The community's fight to kill or at least reduce the size of the University of Ottawa parking lot proposed for the 160 Lees greenspace has yielded some positive results as the City and the university continue to consider options. In the words of Joel Thirsk of the Mayor's office, "Staff continue to request that the parking lot space be as small as possible."
At a pre-Christmas public meeting, Old Ottawa East residents and others voiced their strong opposition to the proposed elimination of the huge greenspace between the Lees Avenue apartments and Springhurst Park.
On December 19 at Old Town Hall, a packed room of residents and representatives of various sports groups peppered City representatives with questions on the proposed creation of a Light Rail Transit (LRT) construction staging area and large parking lot that would cover most of the greenspace between Lees Avenue and the Rideau River.
The City responded with a revised proposal that would eliminate the staging area on the site but would still see the creation of a "temporary" parking lot consuming about half the greenspace. While the revised proposal was seen as a positive step, residents argued there has been inadequate consultation and there is poor justification for the massive parking lot with little consideration of alternatives.
At the January 8 meeting of the Old Ottawa East Community Association (OOECA), Matt Eason of the city's LRT office provided a further revision of the parking lot plan which would use less of the greenspace and ensure there was a full playing field and more space between Springhurst Park and the parking lot.
The proposed 360-spot parking lot is how the City proposes to compensate the University of Ottawa for the use of two of the university's small parking lots required for staging areas during LRT construction. One of these parking lots with 120 spots is on the north side of Lees Avenue adjacent to the transitway station and the other lot with 110 spots is on the main campus.
No Clear Answers
At the December meeting residents repeatedly asked - without getting a clear answer - why there would be so many more proposed parking spots than currently exist (360 vs 230). They made the points that the university's existing parking lot beside the Lees station is underutilized and it is unlikely that those who currently use the downtown campus parking lot required for LRT construction would want to park almost two kilometres away at the proposed 160 Lees parking lot. Further, residents argued that now is the time to encourage university students and staff to switch to transit, rather than providing even more parking spots. The university, which boasts of its sustainable development initiatives, has not revealed any needs study to demonstrate why 360 spots are sought and deflects responsibility for the proposal to the City.
The Springhurst greenspace has become a key recreational area for the 3,000 residents of the Lees apartment buildings and for the Archville neighbourhood in Old Ottawa East. In addition, four sports associations have permits to run their games in the greenspace.
The proposed parking lot appears on a university of Ottawa plan dated August 9, 2012 but the community was not told of the proposal until December 6, just after Councillor David Chernushenko had been informed of the idea. At the monthly OOECA meeting the following week, members expressed their strong opposition and then organized the subsequent meeting at which City staff were invited to attend to explain the proposal.
Aggravating the residents' concerns was the city's tight scheduling of the City Council planning committee's consideration of the proposal for January 14. This, thanks to the intervention of Councillor Chernushenko, was delayed until February 26. The additional month and a half will allow the community to seek further information on the proposal and to pursue alternatives. The City has committed to complete several studies pertaining to the proposal before the proposal goes to planning committee.
Importance of Greenspace
The community's fight against the parking lot proposal has been led by Christine Loth-Bown, a resident of Simcoe Street. She and her family make great use of Springhurst Park and are dismayed at the prospect of losing the greenspace - along with an undetermined number of trees on the east side of the park.
"Springhurst Park is a very important asset to our organization due to its location and accessibility," Christiane Marceau, executive director of the Ottawa Carleton Ultimate Association wrote to Nancy Schepers, deputy city manager. "In a time when active adults and children are such a focus, as well as the importance of healthy living, OCUA hopes that the removal of Springhurst Park is reconsidered to ensure that access to sport and recreation remains available for residents in this neighbourhood and throughout the City of Ottawa."
Few large greenspaces for recreation remain available in central Ottawa despite the great demand for playing fields. Residents told City staff that the proposed parking lot simply doesn't fit with the creation of the new community garden just to the west of the 170 Lees apartment building, the new Rideau River Nature Trail, and planned enhancements of Springhurst Park.
One of the City's guiding principles for development near LRT stations such as Lees is "creating greenspaces and urban places." As OOECA transportation director Ron Rose noted, "There are over 1600 units in the five Lees Ave buildings, housing between 3000 and 4000 people. The greenspace at 160 Lees is now the only sizeable greenspace available to those residents, and turning it into a parking lot would go against the City's guiding principles."
Campaign Against Proposal
Minutes from the public meeting as well as a copy of the alternate proposal and other documents we have received from the City are posted on the OOECA website.
"We really appreciated all the perspectives and concerns that individuals raised at the public meeting and would like to encourage residents to send letters or email these concerns to the Mayor; Peter Hume, chair of the Planning Committee; Allan Rock, president of the university of Ottawa; deputy city manager Nancy Schepers and planning officer Hieu Nguyen," says Ms Loth-Bown.
Email addresses of these officials and background documentation on the proposed parking lot are posted on the OOECA website.