Civic hospital campus approaching last hurdles in approval process

·3 min read
A future Civic campus for the Ottawa Hospital, is seen here with more residential towers at Preston and Carling than currently exist. The hospital sees building onto Carling Avenue with space for researchers and medical education. (The Ottawa Hospital - image credit)
A future Civic campus for the Ottawa Hospital, is seen here with more residential towers at Preston and Carling than currently exist. The hospital sees building onto Carling Avenue with space for researchers and medical education. (The Ottawa Hospital - image credit)

All of the biggest debates around the new Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital are expected to be settled by mid-October.

City of Ottawa staff are set to present their report on the master plan for the hospital to Ottawa's planning committee on Oct. 1. That plan will then go to council Oct. 13.

The master site plan lays out how the $2.8-billion hospital will look and function within the community. It's set to be built on an escarpment near Dow's Lake, a location selected in 2016.

In these past five years, residents have raised numerous concerns, however — 39 different ones are listed in the report — on everything from the site itself, traffic increases, tree removal, pedestrian and cyclist access and heritage site preservation.

But in their report, city staff recommend the planning committee approve the plan, saying these concerns have all been "thoughtfully considered and designed for."

Karen Wright, president of the Civic Hospital Neighbourhood Association, says that's mainly true.

Throughout the summer, many public consultations were held and the plan was adapted, Wright said. The number of trees being felled for the project was reduced, and Wright said she was glad to see traffic calming studies are now part of the plan for her neighbourhood.

The changes are, however, are "one step shy" of what's actually needed, Wright said.

The Ottawa Hospital
The Ottawa Hospital

LRT and above-ground parking garage remain concerns

One issue that remains is a four-storey above-ground parking garage, slated to be built on Queen Juliana Park. Construction on the garage would also include landscaping on its roof to replace the lost green space.

"It had long been promised to the community, with respect to that green space, the parking would be underground," Wright said.

But the cost to bury the garage is around $250 million, said Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, and no one's offering to pay.

The above-ground garage will also cut off a popular cycling route, Leiper said. And while the rooftop park might be embraced by staff and hospital visitors, the public likely won't use it the same way they do now.

"It seems experimental. And that's a bit disconcerting, because if the experiment fails, you've lost a very large swath of green space," Wright said.

The plan says making the park inviting to the public will be worked out at a later date — as will how the hospital connects to a future LRT station at Dow's Lake.

Wright and Leiper want to ensure the connection will be convenient enough that staff and visitors will use it and not overwhelm the available parking.

Ahmar Khan/CBC News
Ahmar Khan/CBC News

Councillor to vote against plan as is

Leiper, who is on the planning committee, told CBC he'd vote against the plan unless his worries around the garage and the LRT connection can be resolved.

In comments collected in the city's report, Leiper urged his colleagues to use their power to push for a better solution. Even so, he said he's fairly certain councillors without a local stake in the project will push it through because of the cost of burying the garage.

Planning committee is expected to do two things Oct. 1: review the site plan and lift what's called a "holding provision" on the planning.

Typically, site plans do not need to go through council; once the area is zoned for a project, city staff handle approvals from there.

However, this project is one of the city's largest, so when zoning was approved in 2018 council added the condition that the plan return to council at this stage.

City staff recommend that once council nails down the master plan, the major issues will have been resolved and approval authority can be returned to them.

Councillors can opt to have phases of the decades-long project sent back to planning committee for more debate, however, as they come up.

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