Saturday, April 08, 2006

New Residential-Business Community Around the Ottawa Senators

Developers hoped to be building an interesting residential-business community on the land around Ottawa's NHL arena this year. Instead, they face delays and lost opportunities because of a government mixup on approvals.

Kanata West, about 1,700 acres around the home of the Ottawa Senators, was approved by Ottawa council three years ago. It was viewed as a great urban planning opportunity and would place jobs close to housing. Hockey fans would be able to walk to a Senators game.

The city was so keen on this project that it worked with all 43 landowners on an "integrated" approach to planning and approvals, looking at the entire area and the different issues such as transportation and road work through a single process and set of meetings. The trend in environmental and planning studies is towards looking at large areas such as this, rather than isolated sections in piecemeal fashion.

The city was so confident of the process it gave one of Canada's biggest housing developers, Mattamy Homes, permission to build five model houses on Maple Grove Road to give Ottawa residents a look at its neo-traditional designs.

Today they are finished but locked up and the company can't sell them because the development approvals haven't come through.

Last month, the provincial government delivered the news that the single, integrated process of looking at the environmental impacts of development wouldn't do.

The province wanted the process broken up into three issues: The restoration of the Carp River, how the city piped services will be built and how the roads and bridges will be built.

Jack Stirling, vice-president of Minto Developments, said the revised process will take at least 12 months more. As well, there are more chances for objectors to appeal to the Ministry of the Environment, appeals that can sometimes take years.

His company, which has 200 acres in the area, is re-submitting its documents and is confident its housing projects will go ahead.

But the new process is a concern and frustrating, said Mr. Stirling.

"All of the developers have been sitting on this land. They're anxious to get going," said Kanata Councillor Peggy Feltmate. "Why wasn't the province onside for this process? Everybody's frustrated," she said.

City planning director Dennis Jacobs said he thought the approvals process was routine.

The environment ministry officials involved couldn't be reached yesterday. But the increased environmental scrutiny of the project involves two main concerns, according to Ms. Feltmate: The restoration of the Carp River and the risks of building on or near a flood plain.

The Sierra Club and the Ottawa Riverkeeper organizations have expressed concerns about Kanata West, which involves land west of the Carp River and both north and south of the Queensway. The Sierra Club warns "the area has a long history of flooding" in springtime.

However, David Spence, a founder and director of the Friends of the Carp River, said the Kanata West project can be an opportunity to save the river, which has suffered from decades of bank erosion and poor flow. The river has been used as a farm drainage ditch for a century.

He said the Kanata West developments can be integrated with river projects that improve flow and make the water cleaner. These include: creation of stormwater ponds to hold and release water; building wetlands to remove chemicals and nutrients from water; and planting of vegetation and trees along the banks.

"I'm very optimistic," said Mr. Spence. "This is going to be the best thing that can happen to the river."


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