Deachman: 3D Lansdowne model provides a chilly look – Ottawa Citizen

“The $330 million plan to “revitalize” Lansdowne isn’t new. But the community association’s model shows it in a light — or shadow — that architectural renderings provided by the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group don’t.”
There’s no need to throw any shade on the Lansdowne 2.0 development. There will already be plenty of that if the project proceeds as planned.
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That was my first impression when I saw the 3D scale model that was on display at the Lansdowne farmers market on Sunday, courtesy of the Glebe Community Association.

The day was cool for May in Ottawa — about 15 C — and windy, but sunny, as patrons of Local’s and Joey’s outdoor patios treated their mothers to an annual lunch out. Worth noting is that the tables in the sun were clearly favoured over those in shadow.

It’s worth noting because when the three proposed towers are built atop the new north stands, one of them 29 storeys and the other two up to 40 each, the choice of an outdoor seat at either of those two restaurants will be moot for much of the day.

The $330 million plan to “revitalize” Lansdowne isn’t new. It was approved in principle almost a year ago. But the community association’s model shows it in a light — or shadow — that architectural renderings provided by the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group don’t. The scale of the towers is dizzying, their vertiginous glory dwarfing not just the Aberdeen Pavilion (still the only visually interesting building on the property, at least now that the cedar wrap around the south-side stands has fallen into a tired and grey blandness), but also the existing condominium tower on Bank Street at the west end of the football field. At first glance, I mistakenly thought the model-builder had errantly omitted that building, but no, there it was, suddenly looking very small.

My second thought was what a great opportunity this development will be for a rename-the-lawn contest. For after the new arena/performance centre eats its way into a good chunk of the Great Lawn, that name isn’t going to work so well. The Lesser Lawn, perhaps? Or maybe just The Lawn, so if a Lansdowne 3.0 comes along, we won’t have to go through this again.

I get that Lansdowne is a far cry better now than when it was an oversized patch of cracked asphalt and weeds. And I get that the 2.0 development will provide more much-needed housing — about 1,200 units, of which 120 will be affordable. And I get that OSEG is losing millions on the public-private partnership every year, making the partnership an ultimately unsustainable one as it stands.

I just wish I had the required faith. I still remember one of the promises of Lansdowne 1.0 — that passersby on Bank Street would have an unencumbered view of the cherished Cattle Castle, for example, or that it would be this wonderful pedestrian space. How are those working out?

Meanwhile, the city’s public consultation process has been woeful. A 15-question Overall Concept Survey, for example, part of city staff being “directed to engage in a robust public engagement program on the Lansdowne concept plan,” doesn’t actually ask the public what they think of the plan, instead asking such things as how often they visit Lansdowne, how they get there, their postal code and age, and how they heard about the revitalization plan. The only question that even grazes by the issue is “What would bring you to Lansdowne more often?” and at that, respondents are allowed just 255 characters to share their opinions. That previous sentence, by way of comparison, contained 180 characters. Robust public engagement indeed.

Carolyn Mackenzie, who chairs the GCA’s planning committee and sits on the city’s planning advisory committee, was at the farmers market Sunday, answering the public’s questions and explaining some of the questions the GCA would like the city to answer. She says the city hasn’t provided enough information to allow the public to have any sort of robust and informed discussion. For example, she says the financial information about OSEG’s leases with Lansdowne’s businesses has been guarded, making it impossible to really understand whether projections of expected profits from retail operations are reasonable. She also questions the plan to reduce or divert property taxes at Lansdowne by 90 per cent for 40 years, a plan that sounds a bit like the airport hotel deal, only more drastic and long-lasting.

“This is smoke and mirrors,” she says. “We shouldn’t be given a take-it-or-leave-it proposal.”

We shouldn’t. And if more information will provide a clearer understanding of the future of the revitalization project and its possible outcomes, and maybe a sunnier model, the city should provide it.

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