Council Rejects Sandy Hill Student Residence Plan

posted in: ASH in the News

The following article appeared in Ottawa East News on 3 April 2014. Action Sandy Hill expects the council’s decision to be appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, who will make the final decision.  ASH’s ‘Save Sandy Hill’ group is now raising funds to defend this precedent-setting decision as well as protect the community from several other out-of-scale developments which have been proposed.  To donate or for more information contact:

[03-April-2014] Click here to view original article.

Ottawa East News, Laura Mueller – City council shocked Sandy Hill residents by rejecting a locally-maligned private student residence.

Even the local councillor, Mathieu Fleury, had no inkling that Mayor Jim Watson and 12 other members of council would come out against the nine-storey development proposal, which would have taken up most of the block between Friel and Nelson streets on Laurier Avenue East.

Chad Rollins, vice-president of Action Sandy Hill, said the community group thought it only had eight councillors, including Fleury, on its side. “I am stunned and ecstatic,” Rollins said. “In all honesty we really didn’t think it would go that way.”

Rollins said residents expect a development application is a done deal once it gets the stamp of approval from city staff and the planning committee.

“You like to think what you do have made a difference, that the councillors listened to our points and saw they were valid,” he said.

Watson said he wasn’t in favour of the proposal, which would have contained 180 one-and two-bedroom units, because he didn’t think it would be compatible with the streetscape or building heights in the area.

Despite requiring both amendments to the zoning and the city’s Official Plan, it proposal would have “fit within the overall fabric” of the area, said John Smit, manager of urban development review.

It’s a point Fleury is trying to impress on his council colleagues for months, but he didn’t expect that point to be taken up so forcefully by the mayor and other councillors.

“Some of them had made up their mind before, but obviously because of the debate at council, (they) realized the broader impacts, which we were flagging for the past months,” Fleury said.

“We would be wise to send a message that this is an important heritage community that is under a lot of stress,” Watson said.

Sending that message will cost the city in legal fees. The proponent, Viner Assets, can now appeal the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board. But because city planners and the planning committee endorsed the development, the city will have to hire multiple independent experts to argue against the proposal if it’s appealed.

“Inevitably, when you’re giving evidence before a (an Ontario Municipal board) hearing, you have your own staff giving evidence against your political position,” Hume said. “We will have to hire … people to give professional evidence before the board, because we will have our people giving opposite evidence.”

Kathryn Hendrick, a spokeswoman for Robert Viner and Viner Assets, declined to say whether the company would appeal the decision.

“We respect the political process and we are reviewing all of our options,” she wrote in an email.

During the debate on March 26, some councillors, including Capital Coun. David Chernushenko, expressed concern about the de facto “expansion” of the University of Ottawa campus into the neighbouring residential community.

“We should be assisting where the growth of campuses where necessary, but being clear about where the lines are,” Chernushenko said.

“My concern is this has gone a number of blocks deeper into the neighbourhood.”

Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes spoke out vocally against the proposal, saying it isn’t the city’s responsibility to provide housing for students and throw away a neighbourhood’s “heritage ambiance” in the process.

“Why aren’t we dispersing those students? We have a fabulous transit system,” she said.

River Coun. Maria McRae worried the provision to require 24/7 on-site supervision of the residence wouldn’t be enforceable.

The councillors who voted 14-9 against the proposal included: Rick Chiarelli, Eli El-Chantiry, Chernushenko, Mark Taylor, Marianne Wilkinson, Fleury, Shad Qadri, Peter Clark, Keith Egli, Diane Deans, Holmes, Doug Thompson, McRae and Watson.

Councillors who voted in favour included: Rainer Bloess, Stephen Blais, Steve Desroches, Bob Monette, Jan Harder, Katherine Hobbs, Tim Tierney, Allan Hubley and Hume. Scott Moffatt was absent.

Hume said the proposal was appropriate because Sandy Hill is a dense neighbourhood and it’s an area that is appropriate for intensification because it’s close to rapid transit and the downtown core.

“We expect this kind of development and this kind of density in these places,” he said.

Many councillors, including Fleury, were under the impression they had also voted to fast-track funding to update the secondary plan and community design plan for Sandy Hill. Later in the day it was revealed that didn’t happen, since the funding was technically tied to approving the Viner proposal.

Fleury said he was happy with the main result – the rejection of the student residence – but disappointed the secondary plan update wasn’t approved, but he emphasized the plan is still next in line to be update when funding becomes available.

The councillor added that after speaking to his council colleagues, he doesn’t think he would have had enough support for his motion to fasttrack funding for the secondary plan review because there was a perception that rejecting the Viner proposal already represents an investment in Sandy Hill due to the cost of the OMB appeal.

With files from Michelle Nash.