I had something completely different in mind when I was planning this week’s blog, until I read the May 13 2016 edition of the Centertown Buzz (follow them on Twitter @CentretownBuzz) (http://www.centretownbuzz.com/2016/05/14/feature-the-omb-and-norman-street-an-inside-look/). I got angry after reading Eric Darwin’s account of the OMB hearing for Norman Street in Little Italy. It was at that moment I changed my mind for this week.
The account Eric Darwin gives of the hearing is of course, from his perspective but it was telling of the contempt that in this case the developer and City of Ottawa have towards communities and community associations. I have watched a few OMB hearings unfold in Centretown over the years. While victories are very small on the community side, you take them because as a Community Association you just don’t have the funds to fight the big fight. Community Associations have to whittle down to their biggest concern in a development as the focus of their OMB appeal.
In Centretown a few years back, the Community Design Plan (CDP) for the area was a sore point for both the Community and Developers. The Community Association and Developers met and over several weeks and hammered out a CDP as an alternative to the plan that the City (with paid consultants) wrote for Centretown. When presented to the City, it was rejected with only minor points of the plan being deemed acceptable for inclusion in the City’s Centretown CDP.
Within the hearings for Norman Street, a couple of things that Darwin observes agitated me. First was the reaction of the OMB Judge and the legal team of the developers on the news the Community Association’s lawyer was at her first OMB hearing. I can imagine the lawyers wringing their hands in anticipation of victory. Second was the City’s constant reference of the portion of Norman Street being fought over as being ‘vacant’ when as Darwin points out a business and a residence were on that land. The constant denial that the land was not vacant by the City demonstrated the contempt the City holds against anyone that feels that development is a bad thing.
City dwellers and Community Associations have no illusion that development will never happen. In most cases it is welcomed, but under the rules that have been put in place under the Official Plan of the City, the Secondary Plan of the City and the CDP for the community, nothing is clear.
I don’t think that communities want a free pass when it comes to development. Development is a positive thing for a community; good growth and what it can bring for the residents are always welcome. But when there is no acknowledgement of a community, when it has real concerns about the effects a project will have, that is where the City fails to protect its residents. It is key to remember that a developer is coming into an established community, not the other way around.
With almost every application, rules can be bent to have seemingly met the desires of the developer with little more than an acknowledgement that “oh yes, we know you live here too, but…” however it’s not very often when a major development comes along that the community wins. The rare case happened 2014 when a Westboro development on Roosevelt St. was killed at the OMB for flawed city plans.
The Norman Street (drawing above is the south view of the planned development) OMB hearings have shown that Community Associations are still not being taken seriously by the City.
The handwringing at the anticipation of victory of a developer’s legal team at an OMB hearing has to stop. For the Dalhousie Community Association, as has happened for Centretown in the past, they never had a chance to walk away with a substantial win.
NOTE: Eric Darwin has a great blog www.westsideaction.com and can be followed on Twitter @EricDarwin1
I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97.