by Daniel Mullaly
The principal decision made by the planning department and supported by the City’s planning committee, the development community and the consultant team, is that tall buildings are the solution to greater density in the community.
I share the conclusion that sprawling suburbs are not a desirable solution to managing the city’s growth. I also concur with the conclusion that the answer is to insist on greater density within the city limits. I also believe that the CDP process is an appropriate mechanism to decide how to implement the policy of intensification for a community.
I take exception, however, to the conclusion that high rise buildings are the only option to achieve this objective.
The fact that options were never presented to the community does not mean there are no options. It is more a reflection of the city’s attitude that consultation is an inconvenient mechanism to develop a community plan.
It is also true that the existing Centretown Secondary Plan allows for doubling the population without the ad hoc decision making and bylaw changes that have characterized City Council for the past several years.
Growing opposition to council decisions to amend the zoning bylaw to allow 20- and 30-storey buildings forced the planning department to respond. In 2010, a planning process for mid-Centretown was started. It was an effort to justify past decisions for high rises and also to legitimize the continuation of the process. Then, in the final stage of the planning process, it was concluded that the community’s Secondary Plan would have to be amended, so the name of the design plan was changed from its narrow focus.
At the final public meeting, residents were told they had a plan for the whole of Centretown, rather than just the midsection of the community.
Some of us may have interpreted this as a bonus, in that we had been spared the ordeal of a planning process. The problem is that the changes to the existing plan and the approval of the CDP will affect us all in very significant ways that have not been discussed with the community.
The process is similar in some respects to that which was followed for the redevelopment at Lansdowne Park. Everyone agreed the status quo was unacceptable. A public process was started and then, at the 11th hour, the mayor announced that a decision had been made to not only refurbish the old stadium, but to transform the entire site. Consideration of options was inconvenient, since the decision had already been made. There was no serious consultation, merely a communication of the decision. The result is history.
If the city had been serious about transforming the physical attributes of Centretown, what factors could have been taken into account? If changes were to be made to address the major issues, would the focus have resulted in a different option? Would it have been possible to double the population of the community without high rises and at the same time address the issues of open spaces and transportation and respect the community’s right to participate in the discussion? Instead, we have been put in the position of responding to the decisions made by the professionals, on our behalf, because they claim to know what kind of community we need.
Are there changes to the built environment that would enhance the community and at the same time contribute to the achievement of greater density and a more liveable community—without 27-storey buildings?
It is possible the community would have concluded tall buildings are the best solution to the challenge of increased density in Centretown.
The problem is we were not given a choice. Options were not considered and there was no public discussion of the issues. We were presented with the assumption that the status quo is not an option, and there is no choice but to build high rises in areas where the developers have acquired rights to build. Issues of concern to the community were glossed over in a process that was not collaborative.
If you share the vision presented by the consultants, the developers and the city planners, then you are likely satisfied with the draft CDP as presented.
However, if your thoughts are that the plan has to take another look at how to double the population, there is still an opportunity to influence the decision.
One step is to contact the community association. Your opinion is important. But it will not be heard unless you voice it! The Centretown Citizens Community Association can influence the decision, with your support!