Opinion: What happened to protecting Byron Linear Park?

Submitted by Anne Boys Hope – 

Light rail is coming to McKellar Park. Good news, right? Well, it’s complicated. 

We’re a one-car family and we’ll benefit from having the LRT just two blocks away. The trains will whisk us downtown and home again in record time and have minimal impact on the environment while doing so.

But it comes at a cost: Cleary Station is going to be built on the Byron Linear Park. The station will start at Sherbourne Avenue and run 100 metres west in an open trench the length of a football field. The linear park will be dug up between two stations—Cleary and New Orchard—removing all of the beautiful, mature trees that line this section.

Kitchissippi resident Anne Boys Hope considers the future of Byron Linear Park after the announcement that Cleary Station was moving. See page 3. Photo by Andrea Tomkins
Kitchissippi resident Anne Boys Hope considers the future of Byron Linear Park after the announcement that Cleary Station was moving. See page 3. Photos by Andrea Tomkins

This decision was made without consultation, and was made public just a few days before city council voted to proceed with Stage 2 LRT in March. The city says it met with a small working group from McKellar Park last fall, but that information wasn’t shared with the rest of the community. The members of the Cleary-New Orchard Working Group, the Carlingwood Community Association, Byron Linear Park renewal consultations, and the people who will live next to the new station—some who participated in more than 50 meetings over two years—had no input into the decision. And these are some of the people who will be most affected by the change.

Residents have long worked to keep the LRT off the park. Until recently, the city agreed. Every previous plan protected the park, and the last we heard the city was building it underground in a grassy berm on the north side of Richmond at Cleary Avenue. Like many of our neighbours, we were surprised to hear that the city had reversed its decision. After learning the news, more than 100 hundred residents from across Kitchissippi and Bay wards attended a public information session to field questions on March 4.

Do we need light rail? Yes. Did the city have no choice but to build on our park? That’s not clear. The Stage 2 LRT report states that: “this was done for technical and cost-saving purposes, and to better accommodate long-term city planning considerations.” All good reasons, but the lack of consultation and communication around the decision doesn’t inspire confidence. It’s puzzling, too, that after a decade of consulting on the Western LRT the community wasn’t consulted on this change.

If this were a Nancy Drew novel, we’d call it The Mystery of the Moving Station.

So what happened to protecting the linear park?

Chris Swail, the city’s director of O-Train planning, told the CBC that losing “a small chunk of greenspace” is “a little bit unfortunate.” Anyone who lives along the linear park knows it’s so much more than that. It’s a 2.5 km long stretch of public parkland that connects the communities along the Byron-Richmond corridor (some have called a “green hub”) and serves as a buffer between two very busy streets. It’s where we walk our dogs, teach our kids to ride a bike, go for a jog, meet up with friends, and meander through a tree-covered path to Westboro Village. It’s lined with beautiful trees that provide shade and shelter on hot days and a home to birds and small beasts. It puts nature very close to people’s homes (the physical and mental health benefits of urban greenspaces are well recognized).

Given the development that is going to rise up around Cleary Station, building the LRT on the linear park means losing access to a large stretch of pedestrian-safe greenspace in an area that needs pedestrian-safe greenspace. The city is planning to develop a more “mixed and more active and dynamic traditional mainstreet” here. Building the LRT on the linear park puts a large physical barrier in the middle of a mainstreet that will be lined with businesses and mid-high rise apartments, and removes parkland that would be enjoyed by the many people living along it. 

Swail says that after construction is complete, the park “will be widened where possible and enhanced with more trees, improved pathways, public art, and additional plaza space for local events.” And for every tree cut down, the city will plant two. Let’s make sure that happens.

There are still many unanswered questions: Will residents have the opportunity to provide meaningful feedback on the new plan and design for Cleary Station, including serious discussion of our concerns about traffic, parking, noise, safety, accessibility and related intensification? 

And since the station isn’t going on Cleary, why not change the name? How about “Linear Park Station” or “Tramway Park Station”? This could signal the beginning of a more transparent and collaborative discussion with the city.

Read Councillor Jeff Leiper’s statement on the Cleary Station move.

Three facts about the Byron Linear Park

  1. The linear park is a long, narrow stretch of land that runs 2.5 km westward from Holland Avenue to Richardson Avenue (with a break between Churchill and Golden Avenues in Westboro). The tree-lined path take you through two wards, Kitchissippi and Bay, and several distinct communities, including Fisher Park, Wellington West, Hampton Park, Laurentian View, Westboro, McKellar Park, Carlingwood and Woodpark.
  2. It was once the site of a streetcar line that operated between 1900 and 1959. In his history of the streetcar, local historian Dave Allston says, “The streetcar opened up Ottawa to the west, making both the city and the suburbs more accessible. Almost overnight it turned vacant farmland into valuable real estate.”
  3. It’s an official city park. The linear park has served as the green hub of the community since the streetcars were decommissioned in 1959. Today it’s used for walking, biking and running and for special events such as the Ottawa farmer’s market. According to the City of Ottawa archives, it was named “The Byron Linear Tramway Park” on December 20, 1985 as part of a larger project to name city parks after the street they’re located on. Today, most residents call it the Byron linear park or simply, the linear park.

Anne Boys-Hope has lived in Westboro for 20 years. You’ll see her on the Byron Linear Park with a poodle in one hand and a coffee in the other.

*This feature is brought to you in part by Produce Depot.

Community group frustrated with development process

By Alyson Queen – 

After a year and a half of attending meetings and providing feedback, the Carlingwood Community Association (CCA) is back to square one with the City over height and zoning guidelines for the neighbourhood – and isn’t happy about it.

With LRT well on its way, the Cleary and New Orchard Planning Study is still being revised to provide a plan for the future of the area. The deadline for public comments was June 30.Impacted community groups, including Carlingwood, have been participating in a specific working group that feeds into the City’s planning unit.

Their key recommendations focused on height sensitivities and active frontage, which is how far a building is pushed back from the street, providing some open space.

One of the key developments impacted by the study and its guidelines will be the proposed condo complex at 809 Richmond Rd. – a project undertaken because LRT will run through the existing Kristy’s restaurant location.

On May 23, the day of a scheduled public meeting, the working group learned in an email that the maximum height restrictions for Cleary had suddenly been expanded from the recommended 16 storeys, to a “range of 16 to 24 storeys.”

The revised application for the proposed twin tower complex was also presented that night, indicating a change to 24 storeys.

Alecia O’Brien is past-president of the CCA and chair of the development committee. She says the changes were not a coincidence and made to accommodate the development application.

“The move was underhanded, lacked transparency and reinforced that the City works with developers and not community groups. Our feedback around height sensitivity and the active frontage was ignored or disregarded,” says Alecia.

From his perspective, Jamie Boyce, speaking on behalf of his father and Kristy’s owner Walter Boyce, contests that. He says “[t]he current design is in direct response to the information received from our consultation with the community, neighbours and
the City.”

He notes that the new application includes 6.5m of active frontage and reduced shadowing.

Chad Humeniuk is the current president of the CCA. “We supported the working group to ensure that our voice would be heard. That was always the intention.” Chad wants to see all parties work together for a solution that benefits the community as a whole.

“The City needs intensification so we’re willing to account for that. We would be willing to have it at 19, but maintaining the same floor space area.”

The association is voicing opposition to the two Councillors responsible for the territory, Jeff Leiper and Mark Taylor. The group has also submitted an official letter to the City requesting a reversal of the height allowance back to 16 storeys, enforcing active frontage and as such, declining the current Kristy’s application.

Deputy Mayor and Bay Ward Councillor Mark Taylor says the planning department prefers a 24-storey design but that “the study is not yet final so it’s not certain where it will land.”

He adds that the current application has to be evaluated against the height limit in place right now, which is about six storeys.

With regards to the heights in question, Councillor Taylor says he is flexible.

“I am supportive of either height: both I feel would be in keeping with the evolution of this corridor both in height and ground scale.”

On the point of height, when asked, Jamie Boyce was quite clear: “we are satisfied with our application for 24 storeys.”

Although hopeful for change, Chad indicates their community is frustrated with how the process has unfolded.

“In seeing what’s happening around the City with community associations, it feels like developers have the upper hand. I’m not sure why, but it feels like a David versus Goliath battle,” says Chad.

Recommendations on the planning study are due to Council by the end of the year. There is no current deadline for a decision for 809 Richmond.

Residents voice opinions on the future of Richmond Road

By Alyson Queen –

By noon on Saturday June 4, approximately 200 people had turned up at Our Lady of Fatima Parish on Woodroffe Avenue to hear from City officials and voice their opinions on the community’s future planning and development.

“I’m here to represent myself, my wife and my family and I’m here with a whole bunch of neighbours to hear and be heard,” said resident André Baril, who will be following up with a formal letter about his concerns.

André Baril (seated) joined his neighbours at a recent public consultation about the future of Richmond Road and the Byron Corridor. Photo by Alyson Queen
André Baril (seated) joined his neighbours at a recent public consultation about the future of Richmond Road and the Byron Corridor. Photo by Alyson Queen

Participants brainstormed at tables and offered their opinions on anything from traffic congestion and parking to parks, green space and pedestrian paths to the design for the Cleary station and LRT in general.

“We collected our issues together, like how people park in our neighbourhood, cut across the main artery from Carling to Richmond Road, or zoom down the street. It’s the same for most of our streets,” said André.

Photo by Alyson Queen

The agenda, split between a morning and afternoon session, covered the Cleary and New Orchard Planning Study, the Richmond Road “Complete Street” neighbourhood plan which includes the Byron corridor, an overview on LRT Stage 2 and the Byron Traffic Calming study.

Kitchissippi Ward Councillor, Jeff Leiper, was pleased with the turnout and the level of engagement.

“I’ve been heavily involved in consultations like these for the past 18 years and this is actually one of the most impressive that I’ve seen. I have never seen a consultation that tries to put so many related but separate studies together.”

There was also discussion of the proposed new rental towers at 809 Richmond Road, commonly known as the “Kristy’s development,” on the site of Kristy’s Restaurant.

Owner, Walter Boyce, has submitted a Zoning By-Law Amendment application to develop two 16-storey residential rental towers with a total of 257 units, connected by a three-storey retail space and underground parking. Some residents expressed concern about the proposed height of the towers and the impact to the streetscape.

The heights requested differ significantly from the limits in the existing Community Development Plan, approved in 2007. But, as is argued in the application, the community will be very different once LRT has been completed and the tower heights will conform to similar highrises in the area.

“We are very keen to see the ridership numbers for LRT as high as they can be. So the thinking about the kind of density we want around transit stations has evolved. Squaring that circle is going to be a challenge,” said Councillor Leiper when asked about the development.

The original LRT plan had the building expropriated to make way for the line. With that blueprint now tunneling under Richmond Road, Walter is hoping to accelerate the construction plan.

Kristy’s Restaurant manager, Steve Blake, says it is “business as usual” at Kristy’s, as things won’t be getting underway for at least another 18 months.

“We’re not going anywhere anytime soon. My intention is to keep Kristy’s going until the last day,” confirms Steve, who adds that should the development proceed, Kristy’s new home will hopefully be in the retail space that joins the two towers.

It's “business as usual” at Kristy’s Restaurant on Richmond Road. Photo by Alyson Queen
It’s “business as usual” at Kristy’s Restaurant on Richmond Road. Photo by Alyson Queen

The widely anticipated consultation fell on the heels of Friday’s announcement that the province will be committing $1 billion toward Stage 2 of the LRT expansion project.

Stage 2 will add 30 kilometres of new rail and 19 new stations, extending the LRT network to the east, west and south.

Ontario’s funding commitment will mean two additions: a spur to the Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport and an extension to Trim Road in Orléans. These will add 6.5 kilometres of new rail and three stations.

For some residents and businesses, the funding news helps provide certainty that the second stage of the plan will actually happen in the scheduled timeframe.

Speaking more broadly about the Confederation Line plan, Steve says, “15 years from now people will love it. What better for a community than to jump on a train and get downtown in 10 minutes? It’s getting to that
point that just isn’t comfortable.”

Construction of Stage 2 is expected to start in 2018, once the Stage 1 Confederation Line is completed. Stage 2 is expected to enter service in 2023, bringing 70 per cent of residents within 5 kilometres of rail transit.

Future unknown for Richmond Road businesses

By Alyson Queen – 

At 747 Richmond Road you can buy Polish deli meats, stop for a lunch of Thai food, have a manicure, grab a pizza for Friday night’s dinner, purchase natural supplements, find a previously loved treasure and choose custom kitchen and bathroom décor.

At least you currently can.

As a part of the proposed changes to the Confederation Line West Extension announced in March, Cleary Station will now open up directly on Richmond Road.

That will likely cause demolition of the plaza that many small businesses have called home for more than twenty years.

“I feel robbed,” says Bouasonephet Bouasy-Jung, owner of Nokham Thai. “We weren’t consulted, it was just out of the blue, out of nowhere.”

Bouasonephet Bouasy-Jung, owner of Nokham Thai. Photo by Alyson Queen
Bouasonephet Bouasy-Jung, owner of Nokham Thai. Photo by Alyson Queen

“We found out through the media and it was sold as a done deal,” says Fanya Zilberbrant, owner of ACCO Kitchen and Bath, this year’s first place award winner of best kitchen design from the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

They learned of the changes through the public announcements on March 24 and attended the public meeting on April 14.

Fanya Zilberbrant, owner of ACCO Kitchen and Bath, with her recent national award. Photo by Alyson Queen
Fanya Zilberbrant, owner of ACCO Kitchen and Bath, with her recent national award. Photo by Alyson Queen

Christina Thompson, owner of the consignment store, Treasures Anew, is leading the public opposition for her fellow tenants.

“We were all blindsided so I called my landlord and said ‘what’s cooking here?’”

The new route proposal heads under the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway before tunneling under Richmond Road on its way out to Bayshore.

It no longer cuts through the First Unitarian Congregation Church of Ottawa, who strongly opposed the original plan.

Kitchissippi Ward Councillor Jeff Leiper indicates that there are a number of reasons he thinks that the new routing is an improvement over the last proposal, including that it is “safer and poses less risk.”

From an engineering standpoint, it will avoid major water and sewer infrastructure and will also open the line on the main road, which Councillor Leiper says is important when looking at the LRT as part of a city-building exercise.

But it’s the revised placement that Fanya doesn’t fully understand, other than avoiding the Unitarian campus. “They’re moving the station 70m from the previous location. What would it matter if people walk 70m?”

She also wonders why there are two stations so close together, at both Dominion at Cleary. “It’s kind of unusual.”

Cleary Station is scheduled to be part of Stage 2 construction, which at its completion in 2023 aims to bring close to 70 per cent of the City’s population within five kilometres of rail transit.

The City is moving quickly to negotiate a sale on both 747 Richmond and a small corner of the lot at 727 Richmond in order to have the property ready for construction to start in 2018.

House of Pizza owner Gabriel Khater, located there for over 20 years, says he trusted the City to find the best LRT route for the area.

Gabriel Khater and his wife, owners of House of Pizza. Photo by Alyson Queen.
Gabriel Khater and his wife, owners of House of Pizza. Photo by Alyson Queen.

“I’m not against it 100% but I’m against the way it’s being done,” he says.

This isn’t the first time though that the tenants at 747 Richmond Road have had their future in the air. In 2013, the landlord applied for a redevelopment. But with the LRT project, that is now off the table.

“It’s tough being a small business person who is leasing a store in a property that could well be developed on a given day by the landlord who owns it. It can be sometimes tenuous if you don’t own the property you’re operating in,” said Councillor Leiper.

These are businesses that have become a part of the community and give back as well. Fanya does her part by donating much of her unsold product to Habitat for Humanity.

Right now, Gabriel is thinking of the families that could be affected by the major upheaval of an expropriation.

“There’s at least, I would say, 15 families that will be suffering if they have to relocate or close their business if they cannot find a spot.”

Despite not having been consulted to date, Councillor Leiper committed to ensuring that the tenants will be a part of the process going forward and looped into the discussions.

“It’s hard to make these trade-offs and determine what is truly in the public interest. But when I look at the various advantages, the mitigated risks to the infrastructure and then actually getting the station on Richmond Road which I think is critical – there’s winners and losers, but I think on balance this is the appropriate way to proceed.”

Although the tenants of 747 Richmond have not been formally invited to present their opposition, there is a last chance to plead their case at the finance and economic development committee meeting on May 3.

Technically speaking, the proposal is not a done deal, but it does have a number of advocates, including Councillor Leiper.

Should the plan proceed, that will kickstart an expropriation process. Councillor Leiper says that the business owners will be offered re-location services.

Moving large refrigerators, ovens and other restaurant equipment is no small feat though and has a significant price tag. So business owners like Gabriel and Bouasonephet are starting to question their futures.

If he does find a location, Gabriel figures the move will likely cost him over $100,000 and to this point he doesn’t know if the City will help compensate the costs.

“I would prefer to stay here because I have established my customers and I live from this business. I can’t afford to lose it. I have kids that want to go to university and I have to support them.”

The refrain of uncertainty is a similar thread with all of the tenants.

Despite the unknowns though, for now, Christina and others have a simple message for their customers: “it’s business as usual.”

A decision is set to take place at Council on May 11.

Opinion: Western LRT – did we get a good deal?

Special to KT by Charles Davies

To no one’s surprise, the City of Ottawa confirmed at its March 30 LRT Open House that it is pressing ahead with its preferred route between Dominion and Lincoln Fields after having reached its deal with the NCC – but how good a deal is it?

The Memorandum of Understanding between the City and NCC, and the published notes of their meetings, reveal that the City got the following out of the deal: its preferred Parkway route, with NCC design concessions at Dominion; and a commitment from the NCC to be flexible on LRT design issues in the Pinecrest Creek Valley.

The NCC got: a substantial increase in Parkway green space; preservation of most of the forest border; two new pedestrian/cyclist access paths; $30M for finish landscaping to its own design; settlement in its favour of a long standing zoning dispute; fair market value payment for use of its lands; veto power over the design of the Cleary station; compensation for trees removed for construction; a new, realigned section of roadway consistent with its long-term linear park vision; and enhancements to pathways in the sector – all at City expense.

Further, in turning down the NCC’s offer of a route across Rochester Field to the Richmond/Byron corridor the City declined NCC deal sweeteners of: a land swap giving the City full ownership of the LRT route (meaning no land use payments and no need for NCC approval for future maintenance or other work); cost-sharing of construction disruption mitigations; transfer of NCC land elsewhere for a City park; and waiver of Federal Land Use and Design Approval requirements – all of which would have been at no cost to the City.

In short, the NCC got a significant City contribution towards realization of its long-term vision for the Parkway lands. It is not at all evident that the City got comparable value.

The notes from the meetings also show that the City finally acknowledged, contrary to what the public had been consistently told, that both the Parkway and Rochester-Byron route options would have similar construction costs, so the net value calculation boils down to the long-term financial, operating and community benefits and drawbacks for each option – and this comparison has never been seriously done. We therefore don’t know which solution offered the best overall return for the investment, and we never will.

None of this inspires confidence in the City’s handling of this file, which is unfortunate because it has done a good job getting the “big picture” right in developing and approving the Transportation Master Plan. Where it clearly needs to up its game is in the management and oversight of the individual projects. A good start would be to clearly explain how this apparently lopsided deal with the NCC provides the best possible Western LRT solution for current and future residents and taxpayers, compared to the alternative that was on the table.

Charles Davies is a resident of Kitchissippi Ward.