City council has signed off on a master site plan for The Ottawa Hospital’s new Civic campus, another hurdle now cleared in the hospital’s quest to get the $2.8-billion facility up and running for 2028.
By that time, the current Civic on Carling Avenue will be more than a century past its opening date. Hospital officials and affiliates have stressed the need for, and advantages of, a contemporary and cutting-edge regional hospital, and there seems to be little disagreement in that regard.
But the journey to Civic 2.0 hasn’t been a smooth one, with site selection controversy in the rearview, some lingering dissatisfaction over elements of the hospital’s plan, and debates yet to come on how, exactly, to link the hospital to the city’s light rail transit system, as well as other aspects of the site.
City staff recommended approving the master plan, concluding it demonstrated that transportation, parking, LRT access, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, built heritage and other matters “have been thoughtfully considered and designed for.” Some components will need further fine-tuning, staff said, as the hospital submits site plan control applications to implement the project’s various phases (the master plan currently outlines 10, stretching through 2048).
Council voted 19-4 in favour of approving the master plan, with councillors Jeff Leiper, Shawn Menard, Rawlson King and Catherine McKenney opposing.
“I think as a city we need to be asking for better in this case,” said Menard, sharing his belief that the plan fails to satisfy previous council-set conditions for approval at this stage, related to LRT integration and parking, and that there are better alternative concepts for the site’s footprint that would reduce the loss of trees and green space and improve the transit experience.
Stephen Willis, the GM of planning, infrastructure and economic development, said hospital architects did go through multiple site layout iterations, working with such considerations as necessary distance from a rail line to prevent possible interference with medical instruments, geotechnical issues and the protection of trees currently on the site.
“Our staff did challenge them on a regular basis, as did (National Capital Commission) staff, about their configuration, and they presented this as the best arrangement for the needs of the health-care provision in the facility,” said Willis.
The mayor, for his part, offered a rebuttal to nearly every argument that’s been made against the current hospital plan: the significant cost and other barriers associated with burying the planned parking garage; TOH’s commitments to green and public spaces, tree preservation and replanting five trees for every one removed; the need for onsite parking for hospital users; and the plan’s provisions for direct, weather-protected LRT connectivity, transportation monitoring and a demand management plan.
“I believe that after 14 years of planning, we are finally able to move this file forward and to help bring this new world-class hospital facility to Ottawa,” said Watson. He told fellow council members “there are municipalities across Ontario who would be happy to receive these coveted and scarce health-care dollars to build a hospital in their community.”
Ahead of planning committee’s vote on the master site plan earlier this month, TOH executive vice-president and chief planning and development officer Joanne Read was asked what would happen if it wasn’t endorsed immediately.
Read said she thought the project construction and completion timelines would be at risk, and was also concerned TOH wasn’t the only one “knocking on the door of the province” in terms of funding.
Committee members did temper their approval of the master site plan with directions to staff, instructing them to work with TOH on cycling infrastructure elements, tree planting, and a substantial reduction to surface parking.
Area councillor Leiper also won approval to require certain conditions of a neighbourhood traffic study, and that TOH fund recommended mitigation efforts from that study.
Staff were also directed to ensure the internal road network proposed for the new Civic can accommodate local transit services, and that site lighting meets certain conditions.
All council members, including Watson, endorsed a proposal from Coun. Riley Brockington to have Watson write to federal ministers, incoming Ottawa Centre MP Yasir Naqvi and the chair of the NCC’s board of directors on their behalf, requesting federal legislation to ensure long-term protection of remaining farm lands as well as a new master plan for the farm.
Naqvi did pledge during the election campaign to introduce a law to protect the farm, in perpetuity.
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