Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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180 Island Park Drive (Royal Thai embassy) gets January 21 Planning date

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Recently I learned that the Royal Thai government, despite repeated opposition on my and residents' part, is proceeding with its application to re-zone its property at 180 Island Park Drive. They are seeking to add a site-specific permitted office use at the location, essentially allowing it to be used as an embassy. While I take no issue with the already-permitted "diplomatic premises" - allowing some consular functions as part of a residence - allowing an office building in a residential zone is simply asking the City to tie itself in planning knots. The issue is teed up to go before Planning Committee on January 21, before we have the opportunity to host an open house (though, bluntly, there's almost certainly no information the applicant can provide that hasn't already been responded to by myself and residents). My comments to the Planning Department are as below. Full information about the development is here.

The application to permit an office use on Island Park Drive has been met with consistent opposition by residents and myself for several years. Island Park is zoned for residential use. This property immediately abuts a residential property to the south, and is across from other residential properties. The site does not, the applicant's assertions notwithstanding, have any features that differ significantly from the properties around it that would justify re-zoning it for an office use, other than being the last house in a row at a location that demands the utmost sensitivity.

The property is currently zoned R1, which has as one of its purposes to "regulate development in a manner that is compatible with existing land use patterns so that the detached dwelling, residential character of a neighbourhood is maintained or enhanced." The application, if granted, would allow an office building which clearly does not fit with the existing residential character of Island Park.

It is important to note that the R1 zone currently permits a diplomatic mission, which facilitates the use of the property by the Royal Thai government to undertake some level of consular functions at the location associated with it being the Ambassador's residence. The Royal Thai government, however, has announced its intention to the community that there would be no residential component to the building. This raises a thorny issue for Council. While the application would permit an office use to the residential zoning on a site-specific basis, the effect would be to allow an office building in a residential zone. The site would continue to have R1 zoning despite having no residential use. If the building were to continue as a residential use with a diplomatic mission, there would be no need for a re-zoning.

Allowing a property zoned residential to be given over entirely to office use should concern Ottawa residents and Council. Commercial, mainstreet and other zoning that allows office uses is applied to geographies carefully, taking into account the impacts that office uses have including very different traffic patterns and other impacts. This site is an approximately 1 kilometer walk from the nearest transit station, in an entirely residential community. While an embassy use has a certain cachet, its functioning does not differ in any material way from that of, say, an accounting firm. In fact, should the Royal Thai government re-locate, the new zoning on this property would allow a corporate entity to purchase the building and land as an office. This obviously does not meet the intent of the City's Official Plan that commercial/office uses should be directed to areas where well-served by transit and otherwise appropriate for employment and traffic generators.

There are ample lands available in Ottawa to build embassies that conform to the zoning in place. In order to accommodate this proposal, Council is being asked to tie itself into knots to allow a site-specific exception that has the effect of zoning land residential that has no actual residential use. It is absurd on the face of it to suggest that an office building meets the R1 zoning intent. I trust that my colleagues will vote to refuse this application and preserve the integrity of our zoning.

Posted December 20, 2018