The discussion surrounding the ongoing development of Lansdowne continues this month with Carl Brunet’s coverage of the December 9th Lansdowne Traffic & Parking Issues Public Meeting. Tom Tanner participated in a consultation about land use planning, and he sheds some light on the process. Catherine Caule presents a fresh perspective on how and why the Ontario Municipal Board can revamp its appeals process.
Developers tell community residents to ‘wait-and-see’
By Carl Brunet
As officials representing the City and Lansdowne developers began speaking at a public meeting on Monday, December 9, final details of Lansdowne’s transportation and parking arrangements, seemingly shrouded in secrecy, managed to come to the surface. With parts of the new Lansdowne complex scheduled to open next summer, angry Glebe residents, already experiencing Lansdowne parking issues and traffic congestion, packed the St. Giles church hall at Bank Street and First Avenue.
Everyone was surprised to find out that no monitoring activities are planned before the $300-million complex opens next year. The transportation monitoring consultant plans to conduct monitoring activities starting next October, then the following March when pedestrian and bike traffic is nowhere near its peak.
The last time such monitoring activities were conducted was during March break, highlighting the potentially flawed baseline data against which new results might be compared. Some residents asked why only three games for each of the three sports teams were to be monitored.
Residents expecting a hefty 50 per cent increase in traffic were presented with a thrice-a-year monitoring plan as well as shuttles on their residential streets.
“Cost-free or low-cost recommendations made by the GCA Traffic Committee have been overwhelmingly ignored and/or rejected.”
Bernie Ash, CEO of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), the consortium in charge of the redevelopment of Lansdowne, claimed he hadn’t thought about where the 40,000 CFL fans who don’t have exclusive parking passes would park. The same goes for day-to-day customer parking for retail operators such as Whole Foods and the movie theatre. VIP parking and special, paid, sheltered bicycle parking will also be offered.
When it transpired that most of the 40,000 fans were expected to reach Lansdowne via “modal shift,” someone finally asked what this term meant. We were informed that this refers to people “getting out of cars” and using transit or other modes of transport to reach stadium events. The specifics of how to “get people out of cars” are yet to be determined, but vehicles are expected to magically disappear through this abstract and immeasurable concept. Every Lansdowne event ticket will include free OC Transpo fare to get there. The fact that OSEG bears any cost for OC Transpo’s transit expenses might explain why good ideas such as the proposed Bank Street free-bus corridor, which has worked in other cities, have been systematically turned down.
Lakeside Avenue residents complaining that their street would be affected by Lansdowne shuttle bus operations asked that the route be moved to arterial roads. The Lansdowne transportation consultant said, “We have listened, but the Carling-Bronson intersection is so busy and Lakeside would just save time.” Residents remained unclear if the shuttle traffic was to be one- or two-way.
Although the Lansdowne proponents claim to be listening, they appear to be serving up little more than lukewarm talking points to the community. The City representative talked about identifying issues, but as Brian Mitchell, chairperson of the Glebe Traffic Committee, pointed out, cost-free or low-cost recommendations made by the GCA Traffic Committee have been overwhelmingly ignored and/or rejected.
Lansdowne wants to succeed in spite of the community, but for the next 30 years, Lansdowne neighbours, more than transient fans, are their most likely repeat customers.
Carl Brunet is a Glebe resident living just west of Bank Street.
Two Ontario cabinet ministers and a bevy of staff members joined 62 registered participants at Carleton University on Thursday, November 21 for a three-hour consultation on the “Land Use Planning and Appeals System.” The room crackled with energy as discussion groups wrestled with four awkwardly worded themes:
(A) Achieving more predictability, transparency and accountability in the planning/appeal process and reducing costs;
(B) Supporting greater municipal leadership in resolving issues and making local land use planning decisions;
(C) Better engaging citizens in the local planning process;
(D) Protecting long-term public interests, particularly through better alignment of land use planning and infrastructure decisions, and support for job creation and economic growth.
I chose theme (C), and joined a table with community activists from Centretown, Old Ottawa South, the Glebe, Sandy Hill and Portobello South (the most southerly part of Orleans) plus a volunteer from Heritage Ottawa. It was a diverse group with several veterans of many battles about development. Other groups also included developers, but there was no one from “the industry” at our table.
ON BETTER ENGAGING CITIZENS IN THE LOCAL PLANNING PROCESS
Linda Jeffrey, minister of municipal affairs and housing, opened the program. After a presentation by facilitator Peter Landry, groups got to work. It took little time for our table to agree that citizen consultations are “marketing exercises” at present.
Strong feelings were expressed and it was said that the Lansdowne fiasco would taint consultations for a generation. But we were charged with coming up with ways to improve the process, and so we laboured with flipchart and markers to fill six or seven pages with closely written comments.
One of our group said that we had the best consultation 1950s technology could bring us. Many ideas and suggestions emerged at our table:
– Using new technology and social media might engage more citizens and gather creative suggestions. Not-for-profit groups should run citizen consultations. City staff has a stake in the outcome of consultations and thus have a conflict of interest when they organize citizen input sessions.
– There is no transparency about feedback received at consultations. Input from citizens and developers is usually lumped together and reported in vague terms. Clear and accurate reporting of citizen opinions and suggestions is required to build confidence in the system. People must be able to see that their views are heard and considered.
– The Ottawa Official Plan is couched in such vague terms that almost anything can be considered. Thus it is easy to make changes that can adversely affect neighbourhoods. Language needs to be less permissive so that there are limits on what can be proposed. There should be special consultations geared to community associations. The planning process is complex. It can be baffling to citizens who are not well informed. Community associations usually have informed members who can make useful contributions to guide development. The province already mandates school councils and this could be a precedent for similar recognition of community associations.
– Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) receive government funding. In Alberta the province provides money for community associations, and this should be explored for possible application in Ontario.
– A regional depository for studies and reports produced by community associations would greatly assist the “corporate memory” of these voluntary organizations and would allow research to be used more widely. Since some communities are not experienced in land-use planning and development issues, access to work done elsewhere could be very helpful.
– During Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearings, expertise is valued and subjective opinion is dismissed. But subjective opinion sometimes contains wisdom that deserves to be recognized for its value in the development of liveable communities. Decision-makers need to listen for that wisdom. At present, citizens are made to feel that subjective opinion detracts from progress.
– To make things better, Ontario could mandate the elements of effective and trustworthy public consultations. New tools and technologies should be employed to reach out for more citizen input. The role of community associations needs to be recognized. A provincial bureau could provide tools and guidance for local organizations. Regional consultations involving community associations are necessary because issues like transit planning affect larger areas.
Time flew by and the flip chart comments grew and grew. After three hours of engagement, a short speech by Yasir Naqvi, minister of labour and MPP for Ottawa Centre, closed the evening. He made it clear that this should not be the end of the conversation.
Want to take part? Comments can be submitted at: www.ontario.ca/landuseplanning. Emails can be sent to: PlanningConsultation@ontario.ca
Letters are still welcome at: Land Use Planning and Appeal System Consultation, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Provincial Planning Policy Branch, 777 Bay Street, 14th Floor, Toronto, ON M5G 2E5.
Glebe resident Tom Tanner has written three earlier articles about the OMB. He found out about the consultation thanks to an email from the Friends of Lansdowne.
By Catherine Caule
The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) is an independent tribunal established through provincial legislation. It provides an independent public forum to hear appeals on land-use planning and other matters as determined by law. After a hearing, the Board produces a decision based on the evidence presented and the relevant law.
The stated aims of the province’s recent (October 2013 to January 10, 2014) consultation on its land-use planning system and decision-making process, including the land-use planning appeals process at the OMB, were to make the process predictable, transparent, cost-effective and responsive to communities. However, the consultation excluded discussion of changes to the OMB’s practices and procedures. I would argue that there must be changes to the OMB’s appeals and hearing practices to ensure accessibility, transparency and cost-effectiveness. In addition, the consultation did not address whether the appeals process supports one of the aims of the land-use planning system – to create opportunities for healthy communities.
THE OMB APPEALS PROCESS
Launching an OMB appeal requires a great investment of money and time. Some parties hire lawyers and planners, but they are not a prerequisite for filing an appeal. Community organizations and individuals may require some $50,000 to engage planners and lawyers to prepare and take an appeal to mediation or a hearing, and for the costs of expert witnesses. Lawyers help prepare the case and, at the hearing, question witnesses and make statements.
If the appellant cannot gather the funds to hire professionals, self-representation is an option, though this can be daunting. Those who do not hire lawyers must file the required documents such as witness statements, do their own research, find and assemble the documents and evidence for the case, make copies and distribute the documents for all parties and the Board, speak on their own behalf at the hearing, present their case and their evidence, question witnesses and make opening and closing statements. They must also be ready to contend with intimidation by opposing party lawyers. Counsel for other parties may raise objections to participation without legal representation and make remarks during the hearing. Parties without counsel must be prepared for gruelling and aggressive questioning by other parties’ counsel. Similarly, a “layperson” (lawyers’ words) must be ready to question witnesses appropriately and purposefully, and respond to evidence presented at the hearing.
Laypersons are not experienced with the use of legal tools for evidence such as affidavits and summonses. Parties with lawyers have the advantage in this case. Barriers to launching an appeal are real for those without funds, time, confidence, knowledge for adequate case and exhibit preparation, or oral and written fluency.
Though our community is a privileged one in this regard, the resources of the City and the developers still present a barrier to the creation of a level playing field in the appeal process.
The threat by the City and developers that they may seek costs for launching a frivolous appeal can dissuade many from proceeding. Finally, when there is a preponderance of legal, planning and expert professionals in a hearing room, it is not a level playing field for the layperson appellant.
Though the OMB hearing has the “feel” of a courtroom, it does not have a courtroom’s rigour. OMB hearings are not recorded and there are no court reporters transcribing the proceedings. The chair documents only some of what the parties say. There is no record of oral statements and there is no record when the hearing chair requests that parties produce documents. A party can conveniently forget to provide them until the hearing is closed. For example, a party responsible for shipping a physical model to the OMB might let it “fall between the cracks.” Once the hearing ends, there is little or no recourse. The chair will rule based on notes from the hearings and the evidence provided, or not provided. There is little recourse for inaccuracies in the chair’s report of the ruling.
A HEALTHY COMMUNITY
The land-use system aims to produce a healthy community, but the appeals process does not serve this well. The built environment (the structure and layout of streets, buildings and communities) influences our health and wellbeing. Ottawa Public Health is now advocating for integrating a health perspective in planning. At the time of the Lansdowne OMB hearing in May 2011, this was novel. The 2005 provincial policy statement, a key component of Ontario’s land-use system, contains planning direction while protecting public health. However, the policy may not have enough teeth to ensure a healthy community. The policy urges the avoidance of development and land-use patterns that may cause environmental or public health and safety concerns. The policy focus is on the impact of major facilities (e.g., airports, waste management systems) on “sensitive uses” (i.e. residential areas) and resulting adverse effects on health and quality of life.
The policy does not have teeth, because it does not refer to the health impacts of a rezoning on an existing community. Examples of “adverse effects” are increased traffic, increased noise, reduced air quality, and pedestrian injuries and fatalities.
As well, the policy has no bite because it does not identify thresholds for the significance of an adverse effect – a 20 per cent increase in traffic? 50 per cent? It is also difficult to apply the policy if the chair seeks proof or concrete evidence that an adverse effect will happen. Projections of possible traffic accidents are regarded as mere speculation. Referenced scholarly articles warning of the health effects of noise and air pollution from traffic, and of living near busy roads, will not serve as scientific or empirical evidence if there is no direct, proven connection to the specific development proposal. But it is hard to demonstrate a direct link if the development proposal is not yet implemented! Under these conditions, there is no way to demonstrate adverse effects on health.
It’s not enough to look at the big themes. The OMB appeals process must operate from a level playing field and must incorporate a health perspective.
Catherine Caule advocates for the health of individuals and of communities. One of three appellants in the Lansdowne re-zoning OMB hearing, she presented a case based on protecting the health of the community. She has contributed to the health of the community as board chair of Centretown Community Health Centre, as a member of the City’s (now defunct) Health and Social Services Advisory Committee, and as chair of the Glebe Community Association’s Health and Social Services Committee. She is currently vice-chair of the Champlain Regional Cancer Program Patient and Family Advisory Council and is a patient and family advisor for Cancer Care Ontario.