Full Comment from the Report

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The Lansdowne 2.0 proposal is an incredibly substantial plan that will radically change Lansdowne Park, the surrounding community and the city, as a whole. It requires significant spending and debt—a financial decision that must be weighed against Council’s strategic priorities. Any decisions regarding the future of Lansdowne Park must be taken with due care, ensuring that we shed past mistakes and take a sober, honest look at the impacts of the plan.

If we are not careful, we will repeat the errors of the last re-development of Lansdowne Park, embarking on another rejuvenation project based on faulty premises which did not come to pass.

For the sake of our city’s future, we can’t afford to bungle this matter.

Last decade’s original Lansdowne re-development project offered promises of a vibrant urban village, bustling retail and commercial spaces, and significant profits flowing from a financial waterfall. We are considering Lansdowne 2.0 now largely because these assurances did not come to pass.

There have been successes, with residents utilizing the park, but, too often, the space is under-used, and, to the dismay of everyone in or around Lansdowne, when it is alive with visitors, the associated traffic chokes off the neighbourhood’s traditional main street, Bank Street.

A rejuvenation of Lansdowne Park is needed, but what is needed is a plan that prioritizes public amenities, public access and the public good to make it a success. The initial Lansdowne 2.0 plan was unlikely to accomplish this given it was based on a proposal authored without public input. That initial plan has since seen modifications, some of which followed our advice from BetterLansdowne.ca and as a result of feedback from the public, urban design professionals, and from Councillors offices. Some of these changes are positive and as a result, we have a better proposal before us now than we did in 2022. As it stands, however, this report still falls short of meeting the priorities referenced above.

The impetus for re-developing Lansdowne Park is to re-construct the stadium’s north side stands and the arena underneath—facilities residents were told did not require imminent replacement during the original re-development of Lansdowne; facilities that we are still told could be maintained for another three decades with normal maintenance and upgrades.

That the stands can remain in place until 2054 does not, in and of itself, mean that they must remain for another 31 years. Re-development could be justifiable, but only if it brings commensurate benefits to the city as a whole.

This has been a troubled proposal since it was initially pondered. Originally, the plan was to be revenue neutral, but no such plan was ever actually conceivable. Originally, the city was to consult with the public before bringing the initial proposal to council, but no such consultations occurred last term. Originally there was to be no amendment to the Official Plan as directed by Council, but that was reversed without Council authority. Originally, there was to be a component of affordable housing included in the proposal, but that was cast aside for something referred to as market-affordable housing (up to 135 per cent of market rents, as though the market had not already had a hand in creating the current affordability crisis). Originally, there was to be a transportation plan included as part of Lansdowne 2.0, but no such plan exists, though residents regularly sit in traffic waiting to get to a soccer game or the Farmers Market.

All of these directives were decided by council, and none came to fruition. There can be no doubt as to why residents remain skeptical.

Skepticism is not necessarily a bad thing. We must question and we must not assume answers. Residents should be skeptical about the financing of this plan. Originally, the plan came with a $332 million price tag. We were to pay for this using some form of property tax uplift, with 90 per cent of the new property taxes coming from the proposed towers at Lansdowne paying off this debt, and with all other property taxpayers paying to cover the gap left by the redirected tax dollars. Property taxes, after all, are supposed to be used to pay for the services and amenities residents will need; growth pays for growth...or so we’ve heard.

The price tag is no longer $332 million and the ruse of revenue neutrality has more or less been abandoned. We’re now looking at a $417 million cost with over $500 million to repay debt over time—that's a half billion dollars—in 2023, months or years before construction, before any contracts are signed.

The public amenities at Lansdowne could be fantastic. Slowly, we’ve been improving things—some more seating, some more shade, some more free events for the public. This is a wonderful opportunity to make such improvements. A better play structure! Even more seating! Integration with the canal! The list of possibilities will unspool before us if we allow it.

But where are these improvements in the proposal? We have $10 million compared to $417 million, dedicated to public amenities at some point in the future. We place no priority on these improvements, no plan to accelerate their construction or implementation. They are an afterthought. Paying for privately operated infrastructure, with the hope it will generate a profit, is prioritized over public realm enhancements.

The risk, in fact, is not that we won’t make all the improvements we should; the risk is that we will make the park worse for the general public. We have a proposal that will remove 50,000 square feet of a public park—an accessible greenspace known as the “Great Lawn”—in a neighbourhood that is starved for park space. Accentuating this deficit, we seek to bring hundreds of new residents to Lansdowne Park, as well as thousands upon thousands of new visitors to the park—and yet we are facing a reduction in park space. This will hinder our attempts to rejuvenate Lansdowne.

We have city policies in place to ensure that new density either comes with more parkland through parkland dedication, or with a cash payment in lieu of it. In this case, we are seeing a net loss of parkland, and we are being told that there will, on top of that, be no parkland dedication or cash in lieu.

Green space is not solely a matter of park space. It is also a necessary tool to mitigate climate change, absorb rainwater, and fight the heat island effect. Originally, the new arena—to be built into the lawn, taking away from park space—was to have a green roof, inaccessible, sure, but still an arrow in our climate mitigation quiver. No longer. It has been removed.

The plan before us today offers some new public space, where the high-rise closest to the historic Aberdeen Pavillion was initially proposed, to offset the 50,000sqf loss. This is a welcome addition, but it falls well short of offsetting the total loss. We had hoped for a plan that would, at minimum, see this green roof made accessible, but instead we have lost the green roof altogether, and with it, we have lost a well-loved vantage point for residents and families to observe the events taking place at the stadium.

My office surveyed nearly 1900 Ottawa residents from across the city on the various aspects of the Lansdowne 2.0 proposal, and in that survey, 79 per cent of respondents opposed a net-loss of accessible greenspace at Lansdowne Park, including a majority of respondents from every region of the city.

When looking at this new plan before us, one can’t escape the idea that we’re trading public amenities and enjoyment for private development. We have the arena taking up a chunk of a park, and we will be selling off public land, where there is currently the newly constructed J-block of retail stores and the north side stands, to a private developer to build high-rise towers—originally three, now two.

I am happy to see that the third tower that was initially proposed overshadowing the Aberdeen Pavilion has been removed. This is in line with the feedback received from the community, the Urban Design Review Panel, and our Built Heritage Advisory Committee.

In the survey of Ottawa residents my office conducted on the various aspects of the Lansdowne 2.0 proposal, the majority of respondents supported adding residential to Lansdowne. We agree. Adding residential units to Lansdowne makes sense. However, the question of how that density should be realized at Lansdowne saw 85 per cent of respondents support a residential built form that is not as tall as the 40-storeys currently proposed, with the most popular response from respondents in each region of Ottawa being for a mid-rise option.

Some may argue that skyscrapers are part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis. We should be cleareyed on this: the difference in density between a high-rise building and a skyscraper does not contribute to addressing the affordable housing crisis. The difference in unit count, when realized by additional height in this way, with 75-90 per cent of the property taxes of units being redirected to the proposal, is not contributing to a supply-side solution to housing affordability—already an inefficacious solution given variable macroeconomic factors, such as financialization and supercharged demand. Greater heights come with a marginal increase to overhead costs which both incentivizes and requires accessing higher rent markets.

The Lansdowne 2.0 proposal has assumed residential development targeting higher rent markets from early on. The initial staff proposal for ‘affordable housing’ on site that I discuss further below made that clear.

The 40-storey scenario may be optimal from a net revenue perspective for a future applicant (a sweet spot for marginal costs versus marginal revenue), but it is not helping to combat the housing crisis; if anything, it is mitigating the positive impact new housing at Lansdowne can have on the latter. This project’s biggest contribution to combating the housing crisis will be determined by its commitment to a non-market housing option (or funds to that end).

As we build more at Lansdowne, we must consider for whom we are building; we must ask ourselves, “whom are we including?, whom are we excluding?” Last term, city council was clear, we must try to include everyone. This was not to be a development that excluded those without financial means. As a council—as a city—we wanted affordable housing included as part of this project.

With this newest proposal, there is now no affordable housing proposed as part of Lansdowne 2.0. Worse, this report is asking council to waive the requirements of one of our only existing policies that generates revenues for affordable housing: when we privatize public land for private residential use, it is our policy that 25 per cent of the proceeds of that sale are directed toward our affordable housing budget (Affordable Housing Land and Funding Policy approved by City Council on 26 April 2017). This report is asking council to waive the requirement of that policy, and to replace it with a 10 per cent requirement instead.

Not only does this report abandon requirements for the future developer to provide ‘affordable’ units, it asks us to cut our own requirement to direct land sale revenues to affordable housing by 60 per cent. That means only $3.9 million would go to affordable housing instead of $9.8 million. Members of council should not accept this. Private developers are often considered to have certain commitments to equity and affordability, and we as a council have often expected this from them, but here we ask little of ourselves.

In this moment, we abandon our neighbours who struggle, our neighbours who have been forced out of the housing market due to skyrocketing rents. We should under no circumstances accept this abandonment of city policy, while approving the myriad of applications for new residential developments that have no rent control, no commitment to affordable rents, no protections for displaced tenants. We should keep our commitments to those in need of housing, and our commitments to ourselves.

When ‘affordable housing’ was initially proposed by staff for Lansdowne 2.0, it was for 10 per cent of units to be provided on site; a commitment that would be "embedded in the process to seek bids for air rights, consistent with Council direction;" and a commitment that would be “a requirement for the successful purchaser of air rights and will be the baseline built into the agreement between the winning bidder of the air rights (developer) and the housing provider.” This made sense given that one of the seven negotiating principles council approved for staff was: “Affordable housing will be a key consideration in whatever is negotiated” in relation to the replacement of sports facilities with contemporary facilities.

Unfortunately, this same staff report also decided that OSEG’s proposal for 10 per cent affordable housing should see affordable defined as up to 135 per cent of average market rent citywide (presumably with the hope that some of those limited units would be rented for less).

The average market rent for a 1-bedroom in Ottawa right now is about $2,000. 135 per cent of that would mean affordable housing at Lansdowne, under the initial 2.0 proposal from staff, would look like renting a 1-bedroom apartment for $2,700 a month. For those that take seriously the notion that spending about 30 per cent of your gross monthly income on rent is what should be considered affordable, then the initial proposal for affordable housing as part of Lansdowne 2.0 might only be affordable to those making a $97,000 annual salary or greater. The other 90 per cent of residential units not classified as affordable would presumably be rented out at an even higher rate—otherwise why have a requirement at all.

Our hope was that the initial proposal would be replaced by something that was meaningful.

In response to the initial 10 per cent ‘affordable housing’ commitment proposed for a future developer and housing provider at Lansdowne, my office called for a more meaningful commitment to see non-market housing units provided, either on site or close by, of an amount equal to at least 15 per cent of the number of market units built on site IN ADDITION to our Affordable Housing Land and Funding Policy—which was never in question. We were hoping for a proposal that moved further in that direction, but instead we have gone backwards.

Our policy on directing a portion of the revenues received from the sale of public land for private residential use toward our affordable housing budget is distinct and is separate from the commitments to affordable housing we ask from future developments. If the intent of the report is to conflate these things, then members of council should not be confused by this sleight of hand.

In my office’s survey of Ottawa residents on the various aspects of the initial Lansdowne 2.0 proposal, 62 per cent of respondents supported our ask for a 15 per cent requirement for non-market affordable housing as part Lansdowne 2.0. This was the number one response in every region of Ottawa. Less than 12 per cent supported the initial city proposal, and even less than that (8.5 per cent of respondents) supported having no requirement at all. The current proposal is to have no requirement at all and to waive requirements of the city under existing policy.

Transportation access to Lansdowne should be a higher priority than it is. This plan offers no strategy to handle an increase of hundreds of thousands (and more) to Lansdowne. It offers no plan to address the current transportation failures we see on a weekly (and, occasionally, daily) basis.

I am pleased that the number of parking stalls proposed has come down significantly with the removal of the third tower. The initial number of 739 parking stalls has been reduced to 336 parking stalls. Most respondents to our survey supported either less additional parking or no additional parking at all as part of Lansdowne 2.0, so this is a step in the right direction.

I am also pleased to see a suggestion in this report that through traffic could be removed from the Aberdeen Square. This has long been a suggestion from local communities and my office. A firmer commitment to this should be made. 86 per cent of respondents to our Lansdowne survey supported making Lansdowne Park more welcoming for pedestrians, bicyclists and other active transportation users, even if it makes the surface of the site less accessible to cars. A firmer commitment here could be an important step in that direction.

It should still be noted, however, that the 336 parking stalls proposed is still a substantial increase in parking here, and there are insufficient answers as to how we can move more cars into and through the site, and how we do that while also maintaining a healthy, vibrant pedestrian atmosphere that welcomes people and brings patrons to the struggling businesses. A big question also remains about parking costs- the city is planning to build 140 stalls under the North side stands as parking for the residential development, selling or renting it back to the developer for what appears to be a net loss to the city.

While solutions to our current transportation quagmire won’t be easy, they are not mysterious. We provide insufficient infrastructure and service for sustainable transportation, tacitly encouraging more and more people to drive, though we have limited space for the drivers we have. If we chose to get more people to Lansdowne on transit, particularly for mid-sized events, we could. If we chose to get more people to Lansdowne by bike, we could. If we chose to get more people to Lansdowne by foot, we could.

We must put an emphasis on transit. Not only do we need to increase service along routes 6 and 7 which service the Park, we could also implement a permanent shuttle, perhaps from Billings Bridge to downtown, to better connect people, and to better connect important cross-town transit routes to Lansdowne.

We could make the shuttle free or inexpensive, reducing the price barrier for individuals and families, competing with the free parking allowed throughout the neighbourhood, complementing the often ‘free for events’ or $2 weekend parking at City Hall.

We see the success of transit and shuttles during RedBlacks games. Everyone benefits from shuttles during the Panda Game. It is time for us to learn from our own successes and expand transit service and park and rides from suburban areas to Lansdowne.

We need safer active transportation routes to Lansdowne Park. People who walk to Lansdowne are forced to cross busy, dangerous streets. We need a full pedestrian crossing at Queen Elizabeth Drive and Princess Patricia Way (and better pedestrian access from that entrance into the park), and we need a second crossing at Queen Elizabeth Drive and the base of the Great Lawn. We should let people cross from the canal to Lansdowne; we should encourage it, in addition to boat-up access.

We need a signalized pedestrian crossing along Holmwood, so that people aren’t forced to dart among traffic, hoping drivers will stop at the pedestrian sign. We need safe intersections up and down Bank Street. We need to get rid of beg buttons and red reverts which pose a serious hazard to pedestrians. We need to narrow the entrance at Exhibition Way and Bank Street, an opening far too wide for a pedestrian priority zone, an opening where we have already seen pedestrians and strollers struck by drivers.

We have a multi-use path running to Lansdowne, but not a single protected bicycle lane. There is no safe route to or from Lansdowne except for along the canal on a MUP that lacks a proper connection to the site and the work we’ve completed on the Bank Street Bridge. We could consider providing safe bicycling infrastructure on the streets that approach Lansdowne: on Holmwood and Fifth and on O’Connor and Bank.

We can also allow people to easily walk through the site. We have already made minor improvements, expanding Aberdeen Square to the Pavilion (an improvement no one is seeking to reverse). We must build from this—again, we should learn from our successes. We can keep motor vehicles out of Aberdeen Square, allowing it to turn, go underground or depart (while also maintaining access for deliveries and emergency vehicles). Aberdeen Square could be the central jewel, the charming focus of the site, where people can walk and sit and chat and simply be, freely, without the rumble of cars, without exhaust, without speeding traffic.

The residents of Capital Ward are more affected by Lansdowne—its successes, its failures, its lackluster endeavours—than other residents. They have experienced the shake-up of a massive re-development project. They have sat through consultations and information sessions with various rejuvenation plans. They have filled out surveys, attended committee meetings, sat on stakeholder groups, written articles; they have even developed their own alternative proposal for Lansdowne 2.0.

We have seen a commitment from the residents of Capital Ward to have a Lansdowne Park that functions, that thrives. They have supported Lansdowne even as their transportation routes have been affected, their sleep has been disturbed, their streets have been clogged with parking. I have been impressed with their dedication and commitment to find a way to make Lansdowne 2.0 work.

I want to acknowledge that some of the improvements to this report are the result of the feedback received from community members in my ward; they are the result of the advocacy of Capital Ward community associations; they are the result of the 3,670 Ottawa residents that signed my petition in support of the 5 ways to improve Lansdowne; they are the result of the 1,886 residents that responded to my office’s survey on Lansdowne 2.0. I also want to acknowledge and thank city staff for making some of the positive changes that have been made.

However, I fear the efforts of my residents have not gained sufficient traction. I fear that their commitment to improving the park and the surrounding community has not been reciprocated. I fear that my constituents who live at Lansdowne Park, in the Vibe, in the Rideau, along Holmwood, will not benefit from Lansdowne 2.0 and will, once the rubble is cleared after 7-10 years and the girders are raised, be left with something less than it was, with larger city debt accruing and city potential squandered.

Consider this for sports fans (of which I am one):

  • Right now, Lansdowne has more seats for junior hockey and concert events, those will be reduced
  • Right now, you can watch a game with your family from a hill on the east of the site, visiting the park and local businesses. That free activity in public space will be eliminated.
  • Right now, you can sit under a covered roof in the North side stands, offering cover from snow, sun and rain. That won’t be possible with the current plan being proposed.

A better Lansdowne 2.0 would see various improvements from what has been promoted over the last year. It would see such changes as (though, perhaps, not exclusive to):

  • No net-loss of accessible greenspace;
  • A further reduction in proposed expensive parking spaces;
  • A commitment to provide non-market housing units, either on site or close by, of an amount equal to at least 15 per cent of the number of market units built on site in addition to the 25% of proceeds from the sale of public lands going to affordable housing as per city policy;
  • An expansion of public amenity space, potentially including integration with the Lansdowne multi-use path, the canal multi-use path and the canal, itself;
  • Increasing the portion of funds allotted for public amenity upgrades and establishing an accelerated timeline for implementing those upgrades, demonstrating priority for residents;
  • Construction of safe, welcoming pedestrian crossings and entrances at Queen Elizabeth Drive and Princess Patricia Way, Queen Elizabeth Drive and the base of the lawn, and along Holmwood Avenue;
  • Eliminating cut-through capabilities between Queen Elizabeth Drive and Bank Street for drivers, ensuring that Aberdeen Square be pedestrian-only;
  • Safe infrastructure for active transportation along feeder streets like Holmwood, O’Connor and Fifth Avenue; and
  • A proper Transportation Plan that includes transit enhancement (and the implementation of a free or inexpensive shuttle along Bank Street), active transportation enhancements, a Bank Street traffic management plan and a holistic strategy for getting people safely and efficiently to Lansdowne from all sections of the city.

If we want a better Lansdowne, we can build one, though we can’t assume that taking on hundreds of millions of dollars of debt to further bolster the status quo will result in anything other than a further cascade of problems, and a lot more risk.

Residents in Capital Ward have absorbed the greatest costs associated with the original Lansdowne re-development—traffic breakdowns, noise issues, public nuisance instances, the hollowing out of retail along Bank Street—but the entire city has had to absorb the financial costs of the original development.

At the outset of these comments, I noted that the impetus for Lansdowne 2.0 is to re-construct the stadium’s north side stands and the arena underneath. It has also been argued, however, that Lansdowne 2.0 is needed to avoid an exit of the P3 partner.

My office’s survey on Lansdowne 2.0 revealed that there was little support for this motivation from the public. Of the 70 per cent of respondents that were familiar with the P3 model, 76 per cent said they felt that the city had not been transparent about the financial aspects of the Lansdowne Park P3, and 60 per cent did not support the continued use of a P3 at Lansdowne Park.

It is hard to blame them when the city’s two largest project debts are P3 projects (LRT and Lansdowne), and when both inscrutable projects have failed to deliver the promised results.

Beyond this exercise in evaluating and modifying OSEG’s proposal for a better lansdowne, to bring it closer to what a public inspired proposal might look like, we have yet to seriously consider what the alternatives for Lansdowne Park could be, nor have we adequately calculated the opportunity costs of the current approach as a result.

Currently, we are treading water on Lansdowne by incurring and servicing debt, while not receiving any promised waterfall revenues ourselves in return. What if, instead of worrying about how to make Lansdowne sustainable from a for-profit perspective, we considered what could make it sustainable from a not-for-profit one?

That is a question that staff should examine in their risk analysis of the project. Promises now that the P3 waterfall will finally see revenues trickle down to the city (only after incurring another half billion dollars of public debt) are not reassuring. This was the promise the first time around, and we have yet to see a dollar. Although I am happy to see us increasing the rent that we charge for use of our land from $1 to $500,000, the debt servicing plan is nevertheless risky, and the projected waterfall distributions to pay down that debt are no guarantee. 

As Lansdowne 2.0 currently stands we are ultimately faced with a proposal to do more of the same, without a proper alternative to do something better.

I will do my best to make collaborative improvements to this plan and report as I have been doing all along, but unless we see more meaningful changes, I cannot support it in its current form.

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