Making a Decision and Sticking to it: the Essence of Uncertainty

So the sad tale of the Mizrahi development in Wellington West continues*. The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) are getting pissy with the city. They don’t like the Ottawa’s official plan, nor the planning decisions that emanate from it, and they’re threatening to take the city to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB)*.

First, they don’t like that the plan isn’t the same as previous policies. Arguing, I would imagine, that democratically-elected representatives should not have the power to represent the interests of constituents:

The group said that the plan, adopted at the end of November, doesn’t give developers enough flexibility when it comes to the height and appearance of buildings.
“If you study the official plan, you’ll see that it’s quite different from the last couple,” said Dean Karakasis, executive director of BOMA Ottawa. “It’s very prescriptive.”

Well, that’s pretty understandable. The city is beginning to take planning and development seriously, enacting Community Design Plans (CDPs) and refraining from rubber-stamping any requests from developers to break them.

The argument is merit-less, but at least it is coherent. What is less coherent is the following claim:

“This won’t create certainty – this will create confusion,” he said.

According to Mr. Karakasis, the recent debate over a condo development on Wellington Street West that was rejected by the city’s planning committee despite widespread community support is a good example of how “sometimes you try and provide certainty, but it goes against what people want.”

First of all, there is little evidence that there widespread community support. The Wellington West Community Association was against it. Many residents wrote to their councilor arguing against it. What there was was a small number of people who attended a work day meeting of the planning committee who spoke in favour of it (and not all were members of the neighbourhood). Some of the speakers were only in favour of the proposal because they were worried the property would never be developed (Mizrahi now claims to be able to build an economically-feasible nine-storey building).

The CDP was developed through an extensive process that gave residents ample opportunity to contribute. It is far more reasonable to claim that there was widespread support for the CDP.

But since Mr. Karakasis claims the Wellington West saga demonstrates the uncertainty facing developers, let’s remember what actually went on:

  • Two years ago, the city instituted a CDP for Wellington West.
  • A year ago, Mizrahi bought the property on Island Park Drive knowing what was in the CDP (if they didn’t know, it makes the whole argument mute–they weren’t confused; they were oblivious).
  • Mizrahi made a proposal for a 12-storey tower.
  • The city rejected it, as it did not adhere to the nine-storey limit established by the CDP.
  • Mizrahi made a second proposal… for a 12-storey twoer
  • The city rejected it, as it did not adhere to the nine-storey limit established by the CDP.

Say what you will about the city’s decision, there was never really any confusion about their policy.

*I never want to write about this issue again.

**If this complaint goes through to the OMB, it will just be further evidence that the OMB needs to be abolished. Council is elected and Council is responsible and answerable to the residents. The OMB is not. It’s gross that they get to trample on democracy.

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