The National Capital Commission (NCC) has released a draft of its “renewed vision” for the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats – a concept plan that divides the 24-hectare site into purpose-built sections, including an entertainment district, a large park area and mixed-use and residential neighbourhoods.
The reveal comes nearly nine months after the commission — which manages federally owned lands and buildings in the national capital region — pulled the plug on a fraught agreement it had with the RendezVous LeBreton Group to develop the long-empty land located west of Parliament Hill.
The relationship between the consortium’s main partners deteriorated and imploded in a major legal dispute. The NCC terminated its agreement with the consortium in late February and went back to the drawing board, vowing to consult extensively with the public on the renewed plan.
The details of the draft concept plan for the NCC’s second stab at redevelopment were presented to the commission’s board of directors in Ottawa on Thursday, who celebrated the new approach and endorsed it unanimously.
“It is a coherent, exciting vision,” board member Michael Foderick said.
The NCC’s new vision for LeBreton is anchored by a central public area called the Aqueduct District rather than a hockey arena, as in the former RendezVous LeBreton plan. It is framed around seven distinct sections or features:
- The Aqueduct District: A “vibrant entertainment district” at the heart of LeBreton Flats, featuring restaurants, cafés and retail spots that face the heritage aqueduct. If possible, the NCC wants to reopen a parallel buried aqueduct as a second water feature.
- LeBreton Place: The NCC envisions this as a site for “a landmark building,” such as an entertainment or music venue, a cultural institution or a sports complex.
- Parks and open space: A “large and distinctive” park at the site’s west end that includes natural areas, manicured gardens, recreational amenities and views to the river.
- Potential events centre: The NCC is setting aside this site for an arena.
- The Albert District: A mixed-use, main street neighbourhood with space for homes, offices, shops and services.
- The Library District: An “extension of Ottawa’s downtown” beside the future Library and Archives Canada and Ottawa Public Library joint facility.
- The Flats District: A pedestrian-oriented, primarily residential neighbourhood.
There’s potential in the draft plan for more than 4,000 residential units of different types, including rental housing and units geared to specific demographics, board members heard.
Plan more ‘realistic’ and ‘achievable,’ board members say
Even though no overall price tag or big-picture timeline was attached to the draft plan, board members – including Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson – said they thought the new approach was more “realistic” and “achievable.”
As previously announced, the NCC still plans to build up LeBreton Flats in phases, starting with the Library District. A phased approach will allow for a “logical sequence of construction” and allow the commission to “be nimble” in responding to market conditions, Building LeBreton director Katie Paris said.
The new plan of attack also aims to hit “a sweet spot” on density, Paris said. The commission wants enough density to “drive competition for development” and bring in cash that can be reinvested into parks and the public realm – but not too much.
Several NCC board members on Thursday gushed about the new vision, arguing the plan incorporates greater public focus, space and control and better integrates the proposed development with the existing neighbourhood.
“I do see a complete community,” board member Larry Beasley said.
Earlier this year, Watson said he didn’t want to see LeBreton Flats “chopped up” into sections and argued that the site needs a “grander vision,” similar to the former plan.
On Thursday, the mayor said he saw that “grand vision” in the public and green space integrated throughout the concept plan but suggested he’s still concerned about “connectivity” between LeBreton’s seven districts.
“We need to ensure there’s co-operation between whoever is developing this section versus that section, so that one, we have the money to do all of the public space, and secondly, we also have connectivity so it doesn’t look like it’s just been built in isolation,” Watson told reporters.
The mayor, a non-voting member of the NCC board, also said he thinks the grounds beside the Canadian War Museum still need a “wow factor” that will draw people to the area between the new Zibi development and LeBreton.
Ottawa mayor doesn’t want to ‘give up hope’ on downtown arena
Asked what he thinks about the shift to anchor LeBreton Flats with public space as opposed to an arena, Watson said he believes both go hand-in-hand.
While he’s “excited” about the public realm features, including the aqueduct, the mayor said he’s pleased that NCC planners “put a placeholder” for a large events centre that could possibly serve as a new home for the local NHL hockey team.
The NCC board shouldn’t give up hope that the Ottawa Senators could one day move downtown, Watson insisted.
In the interim, that reserved space should be kept as parkland, the mayor suggested.
Public invited to open house on draft plan on Thursday
Now that the draft master concept plan is out, the NCC is looking for the public’s feedback yet again.
The plan will put on display during an interactive open house at Bayview Yards from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday evening.
Members of the public can also submit feedback through an online survey that will be open from 5 p.m. on Thursday until midnight on Dec. 6, according to the NCC.
The commission says it will take feedback from this second public consultation and use it to “refine” the master concept plan before bringing it to the board of directors for approval in January 2020.
After that, the master plan has to go to the City of Ottawa for secondary planning approval.
A call for development proposals for the Library District – located at the northeast corner of Booth and Albert streets – will also launch in January.
The NCC then plans to work on a “phasing and implementation strategy” for LeBreton Flats in the spring. NCC CEO Tobi Nussbaum said the commission will aim to put out a second request for proposals for a second section of the flats in late 2020 or early 2021.