Merry Christmas, Ottawa

- December 19th, 2014

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Sun & The City will be rather quiet for the rest of 2014 as I step away from City Hall for vacation. Merry Christmas and have a safe holiday.

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Follow City Hall reporter Jon Willing on Twitter at @JonathanWilling and at ottawasun.com.

Other Arena Options That Aren’t LeBreton Flats

- December 16th, 2014

If the Ottawa Senators are really considering the possibility of building a new arena, it’s hard to imagine the organization would zero in solely on LeBreton Flats. Would it be fair to assume the club is looking at other locations, too?

First, the official comment from the Sens today:

“Senators Sports & Entertainment is continually reviewing both our short- and long-terms plans for the franchise including the NCC’s recent RFQ for LeBreton Flats. We have no further comments at this time.”

Ok. Let’s blue sky this anyway.

Let’s assume that if the Sens want to build a new arena, they would want it either near or directly at a light rail station. This is one reason why the Flats look so attractive. Sens president Cyril Leeder has referenced the importance of LRT before.

Let’s also assume that if the Sens want to build a new arena, they would focus their attention on the central region of Ottawa. How about we loosely define that as between Hwy. 416 and the Hwy. 417/147 split, and north of Hunt Club Rd.

The city’s short-term plan is to build out LRT to Place d’Orléans, Bayshore Shopping Centre and Algonquin College. But the only done deal right now is the Confederation Line LRT under construction between Tunney’s Pasture and Blair station. So let’s constrain our search to that line.

Tunney’s Pasture is a federal employment centre which the feds want to transform into a mixed-use complex. Hard to imagine an NHL arena would be part of that vision, especially considering the surrounding road network (which is also a downfall of the Flats option).

Bayview could be considered the most important station in the city since it’s at a rail junction. The city has a blueprint for its lands in a community design plan. The NCC owns the land a little farther to the east on the Flats. The city, however, is already putting the puzzle pieces together at Bayview Yards, starting with an innovation complex. Plus, there’s that issue about traffic access.

An arena at the stations through the core is hard to imagine, so let’s go over to the other side of downtown.

Eventually we land at Hurdman along the Rideau River. It’s a site I’ve heard a few people bring up just in casual discussions.

It’s sort of a hidden area for anyone who doesn’t take public transit, but the Transpo faithful will know Hurdman is a transit hub surrounded by broad open space. About 38 hectares is available for development around the future LRT station. Most of the land (some of it is a former dump, so requires remediation) is owned by the city or NCC. Council has approved a transit-orientated development plan for the site, complete with building heights and density targets.

The transit-orientated development vision for the land around Hurdman station (looking south across the Rideau River).

Hurdman is one public transit stop down from the Via Rail station and three stops from the Rideau Centre. There is Hwy. 417 access at Riverside Dr. and the highway is being widened in the area.

Could the Hurdman lands be a possible landing point for an arena?

All of this is gross simplification, of course. There would be vehicle access challenges to sort out, and a host of other issues: Traffic, parking structures, protecting riverside green space, the use of public land for a professional hockey team’s arena, any kind of future design competitions for the land and plugging an arena into an existing council-approved plan. And there must have been a reason the site wasn’t considered in this 2009 ranking of potential sports facility sites in Ottawa.

But if we talk about building a new NHL arena in Ottawa, we might as well talk about options, not just LeBreton Flats.

And if we want to talk about locating an arena along LRT, somewhere near the core, then the list is short.

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Follow City Hall reporter Jon Willing on Twitter at @JonathanWilling and at ottawasun.com.

Watson Takes A Pass On Some Boards

- December 11th, 2014

Mayor Jim Watson is easing up on the number of boards he sits on.

This term, Watson has decided he won’t sit on the boards of Ottawa police, Hydro Ottawa and the Shaw Centre. Instead, councillors Tim Tierney, Jan Harder and Mathieu Fleury will sit on those boards, respectively.

I checked in with the mayor’s office to find out why, particularly with regard to the police board.

“Mayor Watson has a very high level of confidence in the members of council who have been appointed to the Hydro board and (Ottawa Police Service),” press secretary Brook Simpson says in an e-mail. “From a practical workload issue, this delegation gives Mayor Watson the opportunity to focus on other city-wide priorities such as bringing more jobs to the city.”

Watson has a trusted hand chairing police board in Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, a former deputy mayor and now vice-chairman of the finance and economic development committee. Harder (who will also sit on the police board) has experience as a director on the hydro board, and Fleury’s appointment makes sense since the Shaw Centre is in his ward.

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Follow City Hall reporter Jon Willing on Twitter at @JonathanWilling and at ottawasun.com.

Decentralizing Presto Card Sales

- December 11th, 2014

Not only are Presto cards getting a redesign, they could pop up in stores and vending machines one day in Ottawa.

A Presto report for the Metrolinx board of directors, which is meeting today, says the agency has been experimenting with selling pre-loaded cards at some grocery stores in Hamilton. Transit users can also add funds to their cards at the stores.

The Toronto Transit Commission plans to offer pre-loaded Presto cards in its transit pass vending machines at two stations as part of a pilot project.

As for the redesign, Metrolinx says its new cards will have braille and larger fonts.

By the way, if you regularly fly from Ottawa to Toronto’s Pearson Airport it might be a good idea to stash a loaded Presto card in your wallet. It’ll be much cheaper to take the new rail link downtown Toronto if you’re paying with Presto. Still a good chunk of change, but cheaper than cash.

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Follow City Hall reporter Jon Willing on Twitter at @JonathanWilling and at ottawasun.com.

Council Committees : The Proposed No. 2s

- December 9th, 2014

Council tomorrow will be asked to approve Mayor Jim Watson’s recommendations for committees and boards. Our focus is generally on the chairmen and chairwomen who will oversee the major portfolios, but council will also be asked to approve the vice-chairs of each committee, too.

The role of the vice-chair is to run the meeting when the chairs aren’t at the table. Really, it’s up to the chairs to decide how much input the vice-chairs have in establishing the committee agendas. Sometimes there’s actual direction to have the vice-chairs involved in decision-making, such a council-approved motion last week that directed staff to work with both the chair and vice-chair of the community protective services committee on a bylaw review.

Vice-chairs have also acted as the liaison between committees and citizen advisory committees.

One of the things brought up in the recent governance review is including vice-chairs in vetting agendas before public meetings, plus letting vice-chairs run parts of committee meetings.

Here are the recommended vice-chairs for the term…

Agriculture and rural affairs committee:
Osgoode Coun. George Darouze

Audit committee:
Alta Vista Coun. Jean Cloutier

Community and protective services committee:
River Coun. Riley Brockington

Environment committee:
College Coun. Rick Chiarelli

Finance and economic development committee:
West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry

Planning committee:
Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney

Transportation committee:
Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney

Transit commission:
Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Michael Qaqish

Also, the two spots on the 2017 task force are vacant. Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury and Cloutier are proposed to succeed Rainer Bloess and Katherine Hobbs.

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Follow City Hall reporter Jon Willing on Twitter at @JonathanWilling and at ottawasun.com.