No proof City analyzed impact of Immaculata field changes

By John Dance

In response to a freedom of information (FOI) request from The Mainstreeter, the City of Ottawa provided no documentary evidence to show it analyzed whether the improvements made to the Immaculata High School playing field would, as required by its zoning by-laws, ensure that the uses of the field were “of a scale and intensity that is compatible with neighbourhood character.”

The improved field resulted from a deal between the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OSCB) and a private company, the Ottawa Footy Sevens. While the new turf field has been much appreciated by students, the intensive evening use by Ottawa Footy Sevens for its soccer operations continues to be aggravating and injurious to a number of residents closely bordering the field.

Of the 60 or so pages of documents discovered through the FOI request, roughly half of the pages were blank due to solicitor-client privilege or because they included “recommendations which reveal advice or recommendations of an officer or employee of the City or consultant retained by the City”.

Of the 30 or so pages containing actual information, 17 pages were already in the public domain and, indeed, one record was an email written by a resident questioning what the City was doing to ensure that the City’s bylaws were being enforced.

Only 5 of the remaining 13 pages contained information of a substantive nature – the other 8 pages were essentially content-free emails, like “Thanks Tim.”

When questioned about this lack of analysis pertaining to neighbourhood impact, Doug James, Manager of Development Review for the City, responded by email, “The property owner did not need rezoning to allow the use of the field by Footy Sevens and as such, could proceed as they did…”

But Mr. James was silent on whether any analysis of neighbourhood impact had been done, a silence made the more curious by virtue of the City having itself flagged the issue when an officer emailed the School Board stating, “The intensity of the use (more activity/programming) is a point your team will have to be prepared to speak to as well.”

Months later, through the site plan control process, the City received comments from residents on the community impacts of the Footy Sevens operation, and, says James, “As a result of this public consultation, [the City] tried to respond to these [comments] and mitigate the impacts on the surrounding community.”

The City’s belated response to residents was to approve restrictions on the use of evening lights. These restrictions were successfully appealed by OCSB to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal so that Ottawa Footy Sevens can continue their evening games until 11 p.m.

Given the failure of lighting restrictions, The Mainstreeter asked the City what it is planning to do to mitigate impacts. “As long as the activities on the field correspond to its permitted use, there is no violation of the Noise Bylaw,” says Roger Chapman, Director, Bylaw and Regulatory Services.

The commercial use of the Immaculata field has been, to date, tax free. At the October meeting of the Old Ottawa East Community Association, Councillor Shawn Menard noted that the preliminary response from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) was that taxes could not be collected, however, Menard has asked that this matter be more rigorously pursued by City staff.

According to Wendy Stephanson, the City’s Chief Financial Officer, MPAC is still in the process of reviewing the change to the Immaculata High School field and its possible municipal tax consequences.

The cost to The Mainstreeter for its FOI request to the City was $5. The Mainstreeter also made an FOI request to the OCSB but the school board required $764 to provide the information. As a result, The Mainstreeter didn’t pursue the request.

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