Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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A Civic compromise emerges - Sir John Carling

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Today, I joined the Mayor, representatives of all levels of government and The Ottawa Hospital leadership team at an announcement touting the Sir John Carling (CEF - East) site as a compromise location for a new Civic campus. I believe that this is a viable option that juggles multiple public interests to the larger benefit of Kitchissippi residents and residents of Ottawa. It continues to preserve a hospital close to the core, is well served today and will be better served in future by rapid transit, and preserves the research fields at the Central Experimental Farm.

For the last week, I have been soliciting feedback from Kitchissippi residents. It won't be a surprise that the issue has been hotly debated, and that there has been a split of opinion. With over 100 emails now having crossed our desk, I'm fairly confident in saying that there was remarkable generosity shown the Tunney's Pasture option. Of those notes in which we could discern a preference, there was a very slim majority in favour of the Tunney's site. But, there was also a very substantial minority approaching close to half adamantly opposed to it. 

Transportation considerations, particularly access to rapid transit, have driven most of the feedback, and residents of this ward have again demonstrated their very progressive attitudes on transit and active transportation issues. However, nearly all of the feedback we've received has acknowledged serious issues that would have been required to be addressed before a Tunney's Pasture option could proceed. Those transportation challenges have played a key role in opposition to the site both within and without the ward.

It is challenging to try to summarize the pros and cons of each site. The NCC's report has an excellent summary of the strengths and weaknesses, and I encourage residents to take a look at the analysis.

My open-mindedness to the SJC/CEF-east site is based on my own perception of those considerations and their relative weighting.

Turning to those, I consider that both sites are relatively equal with respect to proximity to rapid transit. Whether at Tunney's or at Sir John Carling, both are in very easy walking proximity to an existing rapid transit station. Both sites would have required very careful thinking about how to facilitate foot traffic over the relatively short distance. Design will be critical.

The SJC site enjoys a slight edge in road access according to the NCC. I share that perception. I also agree with the NCC that both sites offer good potential for active transportation access.

The NCC has also rated both sites as having great city-building potential. In my view, that's slightly easier to accept for Tunney's, but the Carling-Preston Secondary Plan is similarly transformative. Proximity to Preston, Dow's Lake and the Arboretum change the potential for what that city-building looks like, but in interesting ways.

The site topography, according to the NCC, is both a challenge and opportunity. Done well, with the involvement of leading architects, a new hospital at the SJC site could be an iconic, world-class building nestled into a natural setting. We will have a job to do to ensure that's the case.

Several considerations are in the hands of those offering and being asked to accept the land, including the parcel size and shape, the cost implications to the federal government, the need to re-locate workers, and the costs of demolition, conformity of the SJC site with higher level federal planning and construction/transition issues. The involvement by all levels of government and the Hospital indicates that those parties are willing to accept a compromise on those issues.

One consideration identified by stakeholders and the NCC where Tunney's would have been a preferred option is with respect to the incursion into the CEF lands. There are wildlife and forestry drawbacks to this site, not to mention a loss of some greenspace. There is some comfort in knowing that much of the land in question is impermeable surface, and a re-configuration will preserve much of the greenspace, trees and heritage structures. 

In the big picture, though, and with eyes wide open, establishing a compromise to ensure a critically-needed hospital moves ahead, keeping that in the core, keeping it off sensitive research fields and soils, and putting it on excellent transit outweighs that cost in my mind.

As when I first posted about the NCC announcement last week, there are still unanswered questions and some continued uncertainty. However, the scope of that is much reduced and there is much greater clarity today. In the coming weeks and months, my focus will shift to several outstanding considerations, including the future of the current Civic site and what this site's implications for traffic in the neighbourhood will be, as well as how this new hospital will interface with our established and new neighbourhoods.

Adopting the CEF-east site does not relieve the City of a longer-term consideration of transportation in the near west end of Ottawa. The federal government is now free to pursue its plans for a Tunney's re-development, and the tens of thousands of residents still to come in approved or foreseen mixed use developments lend some urgency to a broader planning exercise. But, we will be able to leverage the Transportation Master Plan exercise set to begin soon after the next term of Council begins to undertake that.

This issue has moved quickly, and I am very grateful for residents' responsiveness in providing us their feedback. While the pace at which this has developed is extraordinary in my limited experience, I am very comfortable with where today's announcement lands us: Tunney's was a surprising choice, and I and many were expecting that the SJC/CEF-east site would have been the compromise location announced last week. I thank residents for their generosity in sharing their feedback with me, and look forward to working with my elected counterparts, the Hospital, and residents as we pursue next steps on this file to accomplish a world-class hospital on this site.

Posted December 2, 2016