Opinion – The Sage of the Deschâtelets Building Zone Appeal

Ron Rose

A “saga” can be defined as a heroic story involving many unexpected challenges. It’s a word that aptly describes the struggle by the Old Ottawa East Community Association (OOECA) to appeal planning and zoning decisions made by the City of Ottawa a little more than a year ago. The Mainstreeter has published several news stories about aspects of this legal battle, but my intent is to detail the unexpected challenges and obstacles OOECA and the community had to face in overturning these rulings.

The community association was initially surprised when planners working for the Regional Group, the developer of Greystone Village, alleged there was an “anomaly” in the Community Design Plan that had been created between 2005 and 2011 and set out, among other things, the maximum heights allowed for each area of Old Ottawa East.

Those involved within the community believed that the CDP clearly specified that building heights permitted between Main Street and the historic Deschâtelets Building could not exceed six stories. However, the developer argued that ambiguity caused by this “anomaly” meant that buildings of up to nine stories could be built in front of the Deschâtelets Building. It was at this point that the developer introduced a design for a nine storey building which was referred to as building 2B.

OOECA argued that there was a simple way to rectify any ambiguity, while adhering to the spirit of the CDP. City of Ottawa planners, faced with a choice to recommend acceptance of the developer’s interpretation or OOECA’s proposal, which would restore the height limits set out in the CDP, opted to support the developer’s interpretation. As a result, the community association began its battle aligned against both the developer and the City.

On July 6th, 2019, City Council agreed to two changes that would allow taller buildings in front of the Deschâtelets Building. At that point, OOECA decided to appeal. One of the consequences of the appeals was that the City could not issue a building permit for the construction of the proposed building 2B while it was subject to an appeal.

The first hurdle came when we were informed we had only 30 days to file an appeal with the provincial Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT). That left scant time to learn what was required to file an appeal and to then develop the necessary arguments and documents. However, members of the OOECA, assisted by members of other community associations, ramped up to prepare the appeal with Monica Helm offering to compile the numerous documents to be submitted to LPAT. Thanks to the concerted efforts by many who volunteered to help formulate the arguments and compile documents in a form acceptable to the LPAT, the August 6th filing deadline was met.

The OOECA had some funds to pay the costs of the appeals, but not nearly enough. We learned that other planning appeals within Ottawa had cost in excess of $100,000.00, and we recognized that we needed to raise additional funds. Heather Jarrett stepped up and organized a fundraising campaign, which featured the sale of green t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “RESPECT APPROVED PLANS”. These t-shirts have been featured in previous issues of The Mainstreeter. She also organized a GoFundMe campaign, which has generated income for the appeals.

September presented additional unexpected twists. First, the province changed the legislation governing appeals to the LPAT, implementing Bill 108, which governed the community’s appeals. Second, the new legislation changed the basis and the grounds for the filing of an appeal, which required OOECA to resubmit the two appeals. Under the new law, we had only 20 days in which to refile.

At this point, OOECA hired a planning lawyer, Kristi Ross, a resident of Old Ottawa East who was both qualified and experienced in municipal planning appeals. She was able to guide the community association through the complexities of the new legislation and prepare two new appeals under the new format, all within the narrow deadline.

The breakthrough in settling the appeals came in December when David Kardish, one of the principals of Regional Group, reached out informally to the community to assess possible interest in a negotiated settlement. The OOECA agreed to a discussion and following a positive meeting, both sides drew up an agreed Minutes of Settlement which included, among other items, a reduction from nine to eight storeys for the contentious building 2B, an agreement to limit building heights directly in front of the Deschâtelets Building to four storeys, and an agreement that any buildings constructed behind the Deschâtelets building, including their permitted rooftop projections, would not be visible from Main Street.

The negotiated settlement was a victory for all concerned, as it would allow Regional to proceed with the construction of building 2B, and, while it did not give the community association the height reduction it desired for 2B, it did provide certainty for the heights of any other buildings on the site.

The agreement was sent to the City, which endorsed it, and it was sent along to the LPAT for a settlement conference at which all parties would agree, and the appeal would be settled. That would allow the City to issue a building permit, and permit construction on building 2B to begin.

However, COVID-19 shut down a wide range of government activities, including hearings, so the settlement conference scheduled for April 9th was postponed indefinitely. Eventually, the LPAT agreed to a telephone conference on June 18th, at which all parties agreed to the measures outlined in the Minutes of Settlement. Fully 11 months after the City made its initial decisions, the appeal was settled.

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Filed in: Editorial, Front Page

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