In September 2007, cracks were discovered in the south side of Frank Clair Stadium. That led to the demolition of part of the lower tier of stands and kicked off a fractious and protracted debate over the future of Lansdowne Park. The ensuing fault lines have pitted small business against large, city staff against park enthusiast, heritage buff against moviegoer, farmer against developer, private interest against public and, of course, Ottawa City Council against — once again — itself.
The three-year melee has involved hours of debate, an appeal for provincial intervention, a two-stage design competition, two counterproposals from the sidelines, more than a dozen appeals, a massive rezoning, and a further designation of the park — best known for an abundance of parking — as one of Canada’s 10 most endangered heritage sites. Looming over it all is a lawsuit that alleges the city broke its own rules by rewarding the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group for its unsolicited bid to redevelop the site. The swirl of suspicion, acrimony, and division has rendered Lansdowne redevelopment one of the most confusing and contentious enterprises the city has embarked upon since the last light-rail transit proposal.
Whether it’s the heritage sightlines or food security at issue, the people of Ottawa are once again digging in their heels for a never-ending war of words. — Rob Thomas
1 THE HORTICULTURE BUILDING
The fight: This derelict gem of early-20th-century architecture was virtually unknown to most Ottawans until October of last year, when news of a plan to relocate the boarded-up building propelled it to prominence. That’s when consultants recommended hauling the structure 120 metres to the east to make way for a potential multiplex theatre. They argued that a move was necessary, anyway, for the underground parking garage to be excavated and that removing the heritage structure and then returning it to its current location would be riskier than moving it only once. That didn’t wash with heritage advocates, who said any move would compromise the building’s heritage value. They promptly launched a Save the Horticulture Building campaign and asked the Ontario minister responsible for culture to intervene.
Outcome: After seven hours of heated debate, council voted overwhelmingly in favour of the move. (Minister of Tourism and Culture Michael Chan remained mum on the issue.) With all the press, a few locals can now recognize and point out the Horticulture Building.
2 SYLVIA HOLDEN PARK
The fight: At issue was a half-hectare ribbon of green space that borders Holmwood Avenue on the northern edge of Lansdowne and connects two pieces of parkland that may or may not — it depends whom you ask — form Sylvia Holden Park. The developer said this green space was the perfect spot for townhomes and a condo tower. Opponents said it was all part of the park and a great place to let mature trees continue to flourish.
Outcome: The city solicitor quashed debate, ruling the park had never been legally “dedicated” (which is, apparently, different from putting up a sign and holding a public ceremony). Council later moved to ease community fears over loss of parkland by unanimously passing a motion to create a bylaw that would legally recognize every other city park.
3 LITTLE MARKET, BIG DREAMS
The fight: Since the earliest days of the Lansdowne debate, the Ottawa Farmers’ Market has agitated for a bigger role in any redevelopment plan. Back in 2007, the seasonal market was still a successful pilot project looking to secure its future. A permanent home at Lansdowne was the little dream; a year-round indoor venue — ideally in the historic Aberdeen Pavilion — was the big one. The market has blossomed in recent years, but filling the massive pavilion would mean an awful lot more growing.
Outcome: Approved plans guarantee an outdoor square for the market, but indoor space remains in question. Many councillors support using the smaller Horticulture Building, but city staff want time to think it over.
4 ABERDEEN, THE SIGHT UNSEEN
The fight: Questions of who will be able to see the pavilion, and from where, remain potentially explosive. Nine metres could still bring the whole plan crashing down. No one questions that the beloved Cattle Castle would be the heritage showpiece of any redevelopment. However, heritage rules guarantee a 34-metre-wide swath of land to provide an unobstructed view of the pavilion from Bank Street. The city has asked the Ontario Heritage Trust to consider narrowing that restriction by nine metres to make room for a shopping midway, arguing that commerce is a traditional use on this part of Lansdowne.
Outcome: Big question mark. The Ontario Heritage Trust has the power to knock down, at the builder’s expense, any building that obscures the sightlines. Conservation manager Sean Fraser has already threatened to do just that. (They don’t like the plan to move the Horticulture Building either.)