Posted by: HamptonIona | February 9, 2011

Convent Land Purchase Update

In today’s Citizen (Feb 9, 2011), we finally heard what the City is thinking with regards to the cost of acquiring land at the Convent site for parkland ($5 million). There was also some discussion with respect to the possible cost of a tax levy to help with the purchase.  What we did not read, was that the community association representatives who had met with Katherine Hobbs back in December provided a variety of options to try to find funding to purchase the land.  Here is a outline of what we proposed and the response that we seemed to have gotten back from the City.  Since this is budget time, we should be asking City Hall, why there is nothing in the budget to purchase any Convent land.

When representatives of the community associations (Westboro, Hampton Iona, Island Park and Wellington Village) met with Katherine Hobbs in December, we outlined a number of ways of paying for the land.  We got some preliminary feedback at our subsequent meeting with her in January.  Here are our proposals (with some explanation) and her response.

1) Cash-in-lieu of Parkland Fund – When any new development goes ahead, the developer is required to provide parkland.  If they can’t (which most can’t) they have to put cash up instead.  A portion goes to a City wide fund and a portion to a ward specific fund.  The Kitchissippi Ward specific fund has over $1 mln. in it.   We proposed that the bulk of the money in the Ward fund be used to purchase parkland and that some money from the City fund could also be used given the unique nature of the site next to a recognized historic building.  We were told in January, that much of the ward money was needed for a new community centre in the Civic Hospital area.  That centre is nowhere near approval, is conceptual at best and if it goes ahead, it will be several years before funding will be required.  More importantly, the money in the cash-in-lieu of parkland fund cannot be used to pay for the upfront studies that will be needed before such a community centre can even be considered, so why is the City trying to allocate park funds to a project with no approvals in place?   We don’t understand why a significant portion of the community park fund isn’t available to purchase the land at the Convent.  With all of the development happening in Kitchissippi, the fund will be rebuilt by the time the Civic Hospital community centre is seeking funding.   It seemed the City also didn’t want to use any of the City fund to purchase land at the Convent because the park might be considered too local.  This is not the case of installing a swing set in a small neighbourhood park.  This park will showcase a 100-150 year old unique historic building.  If a condo tower on Preston Street can supposedly bring in tourists from Italy, a park next to an historic site, should bring in a few people from across Ottawa, especially since Westboro is a shopping mecca for the entire City (where else are there 5 canoe stores within walking distance?).   Why isn’t there any mention of any of these park funds being used to purchase land?

2) Future Park Funds – Since it will take several years to develop the site, we proposed taking a lien on a portion of future money going into the Park Fund, say for 5 years or limit it to funds raised from developments in this part of the Ward.  At this point, the City has only said that they don’t like this idea.  If money already in the fund can’t be allocated to buying park land at the convent, then it is not surprising that the City doesn’t want to devote future funds either.

3) Development Charges – Development charges are about paid by developers for every dwelling unit they put up. They are supposed to cover the cost of the infrastructure required to service the new development.   For developments inside the greenbelt, the charge is about $5,500 for every one-bedroom apartment and $7,700 per apartment with more than one bedroom. With Ashcroft proposing to build 600 units, development charges could bring in almost $4 mln.  If only 300-400 units were built, we would still get $2-3 mln. in development charges.  This doesn’t even include the development charges from the two Ashcroft developments on the north side of Richmond Road.   It will not cost the city anywhere near $3 mln to provide the needed infrastructure to service the site.  Why not use a big chunk of this money to pay for parkland that would service the site and community?  Again, the City hasn’t responded to this proposal.

4) Tax Incremental Financing – For those of you familiar with the funding model for Lansdowne, the City said that $129 mln. debt to refurbish the stadium wouldn’t cost us anything because the commercial development was going to generate taxes that never existed before and that a portion of those taxes would be used to service the stadium debt.   As church land, the convent site has never paid taxes before so any taxes generated by the Ashcroft development are also incremental.  With 600 units proposed, the site would generate almost $2 mln. a year in new taxes.   If only 300-400 units were built because we actually got parkland, there would still be well over a million dollars a year in new taxes generated from the site.  Only a portion of those taxes would be needed to pay for the services required by the site each year.  We proposed that the incremental taxes be used to pay for the parkland, the same as the City claims to be doing for Lansdowne.  In fact, there is a provincial legal statute, Tax Incremental Financing Act 2006 that allows the City to officially nominate a development for tax incremental financing with the taxes being used to finance a public good associated with the development.  Under this Act, the Province will also turn over the education taxes (from the municipal tax bill) to help pay for the community improvements.  We have been told that the City Treasurer thinks this is too difficult to implement and doesn’t want to consider it. Even if the City doesn’t formally apply to the Province under the Tax Incremental Financing Act, they can still nominally allocate taxes from the site to pay for the park, just as they have said they are doing for Lansdowne.  If the City can use this strategy for Lansdowne, why do they refuse to consider it for the Convent property?

5) Community Levy – This seems to be the only option that the city is considering.  Unfortunately, the fewer houses that want to sign up for a levy or the more expensive is the land ultimately or the more land that can only be acquired by levy (because the City can’t find any other money), the higher the levy will be.  Make the levy high enough and nobody will want to pay it!   This seems to be the only funding option that the City is promoting.  Is it because they know that without any other funding, the levy will be so high that no one will agree to it?

As you all may be aware, Ashcroft has a statutory requirement to provide parkland.  Ashcroft wanted to provide the cash (with Staff’s agreement), but the Planning Committee insisted on land instead.

To compound the problems that seem to be arising with respect to pricing the land and finding the funding, the City has decided to ask to the land along the east side of the property as the statutory land requirement.   This is the land, that Ashcroft is calling the Nuns’ Walk and was never planning to develop.  They are advertising this as open land for those who buy condos at their Q West development.  There is also a development freeze on the land by the City.  If this is the land that the City chooses to take as parkland, all that will be achieved by the City is that Ashcroft will not be able to fence off this land from the public.  Ashcroft can’t develop on it whether the City takes it or not.  The PEC motion said that the statutory parkland would be adjacent to the Byron Linear Park.  We expected that the land that the City would take would be parallel to the Byron Park not perpendicular to the park.   Silly us for assuming "adjacent" meant really adjacent, not just touching.  Then again, when the community and our former-councillor wrote the Secondary Plan, we thought that "south of the convent" mean all land south of the convent, not just the land bordering the Byron Park.

Why has there been no discussion by the City with the Community as to which land we think should be taken for the statutory parkland and the priority for land purchases thereafter?  Instead the Planning Department appears to be calling the shots on what parkland will be taken and how it will be funded.  These are the same people who approved everything that the developer initially requested, including cash-in-lieu of parkland and a road through the Byron Park (thankfully turned down by the Planning Committee and hopefully not to be reversed by the new Committee).  If the City can’t find any money to purchase parkland, and the only land that they take is the Nuns’ Walk, our Planning Department will ultimately be able to tell the developer that they will be able to build everything that they asked for in November.

What we can do?

1) Let our Councillor (katherine.hobbs@ottawa.ca) , the Planning Committee (peter.hume@ottawa.ca), Planning Staff (douglas.james@ottawa.ca,john.moser@ottawa.ca) and the Mayor (jim.watson@ottawa.ca) know that what is being proposed with respect to parkland is not acceptable!  Feel free to copy us on your emails, as well.

2) Get involved in the budget process and ask why no money has been allocated to purchasing parkland at the site!

3) Get involved in the OMB challenge!  We will need people to help organize the challenge and fundraise.  As the strength of our case will be built on the testimony of experts, we need people in the community who have professional expertise in such areas as: Planning, Traffic/Transportation, Architecture, landscape architecture, municipal law, etc. to volunteer to help.

If you have any questions, on any of this, please write us.

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