a peek inside the fishbowl

09 Feb, 2007

Councillor Christine Leadman re: La Maison Jeanne D’Arc

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Westboro

I was at a meeting at City Hall yesterday. In attendance: Councillor Christine Leadman; an assistant (?) to Christine; Rosalyn H., an architect with Barry Hobin;  David J., Westboro resident and VP of Heritage Ottawa; Jeff K., Westboro resident; and myself.

re: heritage designation for the La Maison
– it’s seen as a done deal … the fact that BH (Barry Hobin) has agreed to accept heritage designation and include that in a re-work of his plans cemented that. I asked CL (Christine Leadman) if she would go on record to say she supports heritage designation. She said yes.

I asked how CL’s meeting with the Sisters went last week. Here’s the scoop (from CL’s POV). The move has been five years in the making and has been very “traumatic” for the Sisters. There are very few of them left. The oldest Sisters didn’t want to move. They’ve been renovating the NEW Maison on Princeton to suit their needs. They originally budgeted $900K but it has ballooned to $1.2m. They need this sale in order to fund their renovation. When asked if the nuns had considered the life-lease option CL said she couldn’t speak for the nuns, she’s just repeating what they told her. Apparently the nuns had retained financial council.

So is it too late to back out of this sale? The building hasn’t officially been sold. The closing date is Feb 22 (I think that’s what I heard) and the nuns are technically still the owners of the property. There is probably is an “agreement to purchase” signed with Hobin, conditional on the re-zoning. But Rosalyn could not confirm the “conditional” part for sure. 

When asked if the decision considering the rezoning of the building could be deferred, CL sided with the Sisters and said that delays would hurt the nuns.

It’s clear to me that she wants this development to proceed.

I wonder if, at this late date, the nuns can be convinced to look at a “sustaining revenue” option, like a life lease, as has been done elsewhere in Ottawa. Why can’t the City, or Hobin, just buy it and give them that income and perhaps Dovercourt lease it from the buyer? John Rapp, ED of Dovercourt has said :  “Should a possibility come up that the developer would create some community access space, or the City indicate that it would lease or buy it, both [CL and BH] know that we are ready, willing and able to help make that effective.”

When I tried pressing this item, CL said that the letters she received were ONLY ABOUT heritage.

CL: “No one said anything about adaptive reuse, no one said anything about a retirement home!” I said that I’d been CCd on some of those emails too. And I knew the breadth of issues people raised: including trees and traffic. I said that we, Dagne and I, originally pursued the Heritage angle because it was the only avenue available to us. I told her that when we canvassed the neighborhood there was a lot of between-the-door discussion. When people signed the petition they did so after talking about the merits of the building, and after we discussed what it could eventually be used for. No one wants to see it stand vacant and unused. There was GREAT support in finding an alternate use for La Maison.

I walked away from this meeting, not understanding why reuse of this building is supposedly impossible. CL argued the traffic angle. Residents don’t want traffic! David J pointed out that it’s really only one block in from Churchill. I understand that residents don’t want traffic, but Christine, I said, what you’re saying is the opposite of what I’ve heard. People WANT to see this building put to better use. People want to think in the long term. People want the City to be creative and progressive.

If you’re writing an email to the PEC, you MUST demand a proper community consultation.

I brought up the lack of public consultation. It’s clear that Barry Hobin did it by the book – which is great – but “the book” says he had only had to inform a  minimum number of people (that would be the residents who are fronting the proposed development), not the outer community. CL mentioned someone who has called her to complain about our efforts. And that’s fine. In a democracy there’s room for everyone’s point of view. I’m fine with people not agreeing with me, but there should have been a larger public consultation – a truly public consultation – where residents could share their concerns and those concerns would actually mean something. There is absolutely nothing about this process that is democratic. No one has been able to answer my question: why do the residents have such little input in what is built in their neighborhoods? Why is the process so developer-driven? Why do we just have to roll over and accept what is presented to us?

We discussed the requested height increase, as per the report that’s now online. I asked if the residents on that block of Edison and Melbourne were aware of the two-point-seven metre increase. Apparently the 10.7 only applies to the homes along Kenwood, but I would want that in writing. I asked Rosalyn if they could make the plans available on their website. CL liked this idea, and offered to have the City of Ottawa host it. I’m not sure if it will be done before the PEC meeting on Tuesday.

By the way, the plan for La Maison is to make three sort of “townhomes” out of it, and each would be three stories high. By keeping the heritage building in the picture, the number of buildings has been reduced to 19, down from 20. Not much of a reduction, is it? There will be a two-car garage for each. The garages would be stacked underneath the buildings, or even in behind, which is good but it also means there will be a minimum of 38 cars coming in and out of that half-block every day. They City says this development does not deem a traffic study because it’s a small number of housing units. But City planners are conveniently forgetting about Churchill school, nearby daycares and churches, and Westboro Village itself. These are places people walk and bike to. This is one of the most pedestrian neighborhoods in Ottawa. So how come this isn’t worthy of a traffic study?

Anyway, these are just a few observations. There were many other things that were said and I’m really only scratching the surface here. David J was great. Great! What a diplomat. And Jeff K was great too. He made a lot of great observations and piped in at exactly the right times.

I had to stifle a laugh. Rosalyn said they weren’t making money off of this development. Jeff obviously couldn’t help himself because he burst in with a “so why are you doing it?”

I would like to say that I’m glad that the building is to be saved from demolition, but overall I am very disappointed in our councillor. This was her opportunity to shine, and to prove that she’s not as pro-business and pro-development as everyone says she is. She is merely continuing in her role as president of the Westboro Business Association. In my estimation she has failed the greater community.  She – and the City – only want to cram in as much housing in the smallest possible space. This is their goal, and they don’t appear to care about anything else.

Why is the City in such a hurry to move forward with this, despite such vocal opposition? 

It breaks my heart. This is a rare opportunity for the City of Ottawa to show they support the people who live here and create something the community really needs. We need this kind of non-profit space and an opportunity like this will not come up again anytime soon.

When I was walking away from our meeting I thought of that old saying, politicians serve at the pleasure of the citizenry. I’m not sure WHAT to think now. But I am hugely disappointed with the short-sightedness, the close-mindedness, and the City of Ottawa’s lack of vision. 


1 Response to "Councillor Christine Leadman re: La Maison Jeanne D’Arc"

1 | Kristina

February 10th, 2007 at 1:24 pm

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I think the increased traffic argument is completely ridiculous. As you indicate, the additional private housing complete with a two (!) car garage for each dwelling only serves to increase traffic in the area.

Never mind the fact that La Maison used to be a school where the majority of students attending lived outside of the Westboro area. When I attended, each child was dropped off and picked up by a parent or carpool. Traffic increased at 8am and 3pm every day. Residents didn’t seem to have a problem back then.

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