First they were successful in getting rid of a construction area in their green space. Now, residents of Old Ottawa East are celebrating a victory in canceling a plan to put a parking lot at 160 Lees Ave.
The city revealed in December that it had been planning with the University of Ottawa since August to put a temporary 360-space parking lot in a large field beside Springhurst Park that serves as recreational space for 3,000 residents of neighbouring apartment towers, as well as local ruby and ultimate Frisbee teams. The lot was needed for three years as part of an agreement for the city to compensate the university for the loss of parking spaces that will be displaced from the heart of campus during construction of the city’s light-rail transit line.
Community members reeled at the news that their “park” would be paved over and filled with cars and construction vehicles, so they sprung into action.
Now, two months later, the community is tentatively celebrating its success in canceling the parking lot. Capital Coun. David Chernushenko revealed the news during a Feb. 12 meeting of the Old Ottawa East Community Association.
“The good news is the city and the university have come to a tentative agreement on a different location,” Chernushenko said.
The new plan, which still needs approval from the university’s board of directors, would put around 150 permanent parking spaces on a slice of city land adjacent to the university’s 200 Lees Ave. campus.
The councillor credited the community outcry for prompting the change.
“It was very clear, they made their case very strongly and very effectively, my office worked hard and city staff, and I’m sure the University of Ottawa people did, as well, to find a creative solution, which, in the end, will be better for everyone.
“This tentative resolution says, if you try hard enough, you can find a better solution,” Chernushenko said.
“We’re really happy that they did listen to the community,” said John Dance, president of the Old Ottawa East Community Association. He thanked Chernushenko, Mayor Jim Watson, city staff and the university for their co-operation on the issue.
The triangular site at 193 Lees Ave., bounded by Lees Avenue and Highway 417, already has about 30 spaces, Dance estimated. He was fine with the land transaction.
“It’s a useless bit of land, really,” he said.
The land is zoned for major institutional use, which includes a parking lot or parking garage. The city would need to approve the transfer of the land to the university and that is expected to happen in March if the plan is approved.
The permanent parking lot at 193 Lees would be supplemented by extending the period that university staff can use the Sandy Hill Arena parking lot during the day to 26 months, from 2016 to 2018. After 5 p.m., the entire lot would be available to arena users.
Deputy city manager Nancy Schepers declined to comment on the new proposal until the university had signed off on it.
Residents had expressed confusion and concern that the lot at 160 Lees was proposed to contain 56 per cent more parking spaces than the lot being taken over by construction at the heart of the university’s campus. The new proposal would mean a smaller number of new – but permanent – parking spaces will be built.
The city was not prepared to reveal how much it would cost to expand the parking lot. Dance said it would be pretty unlikely that the project could cost more than building a temporary lot at 160 Lees, which was vaguely estimated at $2 million, not to mention tearing it down and rehabilitating the land.
City staff said the university’s legal team is also looking into whether the university staff could be given delegated authority to sign off on the change without the need for a university board vote. The plan already has support from university staff and the Chernushenko said he was confident it will gain the university’s support.
A spokesman for the University of Ottawa, Patrick Charette, declined to discuss the details of the new proposal, but he acknowledged the university and the city have been working as partners to come up with a solution to the impact of the city’s need to expropriate the university’s parking lot.
Charette wouldn’t comment on details of the new proposal or why this arrangement hadn’t been considered in the first place. He said the idea to build a parking lot at 160 Lees came from the city, not the university, as a way to compensate uOttawa for loss of parking as dictated in a memorandum of understanding between the city and university.
At a community meeting on Dec. 19, light-rail office staffer Matt Eason told residents the 160 Lees lot was “the only viable option.”