Posted by: HamptonIona | April 28, 2011

Update on Ashcroft Convent Development

Early in April, Ashcroft  requested that Gary Ludington of the Westboro Community Association, Lorne Cutler of Hampton Iona and Sylvano Carrasco meet with them.  The three were asked to meet with Ashcroft as they represented the two organizations and one individual who have filed OMB appeals against the Ashcroft development approved by the City of Ottawa.

Ashcroft made a proposal regarding the convent property in hopes of each of us dropping our respective OMB challenge.  While Ashcroft is not prepared to decrease the number of units on the site, they are prepared to shift some of the density from the south of the Convent building to Richmond Road.  This would entail dropping some of the building heights in the back.  Some of what is currently 5 stories might be 4 stories and the nine storey buildings could drop to 7 stories.  The building along Richmond Road would go up to 11-12 storeys depending on how it is designed.  In addition to dropping some stories in the back, Ashcroft is proposing to rearrange the buildings somewhat to create more green space on the site.  Additional greenspace could be added directly south of the convent building and/or along the Byron Linear Park by increasing the setback of the most southerly buildings.

A second meeting was held with Ashcroft in late-April at which time they provided more detailed sketches of how the site could change.  These changes were conceptual in nature only at this point and the three appellants gave our views on Ashcroft’s proposals.  (Please note that none of the changes would result in the willow tree being saved.  Ashcroft and the City claim that the willow tree is near the end of its life and information seems to indicate that weeping willow trees are indeed short lived.)

Ashcroft also suggested that they could make a sizeable donation to some improvement in the neighbourhood.   There have been no substantive ideas yet as to what this might be.    Ashcroft also said that they are still considering some sort of public use of the chapel.  They would pay for the fix-up of the chapel space.  Ashcroft hasn’t decided as to what they will do with the actual convent building but at this time they seem to be contemplating using it for office space, possibly as Ashcroft’s headquarters.

Ashcroft also indicated that an exit through the Byron Linear Park was off the table and that they were planning to use Shannon Street.  Shannon Street would likely have to be widened.

At this time discussions are still continuing.  We have noted, however, some basic concerns.  These include:

i) That any set-back of easements for the buildings in the south could not be exchanged for extra height on Richmond Road if the set-back was then used merely for the extension of Shannon Street; and

ii) There had to be changes made to the Secondary Plan, including a mechanism for ensuring that any increased heights along Richmond Road could not be used as a precedent for future developments in the area.

We have also indicated to Ashcroft that the City would have to be part of any negotiated settlement but to date the City has not been involved in these discussions and Ashcroft has not yet pushed the City to do so.

While a negotiated settlement will not result in Ashcroft having to abide by the Secondary Plan (6 storeys along Richmond Road, 4 storeys south of the Convent), a negotiation must be considered in light of possible outcomes of an actual OMB hearing and the expense of mounting an effective OMB appeal.  It is for these reasons that we are in discussion with Ashcroft at this time.

OMB Pre-Hearing – Many people in the community have received notice that there will be an pre-hearing for the Ashcroft OMB appeal.  This meeting will take place on May 3 at City Hall.  The OMB has several objectives that they hope to get out of this pre-hearing.  These include;

  1. Determining if the Hampton-Iona, Westboro and Carrasco appeals can be heard together and as part of the Ashcroft appeal.
  2. To determine the extent of witnesses that all sides expect to call and to determine the expected length of time the hearing will take.
  3. To see if mediation or negotiation is possible to avoid an actual hearing.

At the pre-hearing, we will be advising the OMB that we have entered into discussions with Ashcroft without prejudice.  We may consider whether or not it makes sense to continue these discussions under the auspices of the OMB (similar to the recent mediation provided by the OMB for the Lansdowne rezoning case).

Others in the community who want participant status at the hearings (the right to speak but not to question witnesses) are invited to attend the pre-hearing.   Only the appellants will have the right to question witnesses at the actual hearing.  The requirement of the public at the pre-hearing will be merely to identify whether you will be seeking the right to speak at the pre-hearing. The OMB is seeking to know how many people are looking to speak as this will impact on the number of days that need be allotted to the hearing. 

Mounting An Effective Challenge/Fundraising – The OMB gives significant weight to the testimony of experts, be they in such areas as land planning, traffic engineering, architecture, etc.  As such, in order to mount an effective OMB case, it is necessary to hire such experts.    If it is possible, the appeal is also strengthened by having an experienced municipal lawyer present the case and question the opposing side.

HICG’s preliminary research indicates that an OMB mediated settlement may potentially cost up to $25,000 using an experienced urban planner and experienced municipal law lawyer.  The cost of a full hearing using expert witnesses may be significantly more.  Our ability to hire such will depend on the amount of money that the community can raise. 

We will be holding a community meeting in May to discuss the Ashcroft proposals and to plan for our the upcoming appeal, including fundraising.  The HICG Board is currently preparing for this meeting.  We will notify you shortly of the meeting’s date and location.

Your help is required to fundraise to support this important cause.  Our ability to achieve the best outcome for the community is heavily dependant on the amount of money raised to pay for expert testimony and guidance.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email your community group.

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