As a result of Coun. Egli’s principled arguments, together with his strategic lobbying of council colleagues and the voluminous support of area residents, Council today (Wed Jan 29) defeated by an unexpectedly large 17 – 5 vote a proposal to allow Dymon to build a storage warehouse at the corner of Baseline and Clyde.
Proposal not dead
This does NOT mean the proposal is dead. It means that should Dymon still wish to proceed, it must appeal this decision to a provincial arbiter, formerly known as the Ontario Municipal Board. Because the council decision meant it was rejecting the recommendation by the city’s planning department in favour of the proposal, the city will have an uphill battle to uphold the council vote.
More information on these next possible steps at the end of this article.
Of the 23 councillors plus mayor, two (Deans and Chiarelli) were absent due to health issues. All other councillors voted to reject the proposal, except for Harder, Tierney, Moffatt, Darouze and El-Chantiry.
The first three also endorsed the proposal at the planning committee; Hubley supported the proposal at planning committee but rejected it at council. The proposal had been approved at the planning committee by a vote of 4-3 (Lieper, Brockington and Gower opposed) with three members absent. (Coun. Egli is not a member of this committee, so although he was able to speak freely at that meeting, he did not have a vote.)
It is unusual for a planning committee decision to be rejected by the full council. But the arguments advanced by Coun. Egli, your Fisher Heights Community Association board (and two other adjacent community association boards), several members of the local business community and more than 50 individually written e-mails to Coun Egli from our community, supporting his position, served the councillor well in his winning widespread support from councillors.
Mayor on board
His success in winning the support of Mayor Watson was a turning point, for six other councillors, who tend to follow the Mayor’s lead on issues that do not directly involve their wards, all voted to reject. Without those seven votes, the proposal would have been approved.
Merivale Road a lost cause?
In his speech to Council, Coun Egli first recognized four members of the community association board who were in attendance. He then said a warehouse would “sterilize” the tip of the vacant Merivale Triangle lands by blocking more appropriate uses for the land in the future. A warehouse is not now allowed on the property, and to do so would result in a “fundamental change in the zoning and the character of the area.” Council would be saying, he said, that Merivale Road “is a lost cause. Merivale Road is NOT a lost cause.” This refers to longstanding and widespread opinion that Merivale Road (and Clyde Avenue) in this area is a lifestyle disaster – dedicated to vehicles, highly unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists, with wide swaths of asphalt, limited green space, and vastly underused in its capacity for housing.
At planning committee he said that he, and area residents, wanted “people to occupy the site, not people’s stuff.” At the council meeting he said residents did not approve use of the site as “condos of clutter.”
Warehouse would contradict the city’s stated intents
He quoted from two e-mails he received: one pointed out that the city plans a significant bus and cycling corridor along Baseline and Heron Roads in the next decade. As this property is adjacent to Baseline, and the city specifically encourages housing intensification of land usage along transit corridors, a warehouse would contradict the city’s stated intents. The writer said that any action to make Merivale “less dreadful” was welcome, and a warehouse was not the right step.
The other said the proposal must be rejected because decisions on this property will “set the pace” for “the type of community we want in that area,” that these decisions will be a “turning point.”
Harder reliable supporter of the development industry
Harder, who through her consistent voting record over her 20 years as a councillor has become a reliable supporter of the development industry, asked the city planner to explain the department’s support of the project, particularly the claim by opponents that the site was a “gateway” property and hence needed far more inclusive usage. In response to her leading questions, Douglas James stated that the Dymon sites on Carling at the Queensway, Carling west of Lincoln Fields, and Bank Street in South Keys were equally gateway sites, although his only rationale for the Queensway site was that it was a prominent building.
City planner blithely ignores arguments
One main argument by opponents of the project was that these other Dymon sites, and one on Greenbank Road near Hunt Club, were in fact significantly less important than the Baseline/Clyde property in setting good land use precedents for the city and in enforcing the intensification goals of the city. So it was discouraging to hear a senior city planner blithely ignore such arguments.
The next move is up to Dymon. As mentioned above, it can seek to continue with its plan by appealing the council decision to the provincial tribunal. The city’s senior planning lawyer said it is very difficult for a city to successfully defend rejection of a proposal if its own planning staff has endorsed it. If Dymon won at this level, it could proceed with its building.
“Giving back to the community”
Another option open to Dymon is to listen in good faith to the arguments presented in opposition, analyze them in conjunction with its corporate culture and community mindedness, and decide if it was in the best interests of the city of Ottawa to proceed.
In this regard, it is instructive to read Dymon’s website, which has a section devoted to “Charity and Community.” It begins “Dymon gives back,” and outlines the large number of charities, not for profits and fundraising events it supports in the Ottawa area. It also matches employee donations on a 1:1 basis and pays for registration fees or minimum personal donations required for employees to participate in fund-raising events.
Further, it outlines a longer-term goal of creating a Dymon Foundation, a “major corporate philanthropy goal” to “contribute 50 per cent of Dymon’s value creation over time back the community.” This could be done by a variety of means including building low-rent housing, it says.” This goal of pouring resources back into our community is what drives everything Dymon does as a company,” it says.
Given those laudable goals, one would think that Dymon should be open to arguments that a practical way it can “give back” to the community is by finding a less critical site for its warehouse and selling this land to a buyer who is committed to more constructive development there.