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Council approves next step in Lansdowne 2.0 project

City councillors have voted in favour of starting the next phase of redevelopment at Lansdowne Park, bringing the city one step closer to a new arena, new stands at the stadium, and three new high-rises.

A lengthy debate on the $332.5-million proposal from the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) ended with a vote of 17 to 7 in favour of starting work on a plan to see the north side stands at TD Place and the Civic Centre demolished and rebuilt, and three towers added to the site to provide a mixture of 1,200 condos and rental units with at least 120 affordable housing units.

The Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) says the north side stands and the Civic Centre are functionally obsolete and need to be replaced.

City staff stressed that what council was voting on Wednesday was a move to spend $8 million to advance the design, engage in public consultations and continue project staffing through the next phase.

“The approvals that staff are recommending today do not bind this or future councils of moving forward with the proposal,” city solicitor David White said.

General Manager of planning, infrastructure and economic development, Stephen Willis, noted that this council is not signing a contract.

"We are in no contractual obligations with OSEG right now with respect to the proposal before you," he explained. "The $8 million would be the only sunk cost if the next council says stop. We won't have to break a contract because no contract will exist for the subsequent stages because we will not have council approval to enter into any contract until the next term."

However, Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard attempted to delay the vote until the next council is sworn in after the Oct. 24 election.

“What is being proposed to us right now is significant approvals. This would approve the financial strategy and the business model. It would approve and delegate the authority of the city manager to renegotiate the terms and conditions of the partnership. It approves a $332.5 million budget authority. It spends the $8 million. It approves the affordable housing target of 10 per cent. It approves the next steps in the redevelopment of the urban park and public realm,” Menard told council. “This is putting the cart before the horse.”

Menard argued that this current term of council is fast approaching the so-called "lame duck" period, where expenditures are strictly limited because it’s close to an election. He also argued that many members of the current council, including the mayor, have indicated they will not be seeking re-election.

Coun. Scott Moffatt, who is not seeking re-election, noted that council is not yet in its "lame duck" period.

"We are all elected for four-year terms to do our jobs for four years," Moffatt said. "If the next term of council wishes to go in a different direction with Lansdowne, then so be it."

He said councils in the past have made decisions on Lansdowne in similar circumstances to the one this current council is facing.

"In fact, June of 2010, city council at that time decided to proceed with Lansdowne redevelopment and it was a decision that was not final. It was a decision that needed to be ratified by the next council," he said. "Of course, 11 members of that council did not return. They were well within their rights to make a decision in June 2010."

Mayor Jim Watson urged councillors to vote against Menard’s motion to defer the vote.

“The problem with Lansdowne over the last 35 years is successive councils over the years have refused to make bold decisions,” he said. “We have to move forward. This motion is very clear. It kills the project. There’s a small group of people who are passionate about wanting Lansdowne to fail. If this motion succeeds, I think our partners will rightfully walk away.”

The motion failed in a vote of 7 yeas to 15 nays. The vote result was later updated, with consent of council, to 8 yeas and 15 nays. Coun. Diane Deans's vote was not initially recorded because she was having issues with her internet, but she had asked Coun. Carol Anne Meehan to indicate her "yes" vote for the motion.

The $332-million plan known as "Lansdowne 2.0" would be funded from the sale of air rights, debt funding and some capital budget funding for internal costs. The city would borrow $239 million for the project.

Ottawa Tourism, the Ottawa Board of Trade, and the Glebe BIA expressed support for the plan.

However, Menard has criticized the plan for lacking in robust public consultation and has argued that it should be debated in the municipal election, which is being held in October.

The Federation of Citizen's Associations of Ottawa is also calling on the city to hold off on any decision about Lansdowne Park until after the Oct. 24 vote.

"The Federation of Citizen's Associations (FCA) strongly believes that there needs to be broad public consultation on this $330 million plan involving the City's 40 acre park that includes major city assets, including a stadium, arena, heritage buildings, and park space, as well as the commercial developments that Lansdowne 1.0 created,” said FCA president Alex Cullen.

OSEG’s timeline for the project calls for work on the Events Centre to begin this November. Work on the north-side stands and on the residential towers would begin in 2024.

A dozen motions were forward with regard to the massive project. The motions call for greater public engagement, exploring different heights for the residential towers, examining traffic congestion near the site and public transit options, making the grass-topped roof of the new events centre accessible to the public (under the current design, it is not, and staff say it would cost millions of additional dollars to make it so), and improving affordable housing at the site (currently, 10 per cent of units would be considered affordable housing under the current plan).

Most of the motions were carried unanimously, however a motion by Coun. Catherine McKenney, seconded by Menard, to double the minimum number of affordable housing units in the plan was defeated by a vote of 7 yeas to 17 nays.

The Lansdowne 2.0 report would have originally come before city council on May 25, but the meeting was cancelled amid cleanup from the May 21 storm that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people across the city.

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Josh Pringle. Top Stories

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