By Alvin Tsang
The Mechanicsville Community Association is actively protesting the National Capital Commission’s (NCC) planned embassy row in Mechanicsville near Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway.
If approved, the project will see six high-security embassies and over 200 parking spaces built over 3.7 hectares of current greenspace and tree canopy.
Lorrie Marlow, president of the Mechanicsville Community Association (MCA), spoke with Kitchissippi Times on April 18 about a planned sit-in protest on the Parkway scheduled for Earth Day (April 22) which was postponed due to Ontario’s latest COVID-19 shutdown.
“If the NCC is desperate for revenue to support itself, it should look elsewhere and not sacrifice greenspace,” Marlow said. “It’s shameful.”
The NCC remains the largest landowner in the region, responsible for “beautifying” Canada’s capital, with decades of urban planning and land development schemes under its belt. Its sources of revenue vary from property leases and land disposal to acquisition and development.
Due to the impossibility of a sit-in protest at this time, the MCA pursued other avenues to combat the NCC’s proposal. There is now an active petition for signatures at change.org
“We are begging the city not to approve rezoning this greenspace,” Marlow said. “Especially not when the NCC [has] vacant land in LeBreton, vacant buildings on Sparks Street and Byward Market that could be used for this purpose.”
The MCA formed a working group of concerned residents and subject experts. The message of the group? “‘Yes’ to trees. ‘No’ to embassies.”
A GoFundMe was started for legal counsel, and the collective efforts of the group went towards saving the Mechanicsville wildlife habitat. The natural open space currently has over 220 trees and was said to be integral to the quality of life of Mechanicsville. It was also said to be an urban gem in the eyes of the residents.
“Ottawa needs to protect its tree canopy,” Marlow said. “This is the spot to plant even more trees to achieve that needed canopy. Migratory birds need this greenspace as well as the wildlife and wildflowers.”
The MCA launched a social media challenge where people could send a “virtual hug” in the form of videos. The video platform allowed users to record and upload short video messages about the Mechanicsville parkway. The full video collection would then be circulated to federal and municipal politicians on Earth Day (April 22).
Past calls to action include the MCA and the Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital calling on Marc Garneau, minister of foreign affairs, on March 10 to undertake a comprehensive risk analysis.
The MCA had called on the NCC to withdraw its building plans on Feb. 7.
Mandate letters written to Steven Guibeault, minister of heritage, and Catherine McKenna, minister of infrastructure and communities, had also been sent.
Coun. Jeff Leiper, who openly opposed the embassy row proposal, held a virtual open house on Feb. 10 to gather feedback from residents and to hear from the NCC about the proposal.
“The overwhelming feedback from residents has been in favour of preserving that parcel as open area, and I agree with them,” Leiper said in an interview April 21. “I’ve noted that strong opposition directly to the NCC and will be asking my colleagues on the Planning Committee to reject the rezoning.”
Ottawa continues to face serious housing issues and a homelessness crisis, and it was said to be distasteful of the NCC to propose embassies in a much-needed area.
“Residents and myself have learned a lot about the need for access to outdoor spaces through the course of this pandemic,” Leiper said. “We know we’re going to need more green space in rapidly intensifying neighbourhoods like Mechanicsville even regardless of the current crisis.”
Kitchissippi Times requested a comment from the NCC on the proposed embassy row and received a response April 28.
“The National Capital identified these lands as the site for a diplomatic precinct in accordance with its Plan for Canada’s Capital (2017 to 2067) and its Capital Urban Lands Plan (2015),” the NCC stated.
“The feedback from the City and residents has been heard and considered. The feedback will be integrated in future NCC and City approvals for the embassy proposals. This will include careful and quality design of the diplomatic sites to integrate into the neighbourhood, the retention of passive greenspace at Slidell and Burnside, and improvements to pedestrian and cycling connections to the NCC’s riverfront park,” the NCC added.