A plan to construct a temporary 362-space parking area in an Old Ottawa East green space has left residents reeling.
The open space at 160 Lees Ave., which provides a recreational area for the 3,000 residents of neighbouring highrises and the Archville neighbourhood, is set to become both a staging area for construction of the city’s light-rail line and a temporary parking area for three to five years.
The parking area is needed to fulfil the city’s legal obligation to replace parking that will be lost at the University of Ottawa campus when the city takes over two areas to stage construction for the light-rail system.
Archville resident Christine Loth-Bown, who is leading the charge to have community input into the plan, said she and other neighbours are “quite shocked” at the increase in the number of spaces that will be provided in the temporary garage.
The proposed replacement parking represents a 57 per cent increase in the number of parking spaces.
Although plans for a parking area are dated August 2012, both the Old Ottawa East Community Association and Capital Coun. David Chernushenko were kept in the dark on the plans until the first week of December.
The city’s planning committee will need to approve the temporary parking during a January meeting, since it requires a rezoning.
Chernushenko is opposed to the idea, but if a parking area must be built, he is requesting that it be done in stages so the city can only build as much parking as is needed.
“I think it’s inevitable that at least some of the staging area would be there,” the councillor said. “But to lose pretty much the whole thing … would be a real tragedy.”
Chernushenko was concerned at the precedent set by the city’s lack of communication with the community regarding light-rail impacts.
“Unfortunately, at this point the message is ‘We’ll only tell you and your councillor what you need to know at the last minute,’” he said. “The reality of the construction of light rail (is that) everybody is going to have to put up with some inconvenience and disruption to get it done. This may have to be their sacrifice for a few years in order to end up with this great LRT service in the long run.”
DE FACTO PARK
The fact that the existing play structure will remain is no small comfort to Loth-Bown, whose one-year-old son uses the park almost daily.
“It’s a lot less appealing with a parking garage right beside it,” Loth-Bown said. “It’s quite a vibrant park and the heart of the community.”
Although the lot at 160 Lees is used as a recreational area, it is not designated as a park. Rather, it is listed as “major open land.” The site has been in a holding pattern as it is slated to become part of the controversial Alta Vista transportation corridor.
In addition to the play structure and open space, there is a nature trail running along the river at the back of the park, as well as a community garden that was just set up last year.
Loth-Bown and other residents are convinced there must be a better spot for the parking area, but it’s unclear if any other locations were studied.
Chernushenko found out about the project on Dec. 5 and waited for more information from city staff for two days before giving up and informing the community association with what little information he was provided.
“It’s another example perhaps of fear of engaging with the community because perhaps you think it’s going to be unpopular,” Chernushenko said. “What people hate the most is being handed a plan that’s a done deal.”
It’s unclear what other options the city might have explored. Staff has not provided that information to Chernushenko’s office and staff failed to respond to repeated requests from the EMC for that information .
A summary of the university’s memorandum of understanding with the city for the light-rail project indicates the city must compensate the University of Ottawa for the parking it will lose at Lot K, which will be reduced by 120 spaces and is located near the Campus Transitway stop. The lot has 177 spaces in total.
A memo from city staff indicates the proposed parking area at 160 Lees Ave. would also compensate for 110 spaces being lost at Lot G4, adjacent to Lees Transitway station. That site is also planned to be used as a staging area for LRT construction.
Chernushenko is worried that the 160 Lees Ave. replacement parking would be located too far away from the main campus. Chernushenko said he has been told the university plans to offer a shuttle between the 160 Lees Ave. parking lot and the main campus, but a university spokesperson refused to confirm that or discuss the parking proposal until it’s finalized by the city.
“We might just find out that we’ve built a parking lot … and it’s half or more empty,” he said.
Another issue is whether the parking area would be a parking lot or a garage. Chernushenko said he was told it would be a parking lot, but a memo from the city states:
“The structure is still in conceptual design and we are consulting with the community, however the city is envisioning a parking structure capable of accommodate(ing) approximately 340 to 360 cars, similar in form to a park and ride.”
The city has also agreed to provide daytime parking for university personnel at the Sandy Hill Arena for a year before the Lees lot is constructed.
Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated the proposed lot would include 30 per cent more spaces than the number of spaces being removed due to light-rail construction. The 362-space lot would have 57 per cent more parking spaces.