Lansdowne 2.0: A year later, and community still struggling to get information


Lots of questions, some answers at an April 27 public meeting

By Carolyn Mackenzie


Residents could be forgiven for wondering what City staff have been up to since last May, when the proposal for Lansdowne 2.0 first went to Council. There were lots of questions then. We were told that this was “just a check in” with Council, and that with Council’s approval of the Financial Strategy, the City would launch robust public consultations. To this end, a public information session was held online on April 27.

Council directed staff last May to develop cost estimates for adding structure to the green roof of the proposed new arena that would occupy space where “the Hill” and a portion of the Great Lawn currently exist, with the idea that it might continue to be used as park or greenspace. The question of cost came up again at the April information session – and staff didn’t have an answer, not even a ballpark estimate.

The question was asked: what would it cost the City to remove or deal with the contaminated soil that was placed under the berm, just 10 years ago at considerable expense? In other words, how much extra will we pay to move the arena there? Again, no answer yet.

A number of people asked what analysis staff had done on other possible locations for a new arena – perhaps one served by the LRT, considering the billions we are investing in LRT. The answer: none. Looking at other options was specifically not in the mandate given to staff, so we don’t know what other sites might have to offer or what additional benefits they might bring.

The City presented more detailed sketches of the Lansdowne 2.0 development – right down to where the 740 new parking spaces would go. However, no similar detail was provided to give a better idea of the true scale of the proposed three towers and the new arena – nor their impact on existing elements of Lansdowne including, importantly, the Aberdeen Pavilion, a heritage building recognized as a key element of Lansdowne’s character.

The City declined to say what the expectation was as to how tall the three towers would likely be. But surely they must have made assumptions in the financial modelling they did to figure out how to pay for all of this. How else could they estimate property taxes that will be generated, other than using assumptions about the number of units and the storeys needed to house those units? The City said that this would be confirmed through an eventual air rights bid by a prospective developer as well as a City-initiated rezoning process. But a rezoning application, expected to be launched soon by the City, will have to include specifics – surely they have a reasonable idea now of what is likely.

A number of questions were posed around the City’s Financial Strategy, which includes diverting 90 per cent of property taxes from the three tall towers to pay back the debt. Staff were asked for their analysis showing that only 10 per cent of property taxes would be enough to pay for municipal services for the new residents – and that existing taxpayers wouldn’t have to foot the bill. No clear answer to this either, except that the City assumes that it is more efficient to service the inner urban area – I’d like to ask for a refund on my property taxes if this is true!

The other large part of the Financial Strategy is a huge reliance on expanding retail by another 60,000 square feet and that retail leasing will be so successful in the future that it will generate significant funds to pay down the debt. But can we be confident of this strategy? Has retail leasing actually been profitable to date? City staff said it has been (really?) and pointed to figures presented that week in the Lansdowne annual report to Council. But those figures continue to obscure the bottom line for retail. Why? Whose interests are served by this lack of transparency? Community partners have been asking for this data for months. We are still waiting to see the truth.

With so many important questions about key elements of the Lansdowne 2.0 proposal, there was little time for feedback about proposed improvements to the urban park itself. [Editor’s note: A  virtual engagement session on the Lansdowne 2.0 Public Realm/ Urban Park will be held May 17 at 6 p.m. Email for info.]

In the end, staff answered a number of questions by saying that they are still conducting due diligence. Answers would be forthcoming. But when? And how far in advance of Council’s decision planned for early July?

This is a complex project with a price tag of at least $332 million (and probably higher). If staff release a huge, complicated report shortly before it goes to Council, with this level of consultation, it will be a huge disservice to the city. We need informed, timely and meaningful consultation, which we have been asking for now for more than a year. Selective sharing of information and lack of transparency should not be allowed to cut it.

Just like the LRT, Lansdowne 2.0 is not ready for a green light. Let’s make sure we have learned the lessons of the LRT inquiry and demand better, starting with informed consultations.


Carolyn Mackenzie is chair of the Glebe Community Association’s Planning Committee.


Originally published in The Mainstreeter, April 2023

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