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OPINION

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EDITORIAL

Jumping off the development merry-go-round

T

he challenges posed by development projects popping up across the city call for innovative responses, which is exactly what one Ottawa community association is doing. It’s something other community groups would be wise to take a long, hard look at as well. The idea, proposed by the Ottawa South Community Association, is to recruit members who have expertise

in land-use planning, architecture development and construction on the association’s planning and development review committee, known as OSWatch. The committee is forced to deal with complex development applications, relying on a dozen or so members who may not have the necessary expertise or experience to craft a position on such proposals. This forces the committee to spend most of its energy

trying to understand and later fight unwanted applications instead of being proactive and encouraging desired development. It’s a familiar problem for the dozens of community associations across Ottawa and the result is costly and unproductive. The process begins with a development application. If community members don’t like the proposed building, a number of meetings are held where the developer

outlines its plans, followed by a response – usually negative – from area residents. If the political pressure is strong enough, the ward councillor fights the application, sometimes over the objections of the city’s planning staff. If city council rejects the application, the developer has the option of appealing to the Ontario Municipal Board. That’s where the real fun starts. The city doesn’t exactly

have a stellar record opposing development supported by its own staff before the OMB. Case in point: the 2011 decision by the OMB to expand the city’s urban boundary by 850 hectares, over the objections of council and at the cost of hundreds of thousand of dollars in legal fees. It didn’t help that the city’s position was at odds with its planning staff. Nobody enjoys the ride on this merry-go-round – not

the city, the residents and not the developers, even if they ultimately win their case at the OMB. Wasted time. Wasted money. Old Ottawa South is hoping to get off this topsy-turvy ride and create a proactive development review process. By working with developers instead of automatically pegging them as the enemy, both parties can avoid many of the conflicts that often end up in the laps of the OMB. Compromise is often required, and that can only come following good communication and intelligent analysis.

COLUMN

Dreaming of a better Sparks Street CHARLES GORDON Funny Town

S

parks Street looks pretty bedraggled these days. Mind you, some of that is just the way winter works on our city. The snow piles up, then it melts, revealing all of yesterday’s litter and dirt. But of course litter is not all that’s bothering Sparks Street, a place that has never lived up to the high expectations placed on it when it opened as a pedestrian mall in 1966. Not that it isn’t a pleasant place at times. In the warm weather, at lunch hour, hundreds of people enjoy the sun and the stroll and visiting with their friends. Tourists, down from Parliament Hill, grab a coffee or a souvenir. But, as many observers have noted over the years, the place is silent as a tomb after six o’clock and more or less deserted on weekends. What happened? Well, the federal government happened. The government owns much of the real estate along Sparks and has not been helpful to merchants and would-be developers. At any given time, a number of merchants will have been displaced while Public Works renovates something or other. Even the most ardent planning advocate must be wondering if Sparks Street might have been better off with unbridled development. The other thing that happened was the Rideau Centre’s opening in 1983. Not that Sparks Street was exactly thriving before that, but it thrived even less afterwards. Important merchants decamped for the new shopping centre and shoppers were attracted away from Sparks Street. After that grew the idea that Sparks Street needed fixing. Various plans were implement-

ed, most of them seeming to involve moving planters around. None of them worked. And the attempt to lure tourists to Sparks Street has had an unintended consequence. Now the complaint is that you can’t find anything on the street that isn’t aimed at tourists. The latest proposal, one not put forward as a solution but as something worth trying, is to put a zip line, a kind of glorified rope slide, somewhere on the mall to attract thrill-seekers. Well, it might do that. But if it succeeds it will just bring zip line enthusiasts to the mall. They’ll zip and they’ll go home, unless there is something else to attract their attention. The same goes for another perennial dream – a Sparks Street casino. People will come to the casino, stay in it and go home. There’s nothing for Sparks Street in that. The idea is not just to attract thrill-seekers and tourists to Sparks Street, but to attract people who live here, people who could decide to come downtown to shop instead of going to their nearest mall, who might decide to eat on Sparks rather than in the ByWard Market, who might want to hang out on a street where there is no traffic. It’s hard to believe this is impossible to achieve, yet it has been impossible to achieve for 46 years. The only thing that will save Sparks Street is a permanent constituency – in other words, more people living downtown. And should there be apartments where there were once dark offices, those who live there would flock to Sparks Street, if it was open at night and if there were stores and clubs and restaurants of quality. These in turn might attract people who live away from the core. In the meantime, new options will be presented for your consideration. Markets and zip lines and new logos and more planters. Whatever option is chosen, one of them should not be reopening Sparks Street to traffic. Great cities all over the world have created pedestrian-friendly areas and many of them work really well. Cities that don’t have such areas wish they did. We would too.

Editorial Policy

Web Poll THIS WEEK’S POLL QUESTION

With the wild weather swings this winter, are you still hopeful for a canal skating season this year?

A) Yes. I always get a flu shot – it’s what gets me through the winter.

A) Yes. It always gets cold enough to skate on the canal.

B) Not yet, but I’m planning on it. C) No. I never get sick so I don’t see any

B) Maybe. I’m not sure how this will turn out.

8% 8%

D) Nah. I’m just going south for the winter where there’s other things to worry about – like catching a tan.

C) No. We might get a few days, but that’s it. D) It doesn’t matter to me, I don’t skate.

46%

reason to get a flu shot.

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8 Stittsville News EMC - Thursday, January 24, 2013

38%

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PREVIOUS POLL SUMMARY

With influenza running rampant worldwide, did you get your shot this year?

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January 24, 2013

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