Lansdowne has been in the news this week. As usual, there's been so much spin from the City and media that it is hard to figure out what is really going on. So, with this email we'll give you the Friends of Lansdowne overview of the situation.
This message is quite long and covers the following topics.
1. Lansdowne Site Plan
2. Office Building Air Rights Going to Minto
3. Increased Costs to Taxpayers
4. Legal Fees--City's and Ours
Before we get into these details, we draw your attention to the fact that there will be no public consultation on the new Lansdowne site plan even though the scale of development and the costs have changed substantially since the public consultations in 2009. At that time, the City's own study showed that only 1 in 5 people in Ottawa strongly supported he project and the vast majority were neutral or opposed.
The City's Finance and Economic Development Committee will review several reports related to Lansdowne on Thursday, February 16th. This meeting, which starts at 10 a.m at City Hall, is open to the public and you can sign up to make a 5-minute presentation by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. Our experience has been that public delegations have no impact as Councillors have their minds made up in advance. However, you may want to make a presentation or attend as an observer just to remind Councillors that they are supposed to be accountable to the public. Find the information about the meeting and links to updated plans for Lansdowne at: www.ottawa.ca/calendar/ottawa/citycouncil/csedc/2012/02-16/agendaindex17.htm
1. Lansdowne Phase 2 Site Plan Released
The City has finally released a revised plan--the phase 2 site plan-- showing more about the proposed redevelopment of Lansdowne Park: www.ottawa.ca/en/city_hall/planningprojectsreports/public_consult/lansdowne_partnership/index.html There is much to say about this as-yet unapproved plan and the glitzy presentation, but we will limit ourselves to a few key points.
a) There are 3 mid- and high-rise towers along Bank Street that are depicted in the drawings as shimmering, almost invisible forms. This representation is misleading. These will be real high-rise buildings up to 18 storeys high on Bank Street that will obstruct views, cast shadows and cause wind tunnels.
b) The drawings depict Lansdowne as a pedestrian precinct. This is not the case. The site is cut through with new roadways and is expected to have heavy traffic, including tractor trailers delivering goods to the shopping centre. The parking is mostly underground, but it is worth recalling that Lansdowne is 9000 (yes nine thousand) parking spots short of what would be required if the same development were built anywhere else in the City.
c) The heritage values of Lansdowne Park are still compromised by the proposed development. Views of the Aberdeen Pavilion, a national historic site, will be significantly obstructed. From Bank Street, you will only be able to see a sliver of this landmark building. The de-designated Horticulture Building will not only be relocated but will be partially demolished to make way for a glass addition. It appears that contrary to earlier promises, the Horticulture Building, will not be reserved for public programming. Some of it will be leased commercially and one of the building's functions is to provide a stairway to the underground parking for OSEG's commercial complex. Taxpayers are paying the entire cost of moving and renovating the building.
d) There is still a shopping complex on the site that has more retail space than all the rest of the Glebe combined. In a news clip this week, one of the OSEG partners stated that he sees the competition for Lansdowne Park as being St. Laurent and Bayshore shopping centres. So much for the idea of Lansdowne being a unique destination! As far as we can tell, the retail mix will be largely American chain stores or businesses relocated from other parts of the City (e.g. Empire Theatres is expected to close cinemas at the World Exchange and Rideau Centres and relocate to Lansdowne). It seems reckless to be building a shopping complex that will compete with existing retail when at a time of global economic uncertainty and looming public service job cuts.
e) There are substantial changes between this version of the plan and that approved by the City in 2010. Among those changes is the reduction of civic space. With the loss of the Ottawa Art Gallery, there is no cultural institution on the site. This is unfortunate as Lansdowne Park is the only sizeable, undeveloped, city-owned property in the central part of the City. It could have been considered as a site for the main library or the concert hall.
f) The phase 2 site plan does not show a dedicated bicycle route through Lansdowne Park from Bank Street to the Queen Elizabeth driveway, even though this was directed by Council as part of the project approval in June 2010.
It is worth noting that the Stage 2 site plan would never be acceptable in its current form if it were submitted by a private developer for a private site. The City would demand detailed architectural drawings that are to scale and that clearly depict what is happening on the site. This plan is still quite vague on the details.
2. Office Building Air Rights
The City had no luck in attracting competitive bids for air rights for an office building at Lansdowne Park.
However, the City did receive one bid from Minto, which coincidentally happens to be owned by OSEG partner, Roger Greenberg. (The City assures us this is not a conflict of interest). Minto's bid at $3.5 million is half of the $7 million the City-OSEG partnership plan model estimated the value would be.
It seems rather odd that OSEG, which includes Roger Greenberg, valued the air rights at $7 million, when his own development company is only prepared to bid $3.5 million. Is this another example of the financial model having little validity?
With the estimated city revenues off by 50% in just one year for one small part of the project, what confidence can we have in financial projections over 30 years?
Staff is recommending that the City accept Minto's low bid. Has the City considered that if there is no proven market for an office building, perhaps they should not build it right now? Lansdowne does not need to be developed all at once. Cutting this building from the plan would alleviate some of the heritage, transportation and streetscape concerns.
3. Increased Cost to Taxpayers
Surprise, surprise. We have now learned that City taxpayers will have to spend at least another $7.2 million on the Lansdowne project, given the extra costs for the Horticulture Building and the reduced income from the office building.
At budget time, Mayor Watson said that every time the City budget increases in one area, there needs to be a concomitant cut elsewhere. So Mr. Mayor, what is being cut elsewhere in the City to find that extra $7.2 million?
It is also worth asking if the City truly knows the costs of the project. Some financial questions to ask right now are:
4. Legal Fees--City's and Ours
We see that the City went over its legal budget in 2011, mainly due to the Friends of Lansdowne case. The City reports that it has spent $1.2 million so far on outside lawyers for the Lansdowne legal challenge. We doubt that is the final bill as this figure came out before the appeal was argued in December. The high legal costs were due in part to the City's obstructionist approach. Its non-disclosure of key documents complicated the case and ended up raising costs for both sides.
While Friends of Lansdowne has done a fantastic job raising funds to cover legal fees (we are now at about $270K), you can see that the City lawyers were paid about $1 million more than our great legal team from Sack, Goldblatt Mitchell. We do appreciate the incredible amount of pro bono work that Steven Shrybman and his colleagues have done for us, and we are committed to raising as much money as we can to compensate them.
If you can help us out financially, here's how to donate: www.letsgetitright.ca/get-involved/donate-to-friends-of-lansdowne
Getting Lansdowne wrong is too costly. Let's get it right.