Ottawa Citizen: Advocates push for 'community benefits agreement' for LeBreton Flats

By Blair Crawford. Photo by Bruno Schlumberger.

Social activists are pushing the National Capital Commission to adopt a “community benefits agreement” for LeBreton Flats, a form of social contract that they say will assure the benefits of the development will be shared with the community it serves.

“We’re saying to the NCC, ‘This is a very important piece of property and

there’s more to a vision than just a land use vision’,” said lawyer George Brown, who is one of the organizers of a brainstorming session Monday about a LeBreton CBA. “It’s more than just what sort of housing? How tall will the buildings be? Is there going to be a hockey arena?

“If you’re going to put a community of 4,000 people there — or maybe even 10,000 — you have to ask, what’s it going to look like? Do you need day care? Do you need seniors’ housing? How much affordable housing do you need? CBAs are a tool to ask those questions up front.”

Somerset Ward councillor Catherine McKenney said a CBA at LeBreton would be a “win-win-win” for the city, the NCC and the community. The land is unceded Algonquin territory and was once a thriving working-class neighbourhood until it was expropriated in the 1960s by the federal government.

“CBAs can be applied to many areas, but LeBreton is such an opportunity given its history and its current ownership and where we want to go with LeBreton Flats,” said McKenney, who will part of Monday’s session.

“One of the most obvious benefits would be to ensure that there’s a good mix of affordable housing that fits everyone’s needs and to have that well-documented when you’re developing so you’re not waiting until the last phase to put in a few affordable units.”

A CBA could include support to develop local small business that could, for example, do painting or drywalling as the LeBreton project takes off, she said. It could ensure there’s space set aside for community events.

“In my ward, for me to find space to hold a public meeting is exceptionally difficult,” McKenney said. “If people have access to community space, it gives opportunities for neighbours to come together. And we know that good things happen when people who can connect together.”

The coalition pitched its concept to the NCC in August, but there is nothing to make a CBA mandatory for LeBreton. But the NCC says it’s willing to listen.

“We see alignment between the NCC’s guiding principles for the Building LeBreton project and the interests of the Community Benefit Agreement group, and we look forward to continuing the conversation as this process progresses,” Katie Paris, director of Major Real Estate Development in charge of Building LeBreton, said in an emailed statement.

And LeBreton is just a start, said Brown. A coalition that includes the district labour council and Ottawa Acorn is in talks with Timbercreek to establish a CBA for the redevelopment of Heron Gate, where hundreds of low-income, primarily recent immigrant families were displaced and their town houses demolished.

“This is not just be about LeBreton. This should be about all major developments,” said Brown, noting the city is also about to pump millions into redevelopments in Vanier. “This is a tool that should be used in Vanier because if they don’t plan, if they just let it happen, it will be Hintonburg 2.0. That is a working class community that yes, has gotten fixed up a bit with all these jazzy new businesses — and I’m all for that — but affordability has gone right out the window. People who used to be there can’t afford to live there now.”

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