'Lansdowne 2.0' should be election issue: Menard

One Ottawa city councillor says decisions surrounding the proposed renovation of Lansdowne Park shouldn’t be made by the outgoing term of council.

Coun. Shawn Menard told CTV News at Five that the more than $330-million plan to rebuild the north side stands, the Civic Centre, and add housing towers at the site in the Glebe should be debated during the municipal election.

“I think this should be debated in the election. I think there are a lot of good ideas in here and a lot of questions, too,” he said.

The Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) unveiled its “Lansdowne 2.0” plan last week. The three-phase plan includes demolishing and rebuilding the aging Civic Centre, taking down and replacing the north side stadium stands and then building three residential towers, with a mix of condominiums, rental units and affordable housing.

The city’s finance and economic development committee (FEDCo) will be looking at the plan during a special meeting this Friday.

Menard said there hasn’t yet been any time for public consultation.

“It was kind of like ‘shock and awe’ with Lansdowne because you’ve got only seven days before the committee will debate this $332-million deal and, unfortunately, we haven’t seen public consultation yet on it,” he said. “What we’re hoping for is that the committee can receive a report and then go out to public consultation to get people’s feedback on it without making these hundreds of millions of dollars in decisions right away without having that feedback.”

Menard, who represents the ward that contains Lansdowne Park, says the plan has some good ideas, but there are issues to address.

“The affordable housing, I’ve looked into it, it’s actually not affordable, unfortunately. The transportation plans in this area, you know what Bank Street is like, it’s congested,” Menard explained. “These are the kinds of things we have to talk about and debate and get that feedback to staff so we can make this plan even better. I hope it’s an election issue; it should be.”

The report prepared for Friday’s FEDCo meeting says 10 per cent of the proposed units would be affordable housing, estimated at 120 apartments. According to the report, ‘affordable housing’, for the purposes of this development, is defined as rental housing where the monthly rent does not exceed the citywide average market rent by unit type. The report estimates rents would be anywhere between 80 per cent of average market rent to 35 per cent above the average rate, which it says is still “significantly lower than market rents charged for comparable rental units in the area.”

Menard also believes the city needs to be up-front about the cost.

“The new buildings there are not going to be the thing that’s paying for this. That is debt,” Menard said. “We need to talk about what we need here. Obviously, a Civic Centre and some stands would be nice there. Three 40-storey towers? Well, without affordable housing in them, that’s a question we really need to be thinking about. I’d like to see more affordable housing. We’re going to be selling off public land, let’s make sure there’s actual, true affordable housing in there and let’s work on a deal to make this site function well in terms of its transportation.”

Menard hosted a discussion on Zoom Monday evening to discuss the plan with community groups and residents.

One of the main criticisms by community groups concerned a lack of public consultation before an agreement in principle, as the report before FEDCo outlines.

The city’s general manager of planning, infrastructure and economic development, Steve Willis, assured those in attendance the report on Friday before FEDCo is not a final approval vote.

“Everything is dependent on a series of approvals that won’t happen this term of council,” he said.

Willis said the city hoped it would have been in the public consultation stage by now, but negotiations have been complex.

The report prepared for the May 6 meeting, if approved, would see FEDCo recommend council approve the Lansdowne Partnership Sustainability Plan and Implementation Report, which includes the recommended concept plan presented by OSEG, the affordable housing targets, and the funding strategy.

It would also direct staff to begin citywide public consultation and start the rezoning process.

“The language of the report makes it look like a final decision, but it’s far from that,” Willis said. “There is at least a year and a half worth of work, minimum, ahead of us.”

The special FEDCo meeting will begin at 9 a.m. Friday. Approvals at this meeting must still rise to full city council on May 25.