Friday, April 24, 2009

Shut It Down !
Councillor Diane Deans would like to know what can be done to abolish the Ontario Municipal Board. So would Citizen Ellie !
Councillor Deans is looking at it from the city's perspective -- the city having just spent nearly $1 million on a seven-week hearing on a Manotick residential development, in addition to the costs attached to having been involved in some 37 OMB hearings over the past two years.
Citizen Ellie looks at the OMB process from a personal perspective and it's a salutory tale for anyone contemplating renovating their house or severing their property or doing anything else which involves public consultation -- especially with neighbors.
Details of this case can be found in the OMB reports -- Board Case No. PL060247, Raynor et al.v. Dunn.
In October, 2005, as I carried the 40th. large brown paper bag of leaves out to the street for composting pickup, I came to the conclusion there was no joy anymore in maintaining the large New Edinburgh garden at my Dufferin Road house. Too much work for one person.
My house fronted on Dufferin Road, about 20 feet back from the sidewalk. The lot on which it stood was 175 feet in length -- running through to The Mews, which is a public street. It was zoned R-5 and the historical overlay which applies to a certain section of New Edinburgh did not apply in my situation.
I knew that if I sold the property, a developer would pick it up and build townhouses. Indeed, I could have applied for a demolition permit for the existing house, and built a low-rise six to eight unit loft-style condo on the site, with herringbone parking in the basement -- access from Dufferin Road and exit on The Mews. Knowing what I know now, I'm sorry I didn't take this route, but hindsight, as they say.......
Why should someone else make money out of this property ? I came up with a plan to sever it into two lots and build a single-family home on the rear lot which would front on The Mews. I would mortgage the Duffferin Road house to fund the cost of building the new one, sell the old one and use the money from the sale to pay off the mortgage. I would move into the new house, mortgage-free.
I retained the services of an urban planner, a surveyor and an architect. By February 2006, we were ready to appear before the city's committee of adjustment to seek some minor variances in order to move forward with the project. In the meantime, I met with Councillor Jacques Legendre, who indicated it was the type of infill project the city liked to see. I met with the New Edinburgh Community Alliance and received a letter of approval from them. And I invited all the neighbors living within the radius set by the city for objections to an open house where they could view the plan, and speak to both the architect and the urban planner. As a result of these efforts, some changes were made to the design of the house at the suggestion of neighbors who would be most impacted.
We appeared before the Committee of Adjustment on February 14, 2006. Surprise, surprise -- there were two objectors. One, Mr. R, owned a small townhouse in which he did not live , on a tiny lot on The Mews immediately adjacent to my property. The other, Mrs. C, resided in a half-double on MacKay Street, barely within the objectors' radius. She would have had to be a contortionist in order to see into my garden from the windows of her house.
Mr. R made a fuss about not being informed of my plans in advance. He initially tried to pass himself off as living in the townhouse, but had to admit it was an income property and that he was living somewhere else. Thus he never received the notices from the city or the hand-delivered invitation to my open house nor had he seen the signs posted by the city. He was concerned about shade and was not interested in any comprimises. Mrs. C had the idea that I should maintain a park and garden on my private property for her personal enjoyment. She felt the single family home which I planned to build would destroy the "character" of The Mews -- hard to understand since every other lot on the street was occupied by townhouses with garages in front, an old bakery converted into a residence, a private school and a church.
The Committee of Adjustment granted the variances. You might think I was good to go -- but no, objectors have one month to decide if they're going to appeal to the OMB. At the end of March 2006, I learned that Mr R and Mrs. C were going to the OMB. The hearing was slated for July.
We went through two days of hearings where we heard a load of bumph about lot size, sun and shade, country charm of streetscape etc. from the objectors -- neither of whom was represented by counsel, neither of whom had engaged any experts, neither of whom submitted any documentary evidence, relying primarily on their own opinions.
The Board, in its decision rendered in August 2006, concluded that my project met the statutory criteria, maintaining the purpose and intent of the Provincial Policy Statement and the relevant Official Plan (City and Regional) as they relate to intensification. "If owners fall within the parameters established by Sections 51(24) and 45(1), then they may proceed with their development, regardless of their neighbour's attachment to the "country charm" of the streetscape," the Board concluded.
This little exercise in public consultation gone mad cost the objectors $125.00 to file their appeals. I, on the other hand, was out of pocket some $32,000.00 in professional fees ( counsel, urban planner, architect in attendance for two days on a matter which should have been disposed of in half a day). I lost my spot in the custom home builder's queue, so I was forced to delay construction until the spring of 2007. In the meantime, cost of building materials increased as did the city's development fees. I estimate these additional costs at approximately $60,000 above what I would have spent if I had built the house in 2006 as originally planned. In addition, delaying construction until 2007 also meant that instead of putting my Dufferin Road house on the market in the fall of 2006 when the housing market was still hot, I had to wait a year. The market cooldown cost me approximately $70,000 in the sale value of the Dufferin Road house. So thanks to having to defend against a frivolous appeal to the OMB I kissed $150,000 goodbye ! No laughing matter for a widow with limited means and a very small development project.
This is why I think the OMB should be abolished. It is too easy for individuals to use frivolous appeals to delay projects, or to bankrupt the project's proponent through additional costs which might result in cancellation of the project. Once a decision on a development project has been reached by the Committee of Adjustment, that should be it. No appeals. This is the way it works in other jurisdictions. For example, if I had been pursuing the same project in a Saskatchewan city, I would have had my approvals and go-ahead within six weeks of filing with the municipality.
If the OMB is to continue operating as a quasi-judicial body, it should be allowed to award costs in cases where individuals bring forward appeals which have no merit and are designed only to harass and cause delays. I could have sought damages against Mr. R and Mrs. C in court. This, however, is another expensive process -- well beyond the means of the ordinary citizen, but I wish some large developer with deep pockets would take on a case.
In situations such as mine, it pits neighbor against neighbor resulting in resentments which last for years. On the day the OMB decision was handed down, Mr. R put his townhouse on the market. He's gone. Mrs. C is still around and every time I see her, I want to puke ! Was it Oscar Wilde who said revenge is a dish best eaten cold ?
New posts on Fridays

Friday, April 17, 2009

Who Gets What ?
The stadium issue will be debated by City Council next week. Most Ottawans support the notion that the nation's capital should have an outdoor stadium. At the same time, they're concerned about the costs. That's why getting the best deal for the taxpayers should be the first and only consideration in council's collective mind.
City land -- land that's owned by you and me -- is involved in both proposals. Lansdowne Park is wholly-owned by the city, and a good portion of the land adjacent to Scotiabank Place where the Senators Sports and Entertainment group wants to build its stadium/hotel/retail complex is city-owned as well.
Citizen Ellie had the opportunity over the Easter weekend to discuss the stadium/Lansdowne Park redevelopment issue with someone who is a professional quantity surveyor and who spent 40 years assembling land and developing large supermarket/shopping mall complexes, albeit in the United Kingdom.
This discussion got Citizen Ellie to wondering if the city has obtained a proper independent appraisal/evaluation of its landholdings. If it hasn't, and council doesn't have this information, then council will be deliberating from a position of weakness. What is Lansdowne Park really worth as a piece of real estate ? What is the land at Scotiabank Place really worth as a piece of real estate ? What is Lynx Stadium really worth as a piece of real estate ? What is the Bayview Yard really worth as a piece of real estate ? Shouldn't the city expect to get best value when selling off its real estate assets, entering into long-term leases, or swapping land ? There's got to be some benefit to the taxpayers in these arrangements.
Citizen Ellie's expert says they key (regardless of whether the city ends up dealing with the Lansdowne Live group or Senators Sports and Entertainment or some other group not yet in the picture) is for the city to get its fair share of the profit which the developers reap from the project . This could come to the city in either the form of cash or as a share of the rents (approximately
25%) generated by the retail operations.
He notes there are major commercial elements in both proposals which will benefit the developers, but the taxpayers are expected to foot the bill for the goodies -- i.e. the stadium. He also notes that nothing has been put out to tender; that both proposals were unsolicited; and neither developer has openly stated what they expect to get out of it. These guys didn't get rich by not doing their sums. They didn't spend money developing their proposals out of the goodness of their hearts.
He asks this question in regard to the Senators Sports and Entertainment proposal: why doesn't the city insist that the retail is built on its land with Eugene Melnyk building the stadium he wants for professional soccer on his land ? There has to be a reason why just the opposite has been proposed. Could it be that if the stadium is on city land and is owned by the city, the city (i.e. you and me, the taxpayers) would have to eat the losses if professional soccer isn't successful ?
What goes into figuring out what the city should be looking for ? There's a piece of software widely used in the UK -- "Development Valuer" -- which probably has its North American equivalent. It's relatively simple to punch in the numbers -- size of the income-producing letable area, cost of development, rental costs per square foot, potential yield. But there are also reputable appraisers expert at doing this, and while Citizen Ellie has reservations about council's love affair with outside consultants, this is one occasion where paying for an independent appraisal is probably a hugely sensible idea.
There is no need for council to rush to judgement on the stadium issue. Professional soccer isn't panting to come to Ottawa. And as Canadian cities aren't beating down its doors demanding franchises, the CFL would probably give Ottawa a franchise at any time. Cool heads and clear thinking are what's required. Citizen Ellie is all for public/private partnerships -- as long as the public part of the partnership is getting its fair share of the profits generated through the deal.
P.S. Citizen Ellie thinks a dome at Lynx Stadium is a great idea. The indoor driving range at the Bearbrook Road dome is always packed throughout the winter and there's space for indoor soccer as well. Why not enter into a public-private partnership and generate some revenue which, if nothing else, would pay for the upkeep of the facility until such time as a decision is made as to its long-term future. Please .... don't let it go the way of Frank Clair Stadium. Get some bucks out of it.
New posts on Fridays

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hope Springs Eternal....
Good news this week. The city may be able to reach a settlement in the light rail lawsuit which, if it goes to court, could end up costing taxpayers close to half a billion bucks in damages, professional and legal fees etc. etc. etc.
Mitigation of damages in this case reportedly depends on the city's willingness to allow Siemans and St. Mary's Cement to build the north-south portion of the new transit plan. You will remember that Siemans and St. Mary's Cement had signed contracts to build the north-south portion of the old transit plan. Cancellation of these contracts -- after Transport Minister John Baird pulled the feds' share of the costs -- resulted in the lawsuit.
Lawsuits are frequently settled out of court. The negotiations are usually very sensitive, held behind closed doors, not in front of the TV cameras or on the front pages of the daily newspaper.
There's a considerable degree of similarity between this type of negotiation involving plaintiffs and defendants in a civil action and negotiation between management and union during a strike situation. In either situation, loose lips can sink ships !
The city is the defendant in the LRT lawsuit. Thus it behooves councillors to behave in a manner appropriate to defendants in such a situation. This means all must sing from the same page in the songbook.
Unfortunately Councillor Clive Doucet seems can't seem to find the songbook, let alone the correct page. He thinks all the details regarding any possible settlement offers should be released to council -- presumably so he can be front and centre of the debate.
Councillor Doucet has accused other councillors -- Alex Cullen (who chairs the Transportation Committee), Jacques Legendre, Marianne Wilkinson, Doug Thompson and Gord Hunter-- of muzzling city solicitor Rick O'Connor.
Councillors Cullen, Legendre, Wilkinson, Thompson and Hunter have it right. As Councillor Cullen said: council should tread carefully when pursuing this issue.
Councillor Doucet should let the city's legal department do its job without him second-guessing, interfering or otherwise injecting himself into a very delicate situation. But why should we be surprised ? He wasn't a team player during the sensitive bus strike negotiations, going public and breaking ranks with the other members of council. So why should we expect him to put a zipper on his mouth during the LRT lawsuit settlement discussions ?
The man likes to see his name in the paper. Any opportunity will do -- even though it might result in a disaster for the city. A disaster in this case would be the plaintiffs walking away from settlement discussions and demanding their day in court. The political process is no way to resolve this legal issue.
It's rumored that Councillor Doucet wants to be mayor. What a horrible thought !
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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Lansdowne Park Redux
Earl McRae had a great trip down the Lansdowne Park memory lane in this morning's Ottawa SUN.
Brought back a lot of memories for Citizen Ellie.
A life-long love affair with motorsports, especially stock- car racing , was kindled back in the 1950s -- high school days when there wasn't much for teens to do in Ottawa. When stock-car racing came to Lansdowne Park, it was new, it was loud, it had an aura of danger about it, it was cheap entertainment and above all, it was fun.
It was short-track racing on a half-mile oval inside the football stadium. Stock-car racing was just getting off the ground in Canada at that time -- and for car-obsessed teens, it became a way of life on Wednesday nights during the summer months.
But like all good things, it had to come to an end. The burghers of the Glebe were more successful in eliminating stock-car racing from Lansdowne Park than they've been in their efforts to get rid of the Ex and other entertainments which they don't like. The Capital City Speedway was built and stock-car racing moved to the outskirts of town. Citizen Ellie gets her fix at the NASCAR weekend in August at Watkins Glen -- camping in the infield, deep-fried turkey legs -- can't wait for it ! Citizen Ellie has also made the pilgrimage to Daytona, the great shrine of all things stock-car, attending speed weeks in 2005. But if there'd been no stock-car racing at Lansdowne Park.....
Citizen Ellie used to take her kids to the outdoor wrestling cards at Lansdowne Park. Again, it was fun and it was cheap family entertainment. This was in the days before Vince McMahon and the WWE. We saw Hulk Hogan, Mad Dog Vachon and his brothers, Classy Freddy Vlassy, Jesse "The Body" Ventura among others.
Then there was the "liberation" of the press box at Rough Rider games. It's very common today to see women reporters and broadcasters covering professional sports. But it wasn't common at all back in the 1960s and 1970s when Citizen Ellie was making a career in journalism. In fact, it was unheard of. Press boxes in hockey arenas and football stadiums were a male preserve and the male sportswriters of the day were bound and determined that it would stay that way. Women could not possibly do locker room interviews. A cunning ploy to prevent women from making inroads into newspaper, radio and television sports departments.
Citizen Ellie hoped her newspaper would take up the cause and assign her to cover a Rough Riders game. When the news broke that United Press International had assigned Susan Riesler to cover a game, and that Susan's employer expected her to be seated in the press box like any other sportwriter, the foaming at the mouth, particularly on the part of local radio sports directors was something to hear. Citizen Ellie had the opportunity to write about this for her newspaper's editorial page. The sky didn't fall. The world didn't come to an end. Susan was the first and we were proud.
67s hockey is a Citizen Ellie passion -- season ticket holder since 1997. Watched our boys win the Memorial Cup in 1998. Took in the recent World Junior Hockey Championship series -- games at Scotia Bank Place and the Civic Centre. More memories. Including seeing wrestler Bret Hart at the Memorial Cup final -- at the time he didn't know his brother had just died in a wrestling accident in the U-S.
Now we have Councillor Clive Doucet wanting to tear the whole place down. This is a man who ought to, but doesn't seem to, understand that Ottawa would never have hosted the World Juniors if we had not had the two venues -- the Civic Centre and Scotia Bank Place. This tournament brought millions of dollars into the city as well as providing TV exposure for the city which it could never afford to buy -- except maybe in somebody's dreams.
Councillor Doucet wants to turn Lansdowne Park into green space. He wants to spend ratepayers' dollars on an international design competition. What an insult to the Lansdowne Live proponents and the Melnyk group! Does he not think Ottawa people are good enough to design something spectacular ? No wonder Roger Greenberg and Cyril Leeder are dismayed.
Citizen Ellie hopes that Councillor Doucet's plan for green space does not include the razing of the Aberdeen Pavillion. She would be mightily displeased as she was one of hundreds of Ottawans who contributed money to the restoration of this historic building. It is one of only two buildings built on the London World's Fair Crystal Palace design remaining in existance in entire North America.
In his desire for green space, Councillor Doucet joins the rest of the Glebe hoity-toits who view hockey, football, trade shows and the Ex as entertainment for the "common" folk -- people who think Don Cherry is a great Canadian and spend their Sunday afternoons watching sports on TV rather than attending lectures on recycling kitchen waste; people who prefer beer and nachos over chardonnay and melted goat cheese on crackers. Not the sort Glebites want in their neighborhood.
Councillor Doucet and his constituents should remember that Lansdowne Park belongs to ALL the citizens of Ottawa. Green space, while nice to look at, doesn't bring revenue to the city. It doesn't add to the tax base -- something which would result from a commercial/residential/entertainment complex such as that proposed by the Lansdowne Live group.
If only city councillors weren't obsessed with a transit plan dependent on an expensive LRT system instead of cheaper buses running on surface routes.......
If only city councillors weren't obsessed with building a monument to themselves in the form of an expensive LRT tunnel through the downtown core.....
If only Transport Minister John Baird hadn't withdrawn federal funding from the initial transit plan.....
If only city council hadn't acted in such a fashion to bring on millions of dollars in lawsuits from Siemans and St. Mary's Cement.....
If only city council hadn't squandered the dowries brought into amalgamation by the municipalities which had surpluses and balanced budets.....
If only the city's reserve funds hadn't been wasted.....
If only council members were forward-thinking, understood the big picture and had the balls to tell ratepayers the truth about the city's finances.....
If only the city had done what every other property owner is expected to do --repair and maintain what they own.....
Then maybe Lansdowne Park wouldn't be in the shape it's in today and money would be available for many things.
In The Bear's Den....
Scene: the bears are gathered in the Bear's Den (otherwise known as Citizen Ellie's bedroom).
Growler (the oldest) is wearing a Winston Cup Daytona 500 baseball cap and a set of National Guard dogtags. Jake is wearing a grey sweatshirt, his name embroidered on the front. Alexander is decked out in a blue plaid kimono and matching blue slippers. Leon and Nathaniel are dozing --hibernation not quite over. Earnhart, Fireball Roberts and J. D. McDuffie are reading aloud to each other from Jeff MacGregor's "Sunday Money". Growler, Jake and Alexander are watching the News at Six with Max and Carol Anne on CJOH. It is Monday, April 6, 2009.
Jake: Holy Toledo, Growler! Is that who I think it is ?
Alexander: What's he doing on a picket line at Tunney's Pasture ?
Jake: He's wearing a swell-looking jacket. What's that logo on the back ?
Alexander: Who are those people and why are they picketing ? Why is he with them ? Tell us, Growler. You know everything.
Growler: You were right, Jake. It's Councillor Alex Cullen. By holding up a large Service Employees International Union banner, he's demonstrating to all and sundry that he's a true friend of organized labor. This picket line is supporting four janitors who claim they've been fired because of union activity. They want their jobs back and they have a case going to the Ontario Labor Relations Board.
Jake: What about the jacket ? Could I get one like that ?
Growler: Not unless you were elected to City Council. Not a bad idea -- couldn't be worse than what's there now. Councillor Cullen is wearing his corporate outfit -- a jacket with the City of Ottawa logo on the back. Kinda like those "FBI" or "Police" jackets the SWAT teams wear. The mayor has one. Probably all the councillors have them. It's so they can be recognized by Joe and Jane Public as VIP elected officials. As for what he's doing there -- it's simple. He wants to be mayor and this is a photo op.
Jake: Does that mean he'll be on TV every night ?
Growler: I surely hope not, especially since I personally prefer Greta Von Susteren. But I'm not optimistic. Political candidates never miss out on a chance to get their mugs before the public.
Alexander:It's interesting that he just happened to be there when the CTV camera crew came along. Do you think he might have set it up ?
Growler: I don't believe in coincidences. We're in for a long haul, boys. The election is well over a year away and this guy's campaigning already. Let's look on the bright side. Maybe he'll overexpose himself so that by the time the voters get to the ballot box they won't want four more years of him.
Jake: Pass me the remote. I'll see if I can find Greta. In the meantime, what are we going to do about that Randy Hillier and his campaign to bring back the spring bear hunt.....
New posts on Fridays (usually)

Friday, April 3, 2009

They're Off.......
Somebody please say it isn't so. There could be a by-election for the mayor's position if Larry O'Brien is found guilty of the charges against him which will be heard in a trial set for early May.
Another costly burden to be borne by Ottawa's already tapped-out ratepayers. A by-election is likely a sure thing given the fact so many City Council members are either publicly or privately lusting after the mayor's chair -- meaning there won't be a consensus on appointment from within to fill out this term which mercifully will end in 19 months.
Councillor Alex Cullen has made no secret of his ambition. While watching a CJOH item on the new OC Transpo double-decker buses earlier this week, Citizen Ellie noted that Councillor Cullen shifted his position a couple of times -- all the better to get his mug on TV at Mayor Larry's right shoulder. That was the same day Mayor Larry announced he intended to seek re-election. The very next day, Councillor Cullen announced he would be running for mayor, whenever the job comes open.
Mayor Larry does not appear to be worried about the pending trial. The smart money in this town says a) the charges against him will be withdrawn or b) he'll be acquitted.
Should Mayor Larry be convicted, common sense would dictate an interim appointment from within to avoid the cost of an election. Unfortunately common sense has been in short supply in the council chamber and this is bad news for Ottawa taxpayers. By-elections cost big bucks -- dollars which could be better spent on other things.
Councillor Cullen has staked out his position. Can Councillors Hume, Doucet, Chiarelli and Deans be far behind ? The city's business will grind to a halt as the politicking commences -- but will anyone really notice, given the circus on Laurier Ave. to which we've become accustomed ? Occupying the mayor's chair on an interim basis might give somebody a leg-up when the real election comes around in November 2010, but being the incumbent doesn't necessarily guarantee re-election. Just ask Bob Chiarelli.
The real election, the one in November 2010, promises to be extremely interesting. If not in the hoosegow, Mayor Larry will run again. Several councillors will consider running, and some will withdraw -- not Councillor Cullen. Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson is denying rumors that he will have a go -- but don't count him out, especially if a change of government in Ontario might be in the cards in 2011. Probably more fun to be the mayor of the nation's capital than sitting on the opposition benches in the Ontario legislature.
None of these putative mayors stand a chance in 2010 if the Francophone community puts forward one of its own as a candidate. There's talk that Ottawa-Vanier MP, Hon. Mauril Belanger, might be persuaded to carry the flag. He's well-known and respected in the community and he's had experience at the municipal level, albeit in a non-elected capacity. If the Harper government goes down to defeat and Iggy succeeds as Prime Minister, having the Hon. Mauril in the mayor's chair could very well be a boon for the city.
Among other things, the Francophone community is not happy with the progress of bilingualism at City Hall. They know how to organize. And they know how to win. Think back to hospital restructuring the the late 1990s and the "Save the Montfort" campaign.
Pierre Benoit was the last Francophone to occupy the mayor's chair. The time is ripe for a credible candidate from this community. And there would be support from other quarters. ABCC (Anybody But Current Councillors) is a phrase which will be heard more often as the real election ( 2010) draws nigh. In the meantime, let them dream of being measured for new robes.
New posts on Fridays