After soliciting public input this month, staff at the National Capital Commission (NCC) will begin working on a new master concept plan for LeBreton Flats this summer and present it to the commission’s board of directors in January 2020 for approval, the board heard on Thursday.
The NCC’s board of directors received an update on the massive redevelopment project at their public meeting on June 20, which included a slightly revised timeline for its second plan of attack for the long-vacant, 55-acre site west of Parliament Hill.
It’s been nearly four months since the NCC — which manages federally-owned lands and buildings — cut the cord on the agreement it struck with the RendezVous LeBreton Group to develop the site. The relationship between the consortium’s main partners deteriorated and imploded in major legal dispute.
Failed mediation between the parties earlier this year proved to be the final nail in the coffin. On Feb. 28, 2019, the NCC announced it was terminating its agreement with Rendezvous LeBreton and moving on.
At its board meeting a week later, in early March, the commission announced a major reset to the LeBreton Flats redevelopment process. The “new vision” for the site would driven by consultation with Ottawa residents and stakeholders, CEO Tobi Nussbaum said at the time.
NCC Director Katie Paris, who is leading the LeBreton Flats file, told NCC board members on Thursday that approximately 400 people came out to the four-hour, in-person public consultation the commission hosted at the Canadian War Museum on Tuesday night.
Summarizing the NCC’s biggest “takeaways” from that session, Paris said residents are looking for a “complete community” that is connected to surrounding neighbourhoods, “human-scale” buildings and new destinations for celebrating arts and culture. Residents also want a focus on Indigenous peoples and history, sustainable building design and infrastructure, and active living and transportation, she said.
“Overall people were enthusiastic, showed their passion for this site and the great opportunity it represents,” she said. “We also heard a sense of urgency from some, a bit of impatience to see something happen.”
Paris outlined six principles that will frame the NCC’s revamped approach to LeBreton’s redevelopment: enhancing the capital experience; creating community; valuing nature; ensuring transit connections (based on a Vision Zero approach); building excellence through innovation; and honouring the past.
“LeBreton Flats will be rebuilt on a foundation of what came before, from the Indigenous presence in the region, to its role in building the capital, to the expropriations of 1962 that cleared the former community from the Flats,” she said.
“The development must connect to these stories.”
To that end, Paris said staff are looking to developments like Oslo’s Fjord City, Stockholm’s Hammarby Sjöstad, and Hamburg’s HafenCity for inspiration.
In building a new master concept plan, the NCC also plans to mirror processes used “successfully” by other cities around the world — including Vancouver, Calgary, Paris and Stockholm — and hire assistance from an urban planning firm, she said.
The Crown corporation will continue to solicit public input for the new plan through its online survey until July 2. More than 550 completed surveys have been submitted so far, Paris said on Thursday morning.
In addition to that, the commission says it will meet with Algonquin chiefs on June 27 and host a series of roundtable meetings over the summer with interest and advocacy groups.
The NCC promises to invite public input on the concept plan draft in November 2019 and then refine it before presenting it to the board for approval in January.
Board members express optimism about new plan
Following Paris’ presentation, members of the NCC’s board of directors expressed optimism and excitement about the redevelopment’s refreshed direction.
“This is exactly, to the dime, what we were hoping to see,” board member Larry Beasley said.
“I really do think we’re on the right track. I’m actually very excited about it,” member Michael Foderick said, noting he “made no secret” about his dislike for RendezVous LeBreton’s proposal for the site.
Foderick argued the current approach will be better financially for the NCC and for the Ottawa community, and will allow for more public participation and control. He also suggested LeBreton Flats will get built up faster than it would have under the old process — which he said would have taken decades — and praised the “big picture vision.”
“This process is real,” Foderick said. “It’s happening and it’s happening right now and it’s proceeding and frankly, nothing can stop it this time.”
Asked after the board meeting why residents should have confidence in the renewed process, CEO Tobi Nussbaum said the commission has “taken lessons learned from the previous exercises.”
“We feel that we’ve got the right balance between ensuring currently public input but also having very ambitious timelines and a process that’s going to, on one hand, be guided by a master concept plan, but we’re not going to wait for all 55 acres to be built before we get started,” Nussbaum told reporters during a press conference.
“The idea of being able to have shovels in the ground early, I think it’s going to be a way to build public confidence in the process.”
The new LeBreton timeline
The NCC has said it intends to break up LeBreton Flats into parcels of land and build it up in stages, rather than let one entity develop the whole site, as was the case with Rendezvous LeBreton.
The commission plans to start with an area it has coined the “Library District,” a chunk of land near where Ottawa’s new central library will be located, which was not included in the original redevelopment plans for LeBreton. It hopes to have shovels in the ground sometime in 2021.
According to the NCC’s revised timeline, it plans to launch a request for development proposals for the Library District by late 2019, with agreements and approvals to unfold between mid-2020 and mid-2021.
For the rest of the site, the NCC says it wants to obtain municipal approvals by summer 2020 and put out requests for proposals for one or more parcels of land in late 2020.
Remediation and infrastructure work would begin in 2021 and the site would be construction-ready in late 2021, according to the timeline.
Thursday’s update on LeBreton Flats was purely informative; the board did not vote on any aspect of redevelopment.