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NCC considering legal options following council's rejection of 'Embassy Row' plan in Mechanicsville

Residents oppose planned 'embassy row'

The National Capital Commission says it is considering legal options after Ottawa city council rejected a rezoning application to allow for several embassies to be built in Mechanicsville.

The proposal by the NCC would see green space in the area used for six new embassies that could each be three storeys tall. Residents of the area have been staunchly opposed to the idea, on the grounds of losing greenspace and also because of security concerns that come with embassies, such as protests and even the risk of terrorism.

The subject lands are located south of the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, between Slidell Street to the east and Forward Avenue to the west. The concept plan shows six potential buildings and a 3,600 square metre federal park. The land in question is owned by the NCC, but would require the city rezone the property to allow the buildings.

The city's planning committee approved the rezoning, but area councillor Jeff Leiper urged his council colleagues to protect the greenspace in the area.

"Our official plan calls for us to provide greenspace for rapidly intensifying neighbourhoods like Mechanicsville. It would be inappropriate to allow this embassy row proposal to move forward," he said. "I am asking that we be sensitive to the climate crisis we've declared and preserve this land as greenspace by rejecting this proposal by the NCC to turn it into a further extension of a concrete jungle."

The rejection appeared to be partly in response to struggles local councillors, especially those in the east end, have had with the federal agency that controls parcels of land around the national capital region.

"We've also been struggling with the NCC," Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney said. "Their mandate, in my view, is greenspace. I'm having a big struggle over the last 12 years trying to get the NCC to get on board where it will see their portfolio increasing greenspace… It's time for the NCC to starting working with the city."

Cumberland Coun. Catherine Kitts said she was "struck with the duplicity" of the proposal at planning committee.

"An application where the community is fighting for greenspace and yet, in the east end, we've spent years at an impasse with the NCC on a location of critical infrastructure, including a bus rapid transit corridor, with their resistance hinged on protecting greenspace," she said, adding that her vote against the project is meant to send "a clear message" to the NCC.

"The healthy growth of my community is under threat, so this cannot continue."

The NCC says the issues in the east end are unrelated to the proposed plan in Mechanicsville.

"By linking the rezoning application of lands identified in both federal and municipal plans as a site for future diplomatic missions, and supported by City planning staff, to the NCC’s unwillingness to cede environmentally sensitive lands in the Greenbelt near the protected Mer Bleu Bog to allow the City to build additional lanes for road infrastructure, City Council has contravened planning principles," said senior communications manager Valérie Dufour in a statement to CTV News. "The NCC will now be considering all of its legal options."

Dufour said the NCC has "long been supportive of improving transportation linkages in the eastern Greenbelt" and worked extensively and successfully with the City in 2013 on an agreed route next to the current Blackburn Hamlet Bypass.

"Unfortunately, the City decided not to proceed with the agreed alignment and undertook an assessment of new road options through NCC lands that were not the subject of any prior agreement with us. The NCC clearly communicated its concerns about the City’s preferred option, but, in the spirit of partnership and flexibility, offered to discuss ways in which two of the City’s alignment options could be considered. That offer was refused by the City."

Council voted 22 to 2 to reject the proposal, with couns. Scott Moffatt and Rick Chiarelli voting in favour of the proposal.

"I don't think that we want to start evaluating planning files based on other positions we have on other files in the city," Moffatt warned. "If you want a vote against this because you want an infrastructure file somewhere else in the city and you feel this is the way to get it, the Ontario Land Tribunal is going to disagree with you."

Mayor Jim Watson told reporters after the city council meeting that he voted against the project to protect the greenspace.

"I believe it's important for elected officials to protect greenspaces in downtown Ottawa. We don’t have many greenspaces here. This is actually a park used by the residents of Mechanicsville. This is why I voted against it," Watson said in French. "I think the NCC need to find somewhere else for these embassies." Top Stories

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