Fun and Games at the OMB, 1/5, what was the issue?

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.


5 thoughts on “Fun and Games at the OMB, 1/5, what was the issue?

  1. Eric being a planner I an tell you its less about never being able to work with a local developer and the bigger paychecks they generally provide . Its all about making even a single mistake at an OMB hearing, good or bad if its serious enough your career is over, pure and simple, you are just done! We use to have a saying about the OMB, “it’s where planners go to die!” They (developers) generally don’t care if you end up supporting some local “trouble makers” they do care if a planner screws up or makes even a minor mistake. You will never be hired again by anyone.

  2. Referring to Frazer’s comment, I too a retired planner and engineer, can relate to his comment. Although a did a presentation to the then OMB eons ago, an an out-of-town planner (illustrates Frazer’s point) about a Heron and Walkley shopping center, and did not find them that hard. OK, I worked for the developer. But I would raise the question of “mistakes” with the party that produced the apparently erroneous sketch perspective Eric refers to. How can one get away with glaring dimensional errors on an exhibit, which I assume was officially attached to the developer’s briefing documents. Would that mistake cost a career? Or is it all biased in favor of any development?

  3. What seems like an even worse mistake in that picture is the lack of MUP and that Norman seems to continue on and not abruptly end in a cul de sac. Do the people making decision on OMB submissions ever go and visit the site or do they rely completely on this sort of make believe pictures?

  4. That’s a somewhat misleading rendering, although the horizontal measurement of the green space is technically accurate.

    According to google maps – the space between the edge of the house and the edge of the railway cut is ~18m (~60ft). However – only about half that distance is usable – since there’s a fence that prevents you from falling down the steep topsoil slope towards where the bedrock has been cut for the railway.

    Maybe the developer knows something we don’t – like the city is going to build a retaining wall at the edge of the bedrock cut and level the space whole to widen the pathway corridor to the full 18m…? I’m just speculating – I have no special knowledge of the cities plans.

    I’d be in favour of that – on both sides of the tracks – as long as there’s no hint of using the space for more roads. I don’t know what the long term plan for double tracking the Trillium line might require in terms of expanding the cut – so it would probably happen after that’s worked out.

  5. This looks like a good story, but I’m not holding out hope for a happy ending. As dfg suggests above, OMB honchos rarely venture to site visits to observe reality.

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