NCC board approves tweaked LeBreton Flats master concept plan after public feedback

A rendering of the National Capital Commission's renewed vision for LeBreton Flats, a long-empty 24-hectare site just west of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. National Capital Commission

Eleven months after the former redevelopment plan for LeBreton Flats went up in smoke, the National Capital Commission’s board of directors has approved a “preliminary version” of the new master concept plan for the long-vacant site in Ottawa’s downtown area.

The board’s endorsement of the concept design means planners at the Crown corporation — which manages federal lands and assets in the National Capital Region — can begin applying for the necessary land-use approvals with the City of Ottawa.

The commission is also gearing up to launch a call for development proposals for the first parcel of land in LeBreton Flats in the coming weeks, Tobi Nussbaum, CEO of the NCC, said on Thursday.

The commission has been working away on a new concept plan for the 24-hectare site just west of Parliament Hill over the past year, ahead of building up the land in phases.

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The concept plan presented to the board on Thursday represents a tweaked version of the draft plan released in November, which the NCC asked the public to weigh in on.

The biggest change made — based on public feedback from more than 5,000 Canadians and “key stakeholders” — is that the NCC has “simplified” the structure of the LeBreton Flats community into four purpose-built districts, down from the original seven sections and features, the board heard.

The four districts proposed for the LeBreton Flats site in the project’s preliminary master concept plan, approved by the NCC board of directors on Thursday. National Capital Commission

Despite the rejigging of the districts, the NCC says it’s still reserving a parcel of land for a possible major events centre or NHL arena in what it’s calling the Albert District — “a main street mixed-use district.”

An event centre was one of the most popular asks in the feedback the NCC received over two public consultation periods last year. The NCC’s old redevelopment agreement with the Rendezvous LeBreton Group — a consortium that included the owner of the Ottawa Senators — sought to move the local NHL team downtown from their current home in the city’s west end.

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On top of an events centre, the NCC heard that affordable housing, a grocery store and farmers’ markets are some of the infrastructure and amenities that people most want in a mixed-use community in LeBreton Flats, according to a presentation to the board.

The other three proposed districts are: the Parks District, the Flats District — a mostly residential community — and the Aqueduct District, which the NCC envisions as a “vibrant cultural hub and entertainment district” along the two aqueducts in that area.

Some other tweaks made to the master concept plan after public feedback included ensuring accessibility in the Aqueduct District, carving out space for outdoor amenities in the Flats District and increasing setbacks for towers in the Albert District, the board heard.

Nussbaum told reporters that planners also made some improvements to “transportation connectivity.”

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At this stage, the NCC wants 44 per cent of a redeveloped LeBreton Flats to be parks and open spaces. As for the rest, the commission wants to see 4,000 residential units on the site, 116,000 square metres of office space and 21,000 square metres of retail space.

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The NCC also wants LeBreton Flats to house a population of 7,200 and accommodate 6,500 jobs once construction is finished.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson — a non-voting member of the NCC board — said he was happy to hear those employment numbers, arguing the City of Ottawa doesn’t want LeBreton Flats to turn into “a sea of condos” and “a bedroom community.”

“Ideally, we need to find things that attract visitors and complement the museums and monuments that are in that vicinity and it needs to be a destination for live, work and play and not just live,” the mayor said.

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‘I think it can get done’, McKenna says about new LeBreton Flats draft plan

Watson said the city is generally “very supportive” of the new LeBreton concept plan but he still has some outstanding concerns about how the different parts of the redevelopment will be financed and “who pays for what” between the municipality, the NCC and the developers.

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Nussbaum and Marc Seaman, chairperson of the NCC board, said the commission has preliminary financial plans in the works. Seaman added that the NCC plans to use profits from disposed lands to fund the LeBreton project and reinvest revenues from early in the procurement process into the rest of the development.

The NCC cannot borrow money for the LeBreton Flats project, Nussbaum noted.

The NCC hopes to complete the secondary planning approval process with the municipality sometime in summer 2020. After that, the final version of the master concept plan will be brought back to the NCC for approval in October, Nussbaum said.

He reiterated Thursday that the NCC is planning to put out a second request for proposals for a second section of the flats in late 2020.

“At this stage, we’re very, very hopeful that in 2021, we’ll have shovels in the ground on-site,” Nussbaum told reporters.

“In some ways, you’ll start seeing a rolling process with multiple stages of the procurement process being advanced and shovels in the ground in different portions.”

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