Neighbours, School Board appeal heard: Planning board verdict pending on Mac field lighting restrictions

Another evening of late night Ottawa Footy 7s soccer unfolds at the Immaculata turf field as neighbours and the Ottawa Catholic School Board await the ruling on lighting restrictions from the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.
Photo by Alexandra Gruca-Macaulay.

By Alexandra Gruca-Macaulay

In an eight-hour-long marathon session, the Ottawa Catholic School Board’s (OCSB) appeal of lighting restrictions at Immaculata High School’s sports field was argued on July 2 before a provincial Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) panel. Following the hearing, LPAT Tribunal Chair Sharyn Vincent reserved a decision on the case to a future date.

Time limits on the use of lighting for soccer games conducted on the new turf field by the Ottawa Footy Sevens (OF7s) commercial organization, were imposed last August by the City’s Planning Committee through an amendment to the property’s Site Plan Control Agreement. The time restriction, which required that lights on the field be turned off at 9 pm on weeknights and 10 pm on weekends, rather than 11 pm on both weeknights and weekends as originally agreed under contract by the Board and OF7s, was the only issue before the LPAT panel for determination.

Tim Marc represented the City and Chris Rootham acted for the OCSB at the LPAT hearing which featured sworn testimony by all witnesses and participants. A key witness for the City was Doug James, a senior staff planner, while Fredrick Chrystal, Director of Facilities at the OCSB, was the primary witness for the Board.

Strenuous objections

Despite strenuous objections from the Board’s lawyer, Phyllis Odenbach Sutton, President of the Old Ottawa East Community Association, and Hanya Soliman, a homeowner residing adjacent to the field, were granted participant status at the appeal, as was Chris Surgeoner, President of OF7s.

Through questioning of the Board’s witnesses, Marc sought to establish a timeline of events that led to an agreement with the OF7s. Speaking for the Board, Chrystal indicated that the OF7s approached the school about the project in November 2016. To Marc’s question, “when did you sign your agreement?”, Chrystal replied, “I do not recall.” Several times during his testimony, Chrystal asserted that the OCSB had consulted with the community, and he noted a public session had been held at the school on March 2018. When shown a letter sent by Norma McDonald, then principal of Immaculata, announcing on February 14, 2018, that “an agreement had been reached” with the OF7s, Chrystal responded that he did not recall having seen the announcement. When asked if he recalled when the agreement was signed, Surgeoner responded, March 23, 2018, and he acknowledged further that working agreements had been signed earlier.

During her testimony, Odenbach Sutton provided the accurate date of the public information session as April 12, 2018. Her evidence showed that the Board’s deal with OF7s was, in Marc’s words, a “fait accompli” before the public became aware of it. This conclusion led him to ask Chrystal, “did you not think to consult with the community or even your own elected board members?”, to which the Board’s witness responded that the Immaculata field project was an “internal matter between the OCSB and the OF7s.”

Negative impact

At one point in the hearing, the City’s lawyer asked, if weather conditions allowed, “could the OF7s operate the field on Christmas Day?”; Chrystal responded “yes” to that question, and to the subsequent question regarding operations on Good Friday. In his testimony, Surgeoner affirmed, “if there [had been] any suggestion of restricted hours” when the OF7s approached the school board then the project would not have gone ahead.

Given her chance to participate before the LPAT panel, Soliman described how for a decade she had known and accepted that she was living next to a high school field. She told the panel that throughout that time period, she could sleep with the blinds open, and have summer dinners in the backyard. She testified that “now, since last September, none of this is possible.” According to Soliman, referee’s whistles, sporadic shouts from upwards of 45 adults on the field every hour, and the glare of sports lights until 11 pm have combined to severely restrict Soliman’s peaceful enjoyment of her property and have negatively impacted her ability to sleep. When the Board’s counsel sought to clarify the distance between Soliman’s home and the field, she responded: “3.5 metres to the track and approximately 7 metres from the side of the house to the soccer nets.”

In presenting the Board’s case on appeal, Chrystal asserted that the Immaculata field should be treated equitably, just like the lit artificial turf sports fields at the Minto Recreation Complex in Barrhaven, and the Matt Anthony field at the University of Ottawa (U of O) Sports Complex. In response, the City’s lawyer entered into evidence land title documents that show that residents who purchased next to the new field in Barrhaven had to acknowledge a covenant on title that advised that there may be late-night sports activities adjacent to their properties. By contrast, the long-established neighbourhood surrounding Immaculata was constructed years before the school took ownership, and residents had no such forewarning. Under questioning from the Board’s counsel, City planning staffer James explained that whereas “zoning is a blunt instrument,” site plans “finely integrate” the zoning with surrounding land uses and help to ensure that any land use co-exists with surrounding properties without causing “undue adverse impacts.” In his opinion, “turning out the lights,” at Immaculata, “would help with compatibility,” between the operations of the OF7s and the abutting residential neighbourhood.

In his closing remarks, the City’s lawyer emphasized that throughout the lengthy day of evidence presented, not once did the OCSB suggest, “that the concerns expressed by Ms. Soliman are not real.”

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