This past winter I learned first hand how the OMB works. I was an appellant (notice my new legal vocabulary !) Over the next few days, you can see our case unfold in glorious slo mo.
Readers with a high pain threshold will recall the very controversial and adversarial Preston-Carling plan the city developed in 2013. It recognized the ongoing land stampede by developers to acquire lands along the OTrain Trillium corridor and intersection of Preston at Carling.
Some parcels of land were upzoned several times, sometimes while buildings were still under development.
Local residents in the Little Italy neighbourhood felt patronized, pushed, and ignored. So too, I suspect, did some city planning staff who saw years of community contact goodwill evaporate as senior managers and Toronto consultants were parachuted in to push through more, more, more.
At the end, the City tarted up the plan, branding it a “new southern gateway” to the downtown. It called for 55 storey buildings close to the Carling transit station, descending downward slightly as one gets further away. The Claridge ICON building, 48 stories, is the first very tall building underway, and three towers twenty-to-thirty floors on Champagne Avenue nearby are either finished or underway.
One salient site rezoning in the Preston-Carling issue resonated throughout the city and got lots of media attention.
The line of stub end streets that run east off Preston to the railway tracks are choc a block with small homes, usually two stories, on small 25’ lots. The affordability of these houses plus the safe streets have attracted families with children looking to live quietly in the city.
But one side of Norman Street was bought up by developers, who proposed at various times, an 18 storey, a 14 storey, or a 9 storey apartment building. All the adjacent houses are two stories.
Residents tried working with the city to improve the plan. The major problems included the location of the front entrance at the very end of the stub end street. There was no provision for cars, delivery vans, para Transpo, taxis or any other vehicles to turn around.
The city had originally proposed nine storey mid-rise zoning for every stub end street, but backed down when challenged by the community to prove that the buildings were accessible. They refused to ever say why they were backing down.
Except for Taggart’s 95 Norman. That building just had to go ahead.
Save Little Italy
A citizen’s group called Save Little Italy, part of the Dalhousie Community Association, appealed the plan to the Ontario Municipal Board, which can review municipal decisions.
Appeals are expensive. Lawyers and certified planners and engineers are required to give “professional opinion”. Here’s the total of the professional and not professional opinion at the start of the hearing:
Save Little Italy had teas, bento box sales, comedy nights, beer chug-a-lugs, t-shirt sales, etc, and raised $35,000.
The first problem was finding those professionals to advise us and take our side. They are scarcer than the proverbial hen’s teeth. Basically, Ottawa is a small town, and every consultant has worked or wants to work with developers or the city itself. They don’t view assignments with “trouble makers” worthwhile.
The hearing itself took place in a double-classroom sized space on the second floor of the Heritage Building wing of City Hall. Gorgeous high ceilings and big south facing windows were the good part. The bad parts include the poor room layout, and the dinky witness stand from which person after person dropped the heavy reference binders, the binders springing open and shooting pages onto the floor.
Here’s another view of the Taggart project for 95-101 Norman:
Notice the big green space between one version of the building and the railway tracks. In actual life, its 30-50′ wide, as the 9 storey tower+projection goes right where this white house now is:
A lot of planning seems to depend on fancy drawings that don’t reflect reality or people’s lives.