Council greenlights finance plan for new mega library and Zibi brownfields grant

File photo of Ottawa city hall. Francis Vachon / The Canadian Press

The new multi-million-dollar public mega-library at LeBreton Flats moved one more step forward Wednesday, after Ottawa city councillors approved the city’s plan for financing its construction and selling the property downtown where the main library is currently located.

Councillors approved the plan after rejecting a request from city staff that the sale of the land at Laurier Avenue and Metcalfe Street be exempted from the city’s official policy of putting 25 per cent of proceeds from surplus property sales towards affordable housing.

READ MORE: Finance committee approves plan for new Ottawa Central Library

Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans argued that adhering to that policy is even more important in light of a report published Wednesday morning that showed Ottawa is very far from achieving its goal of ending chronic homelessness by 2024. Councillors unanimously supported a motion from Deans to have $2.5 million of the downtown property sale go towards affordable housing.

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They were, however, divided on another part of the library plan: a request that council approve an $18 million, 200-spot underground parking garage for the new facility. Five councillors — Mathieu Fleury, Tobi Nussbaum, Catherine McKenney, Jeff Leiper and Riley Brockington — voted against the garage, while the rest voted in favour.

The future central library will be located at 557 Wellington St., just east of the Pimisi light rail station, According to the plan, the city would be on the hook for close to $105 million of the estimated $174.8 million project, a joint facility with Library and Archives Canada. The federal institution would foot the rest of the bill.

READ MORE: Ottawa libraries to introduce new rules after pornography controversy

For its part, the city has said it will finance its chunk from loans, library reserve funds, money from development charges, and other measures. Cash from the sale of the central library to Slate Properties for $20 million will also go towards the cause.

City staff told councillors Wednesday they studied multiple scenarios for the sale and insisted this is the best outcome for taxpayers, adding that holding onto the land would have posed “significant risk” to the city.

The City of Ottawa will act as the project lead for the design and construction process, according to a report to council.

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The new super library was one of Mayor Jim Watson’s major election promises in 2014. He said Wednesday the process has been a “long road,” and while he’d hoped the project would break ground in 2018, it’s likely that will now happen in 2019.

Council approves Zibi brownfields grant

Council also approved a controversial $60.9 million grant to the Windmill Development Group to clean up the contaminated industrial lands on Chaudière and Albert islands — the future site of the developer’s mammoth, mixed-use Zibi project.

The money will cover half the anticipated cost of the clean-up, and the developer has said they’ll only do work where necessary.

READ MORE: City developing strategy to turn old gas stations into housing, offices

The grant represents the largest the city has ever awarded in its history and has been met with pushback from critics who say taxpayers shouldn’t be responsible for cleaning up land controlled by the federal government. City staff said Wednesday, however, that the federal government has had no control over activities on the site since Confederation.

Kanata North Coun. Marianne Wilkinson said council will still pursue federal dollars to help cover the expense.

The application’s approval at City Hall was met with protest by a group of public members sitting in the audience, who stood up with posters and shouted at councillors that the city doesn’t have jurisdiction on this file. One poster read: “Why Taxpayers on the hook 4 fed land clean-up?”

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What else happened at City Council June 13, 2018:

  • Councillors voted 18-5 in favour of reversing a recommendation from the planning committee to cut down a proposed six-storey building on Roosevelt Avenue in Westboro to five storeys. Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper had wanted the building reduced even further to four storeys.
  • Council voted unanimously to designate the Ottawa Rowing Club Boathouse as a heritage building.
  • Watson brought forward a motion to hire 10 new Ottawa police officers to help address gun violence in the city, which would come at a cost of $660,000. That motion will be debated at the next council meeting.

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