By Charlie Senack
Embassies will soon be coming to Mechanicsville green space despite community reluctance.
Ottawa city council has approved a settlement with the National Capital Commission (NCC) to build on what is known as Lazy Bay Commons, located between Slidell Street and Forward Avenue.
The site will be home to no more than “five principal buildings”, per the motion approved by council, and parking will be built underground unless the surface parking is confined to the site.
The new plan will also ensure 24 per cent of the 3.7-hectare parcel of land is used for public green space.
“We are pleased to see that the NCC is respecting our community’s desire to keep the green space north of LaRoche Park as parkland,” said Lorrie Marlow, president of the Mechanicville Community Association in a news release. “The principles of settlement are in line with the parkland vision set out in 2014 when we developed and endorsed the Scott Street community design plan.”
A legal drama began three years ago when Ottawa’s planning committee approved the rezoning of land to make way for up to six embassies. But when it hit the council table the plan was rejected 22-2, leading the NCC to appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal.
The tribunal was supposed to start hearing the case May 1. The Mechanicsville Community Association asked to take part in the proceedings, but the NCC appealed that request too. The tribunal sided with Mechanicsville, which would allow that organization to call expert witnesses.
Marlow said the months-long discussions with the NCC proved worthwhile and is pleased to see the matter solved without a formal hearing.
“This is a relief for us,” she said. ”Communities like ours are cash-strapped and having to raise $40,000 or more to pay lawyers and experts is a big burden on our working-class residents.”
The fight sparked protests held at the site. Signs reading “trees not embassies” went up on fences, and an online petition garnered more than 18,400 signatures.
Ottawa Centre MP Yasir Naqvi suggested the embassies be built instead at Tunney’s Pasture, a 49-hectare federal office campus located 500 metres west of the current proposed location, with huge parking lots. If that wasn’t of interest to the NCC, he proposed converting vacant office buildings downtown. The Mechanicsville Community Association at the time called this a “suitable compromise.”
Kitchissippi ward councillor Jeff Leiper endorsed the new settlement and asked his council colleagues to do the same. He said while there will be some “significant disappointment” from the community, he’s happy to see more green space as part of the plan.
“I believe it is the most prudent way forward and there are a number of significant gains for the community that I think I can celebrate, including the creation of a much larger park space than the NCC had proposed and some significant new active transportation infrastructure,” Leiper said during a late March council meeting.
Roy Atkinson, a member of the Mechanicsville Community Association and chair of a working group to protect the green space, also said he was satisfied with the deal.
“I am relieved that our determined efforts in recent weeks convinced the NCC to retain a significant park at the east end of Lazy Bay Commons, to build sidewalks around the site, and to provide a west-end pedestrian corridor,” he said in a statement.
It’s unclear what countries will occupy the new embassies or when construction will begin. The NCC said they were “pleased” with the deal that was reached.