Mechanicsville residents oppose planned 'Embassy Row' west of downtown Ottawa

A proposed new 'embassy row' just west of downtown could soon be up for debate at Ottawa City Hall.

The plan by the National Capital Commission would see green space in Mechanicsville near the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway used for six new embassies that each be three storeys tall.

Which countries will occupy the embassies has yet to be decided.

But residents of Mechanicsville opposed to the project say the land space should not be used for a row of diplomatic missions.

Roy Atkinson, of the Mechanicsville Community Association told CTV News at Noon that one the principal concerns is safety.

"This site cannot be made safe for the residents of Mechanicsville," he said. "Embassies require wide perimeters around them so that terrorists and bombs et cetera, will not affect the local community."

In a release, Mechanicsville Community Association President Lorrie Marlow called on Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau to undertake and release a comprehensive and professional security analysis for the project.

Atkinson also said many more trees will need to be removed to make room for the proposed buildings.

Citing ministerial mandate letters, Atkinson argued that the proposal goes against federal plans to plant more trees and expand urban green space.

The mandate letter for Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna, for example, dated Jan. 15, 2021, includes a line saying the minister should "work with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and with municipalities, provinces and territories and Indigenous Peoples, to expand urban parks to increase Canadians’ access to green spaces. This includes investing in natural infrastructure and building cycling and walking paths."

The subject lands are located south of the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway, between Slidell Street to the east and Forward Avenue to the west. The concept plan shows six potential buildings and a 3,600 square metre federal park.

In order to do this, the NCC requires that the city’s planning committee and city council agree to rezone part of the area.

While the NCC says there have been several consultations with regard to this project, Atkinson does not believe the consultations have been adequate.

"We completely reject the notion that the NCC has consulted with us. It has not," Atkinson said. "We're calling on the planning committee to reject this proposal until the NCC has done its homework."

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, the NCC said the inventory of land for diplomatic missions is becoming more and more restrictive.

"The Plan for Canada’s Capital 2017-2067 states the importance of diplomatic missions to the functioning of the capital and the promotion of political, trade, and cultural links with foreign countries. The Plan clarifies the NCC’s role to assist foreign missions to find appropriate spaces/lands for this capital function and the mandate to keep an inventory of lands to assist with this purpose," the statement said.

The NCC added that consultations have been undertaken, including a recent event organized by Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper.

"As always, the NCC welcomes feedback from the public. We recently participated in a meeting organized with councillor Leiper and the community association as part of the City’s application process. The NCC continues to work with City planning staff, elected officials and the community to determine the balance of land uses and the zoning by-law provisions for the site, in accordance with approved NCC policies which permit diplomatic missions." 

Atkinson said the community association is making submissions to the city and writing to federal and municipal politicians to voice their opposition to the proposed project.

"You can expect to see us becoming a lot more visible in the streets, arguing our case and arguing that the politicians have to be responsible. They're accountable to the people; they can't simply ignore us," he said.