By Charlie Senack
Mechanicsville residents are urging the National Capital Commission (NCC) to build a proposed embassy precinct at Tunney’s Pasture instead of on popular community green space.
In Dec. 2020, the NCC brought forward plans to build six embassies on Lazy Bay Commons, a 3.7-hectare parcel of land between Slidell Street and Forward Avenue.
The proposal was rejected by city council in a 22-2 vote in Feb. 2021. The NCC appealed that decision to the Ontario Land Tribunal, with a five-day hearing scheduled to begin on May 1. Their new plan would include the installment of a federal park near at most five embassies.
Yasir Naqvi, Ottawa Centre MP, said other nearby locations could be used for the proposed “embassy row” instead. He has asked the NCC to look at Tunney’s Pasture, a 49-hectare federal office campus 500 metres west of the current proposed location with huge parking lots.
“In many respects I’m playing the role of a matchmaker here,” Naqvi told Kitchissippi Times. “I’ve been working with the NCC and have also spoken to Canada Lands Company and Public Services Procurement Canada … I’m in the process of orchestrating a conversation between those three bodies to see what the logistics would be to formalize such an arrangement.”
Naqvi said NCC boss Tobi Nussbaum was open to the idea when they spoke late last year.
Tunney’s Pasture, owned by Public Service Procurement, is slated for future redevelopment. While planning is still in the early stages, the Government of Canada says they intend to build an “innovative, sustainable mixed-use urban community.” Canada Lands Company is in charge of revitalization efforts.
Roy Atkinson, a member of the Mechanicsville Community Association, said Tunney’s Pasture would be a suitable compromise. He said he doesn’t understand why the NCC is appealing Ottawa’s decision in the face of strong community opposition.
“It’s a real puzzle,” Atkinson said. “Nobody wants it. This space is really needed by the community. Twenty per cent of our residents are subsidized income. They can’t drive to a cottage anytime they want to go outside.”
Naqvi, joins Ottawa Centre’s member of provincial parliament Joel Harden, and Kitchissippi councillor Jeff Leiper, in frustration over the NCC plan. Protests have been held at the park and “trees not embassies” signs placed at its entrances.
The Ottawa Centre MP has also recommended looking at empty office buildings downtown as an alternative embassy site.
When the NCC appealed to the Ontario Lands Tribunal, the Mechanicsville Community Association asked to participate in the proceedings. The tribunal’s decision sided with the association, and allowed it to call expert witnesses. All this despite an NCC objection that it would mean “duplication and related inefficiencies.”
“It was appalling that the NCC made that argument,” Atkinson said. “It costs money to make the case. We had to raise more than $1,000, just for legal advice and putting things together for the planning committee.”
Ottawa has more than 130 embassies. Most are in or near downtown. Only Myanmar, Portugal, and Thailand have embassies on Island Park Drive, away from the core.
Atkinson said he hopes community opposition will be enough to save the mature trees, picnic tables, and pathways of their limited green space. When Kitchissippi Times visited the site during a January snowstorm, people were walking their dogs, snowshoeing, and building snowmen.
“It would be better for the diplomats, good for our working-class community, and better for the environment,” Atkinson said. “We want the NCC to give a fresh look at this.”
The Mechanicsville Community Association needs to raise $40,000 to cover legal expenses. So far, a GofundMe page has raised almost $15,000 through 41 donors.
Atkinson is hopeful that with community support they will win over the Ontario Lands Tribunal, bringing an end to their year-and-a-half legal fight.
“We just want to save the green space,” he said.