees on the east side of the park.

"Springhurst Park is a very important asset to our organization due to its location and accessibility," Christiane Marceau, executive director of the Ottawa Carleton Ultimate Association wrote to Nancy Schepers, deputy city manager. "In a time when active adults and children are such a focus, as well as the importance of healthy living, OCUA hopes that the removal of Springhurst Park is reconsidered to ensure that access to sport and recreation remains available for residents in this neighbourhood and throughout the City of Ottawa."

Few large greenspaces for recreation remain available in central Ottawa despite the great demand for playing fields. Residents told City staff that the proposed parking lot simply doesn't fit with the creation of the new community garden just to the west of the 170 Lees apartment building, the new Rideau River Nature Trail, and planned enhancements of Springhurst Park.

One of the City's guiding principles for development near LRT stations such as Lees is "creating greenspaces and urban places." As OOECA transportation director Ron Rose noted, "There are over 1600 units in the five Lees Ave buildings, housing between 3000 and 4000 people. The greenspace at 160 Lees is now the only sizeable greenspace available to those residents, and turning it into a parking lot would go against the City's guiding principles."

Campaign Against Proposal

Minutes from the public meeting as well as a copy of the alternate proposal and other documents we have received from the City are posted on the OOECA website.

"We really appreciated all the perspectives and concerns that individuals raised at the public meeting and would like to encourage residents to send letters or email these concerns to the Mayor; Peter Hume, chair of the Planning Committee; Allan Rock, president of the university of Ottawa; deputy city manager Nancy Schepers and planning officer Hieu Nguyen," says Ms Loth-Bown.

Email addresses of these officials and background documentation on the proposed parking lot are posted on the OOECA website.

Building a Liveable Ottawa 2031

The City of Ottawa is hosting the Building a Liveable Ottawa launch event on Tuesday, Janaury 29, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Ottawa City Hall. This is part of a strategic review that the city will undertake in 2013 of key planning documents. For more information, please visit the City of Ottawa's website.

City Conducting Transit-Oriented Development Study

The City of Ottawa is undertaking transit-oriented development (TOD) studies that will examine properties within an 800 metres radius of three future light rail stations east of downtown. This includes the Lees Transitway station in Old Ottawa East. View a map of the study area. According to the city, the goal of the TOD studies is to plan well-designed and compact neighbourhoods. For more information, visit the city’s TOD website. Public consultations will be held later in the year.

160 Lees Development goes to Planning Council on February 26

The City of Ottawa’s planning committee will review the application for 160 Lees Avenue on February 26, 2013. At the request of Councillor Chernushenko, the city has agreed to conduct the site plan studies in advance of this going to committee so that due diligence is done and the proper assessments and analysis are conducted on the impacts raised such as environmental issues and traffic. We will be receiving a list of the studies that will be conducted and we will post them on the website.

The OECA has received a copy of the alternative locations that the city staff reviewed before proposing the 160 Lees Avenue site as the recommended option. They are posted in the planning section under the 160 Lees Avenue file.

The OECA will continue to press for more information regarding the size of the proposed parking lot. The city is required to compensate the university for lost parking due to LRT construction, however, the current proposal provides the university with an additional 132 parking spots. At a meeting held on January 7, 2013, between the OECA, Councillor Chernushenko, university representatives and city staff, we asked the university to assess its current parking, do a needs assessment and review if indeed it really needs a 362 parking lot to compensate for 230 lost spots. The University of Ottawa is in a key leadership position to change the decision on whether the parking lot is necessary and whether its size can be decreased, but we need to appeal to the president to get the decision in the MOU with the city changed. Officials from his office indicated that they were surprised that they have not received more letters - let's make some noise and send President Allan Rock some letters. Your voice matters and because of the interest that we have been getting on this issue, changes are happening but there are still more changes required.

For full details about this proposal, including the most recent site plan, please visit the planning page.

City Presentation on 160 Lees Development

The City of Ottawa's presentation from the December 19th meeting concerning the 160 Lees planning application is now available. Note that the presentation states the application will be heard at Planning Committee in January, but this has since been postponed to February. For complete details about this proposal, including maps and minutes from the December 19 meeting, please visit the OECA’s planning page.

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