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Ottawa committee OKs master plan for new Civic hospital campus

The Ottawa Hospital's proposed designs for its $2.8-billion new Civic campus. The Ottawa Hospital

Planning committee has given its early approval of The Ottawa Hospital‘s new Civic campus at the Central Experimental Farm, finding common ground that the proposed $2.8-billion project is much-needed even as a number of key details remain unknown.

The master plan was approved by a vote of 6-2 at planning committee on Monday morning after dozens of delegates came forward Friday to express both concerns about the proposal and support for the hospital itself, pushing that meeting overtime.

The multi-phase proposal would see the Civic hospital campus shift across Carling Avenue to the Central Experimental Farm, near the intersection of Prince of Wales Drive and Preston Street.

Read more: The Ottawa Hospital unveils designs for $2.8-billion Civic campus

Among the approved elements are plans for a controversial 2,400-spot parking garage.

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Hospital planning staff have promised that the structure will include a landscaped roof to offset the more than 500 trees that will be removed as part of the construction, but Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper said during the meeting that he was “cynical” the offering will make up for the loss of green space.

“They can put something up on top of the roof, but let’s face it. We’re not stupid. It’s not even close to the beauty that exists there now,” resident Stephanie Strudwick said during Friday’s delegations.

Leiper and Capital Coun. Shawn Menard voted against the plan, though the Kitchissippi councillor tweeted afterwards to rally support for the project as a whole.

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Menard, who pushed for a proposal including underground parking, also said he thought the new campus is needed, but said he voted nay because he thought the committee could get a better plan.

One aspect that remains to be determined is how the new campus will connect to the Trillium Line LRT, the Stage 2 extension of which is currently under construction.

Ottawa’s planning and economic development boss Stephen Willis said Monday that the hospital could be connected to the existing LRT station nearby via either an underground pathway or a pedestrian bridge over Carling Avenue, the latter of which he said was likely the cheaper option.

Read more: Ottawa LRT inches towards relaunch with hiring of independent safety expert

“That may be the simplest and fastest way to give everyone surety that it’s going to happen,” he said in a call with reporters after Monday’s meeting.

It’s also not certain whether municipal tax money will be needed to fund the new campus, which is meant to be covered off by a $2.1-billion contribution from the Ontario government and the remainder through hospital fundraising and fees such as parking and retail.

While hospital funding is a provincial responsibility, aspects such as parking aren’t covered under the province’s mandate. This is part of why an underground parking structure — pegged at a cost of $300 million and a two-year construction delay — was not included in the master plan, according to a staff report.

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In his comments on the same report, Menard cited estimates that the city could be on the hook for “hundreds of millions” of dollars.

Planning co-chair Scott Moffatt told reporters Monday that “ideally,” no funds would be drawn from the municipal tax base for the project.

“To pull that off to what is, essentially, a provincial responsibility, is just another download, unfortunately, on the municipalities,” he said.

But the main concern for dozens of delegations who showed up to a full day of meetings on Friday was the location itself, even though the matter wasn’t up for debate.

Many delegates tried to relitigate lingering concerns about the site, asserting that the Central Experimental Farm’s prime agricultural land and the surrounding traffic on Carling Avenue make the site unsuitable for a major development.

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The issue of where to put the new Civic campus has been batted back and forth between new and outgoing MPs for years, with former Conservative minister John Baird announcing in 2014 that the experimental farm was the choice before former Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna put the issue back on the table when the Liberals swept into power.

That round of deliberations put the future site at Tunney’s Pasture, a centrally located government workplace. But complaints, including from the hospital itself, sent decision makers back to the drawing board, ultimately emerging with the farm site again in late 2016.

The whole process lacked “openness and transparency,” River Coun. Riley Brockington said at the end of Monday’s meeting. He said he sympathized with residents who were blindsided by the location choice, citing the community’s “strong emotional attachment” to the Central Experimental Farm.

Brockington, whose ward includes the majority of the future hospital site, nonetheless seemed satisfied that the long run-up to the new Civic campus’s slated opening in 2028 will give all parties involved time to get the major details right.

“This is a near-decade-long project, so we have a lot of runway left,” he said.

A number of motions passed at the meeting — for further traffic studies, to find more opportunities to plant trees and to reduce the overall amount of surface-level parking in the plan — will seek to fine-tune the proposal before shovels hit dirt.

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The incoming Ottawa Centre MP, Liberal Yasir Naqvi, has meanwhile expressed his support for securing federal protections for the rest of the farm, a move councillors said could reassure residents that the prime agricultural lot is not up for development.

Staff are also supportive of creating a new master plan for the Central Experimental Farm, planning committee heard Monday.

City council will consider the Civic campus master plan at its next meeting on Oct. 13.

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