Ottawa Citizen: City grabbing federal land near Little Italy to complete land assembly for major infill community

By Jon Willing

The City of Ottawa has lined up the missing piece in a major infill development near the future Corso Italia Station after negotiating steep discounts on 6.3 acres of federal land.

A report published ahead of a finance and economic development committee meeting next Tuesday says city staff have nearly finished a deal to complete the property assembly for Gladstone Village. City council and the federal

Treasury Board need to sign off.

Combined with land previously acquired by Ottawa Community Housing (OCH), the Public Service and Procurement Canada property at 1010 Somerset St. W. will become a huge expansion of a Little Italy neighbourhood along the Trillium Line.

“The opportunities are tremendous to build the type of neighbourhood that we always want but it’s hard to get there because you don’t have the space to do it,” Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney said Tuesday.

Considering all the public land available for transformation between Somerset Street and Gladstone Avenue — including the Plant Recreation Centre and Plouffe Park — OCH and the city have 21 acres to play with in creating a new community.

It was no secret that the city was negotiating with the federal government for the Somerset Street site. The federal government wanted to unload the property and the city was the natural buyer, considering OCH scooped up the southern portion of the block.

The only question was how much it would cost Ottawa’s property taxpayers.

The federal government has taken the $25-million market value of the land and applied $14 million in discounts, recognizing the city’s intentions for creating a new community aligned with federal policies.

After settling on the $11-million purchase price, the city began negotiations with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. under a federal lands initiative for affordable housing communities. The city managed to get $8.58 million to put toward the remaining purchase price of the land.

The city says the leftover cost, after factoring in closing expenses and taxes, is $2.87 million. To cover it, the city proposes to take $1 million from the Somerset ward parkland reserve fund and another $1.82 million from a citywide parkland fund, leaving the city’s real estate office to swallow the remaining $50,000 through its operating budget.

In 2017, OCH acquired the southern portion of the block along Gladstone Avenue for $7 million to build a 1,160-home development next to Corso Italia Station at Gladstone Avenue. Construction of the first phase is expected to start later this year.

Disposal of the Somerset Street federal property was under negotiation between the federal government and the city for five years.

McKenney, who’s the council’s liaison for housing and homelessness issues and sits on the OCH board, said Gladstone Village’s housing mix of affordable, deeply affordable and market-priced units will make it a well-rounded community with the potential to finally give the central area a significant new park.

“We need to ensure with 1010 Somerset those buildings come down and we build that park and we invest in this community, because you can’t put that amount of housing into the neighbourhood without the park space and the amenity space,” McKenney said.

While the city wants the Somerset Street side of the land to be a “community hub,” it has opened the door to selling some of the area for development to offset costs of its own work on the property. In its negotiations with the federal government, the city committed 70 per cent of the Somerset Street land for public uses.

The high-level development plan for the Somerset Street side also includes a new French public elementary school. The city and the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’est de l’Ontario have a memorandum of understanding to negotiate the school board’s land use.

The Algonquins of Ontario (AOO), the organization that recently scored a huge win by convincing council to include its rural southeast development land inside a new urban boundary, is poised to play a significant role in Gladstone Village, too.

According to the staff report, the federal government sent consultation letters to Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council and the Algonquins of Ontario (AOO) as part of the disposal process, but only AOO signalled an interest in the land.

The city and AOO are entering into an agreement on “business opportunities for Indigenous peoples and support arts and culture through a commitment to create space for Indigenous artists within the project’s new recreation infrastructure,” the staff report says.

The city has also committed to explore connecting Gladstone Village to a federal district energy system using the Trillium Line corridor.

The city would need to remove $400,000 from citywide reserves to fund a detailed concept plan for the land.

A secondary plan for the area — the Corso Italia District Secondary Plan — is scheduled to be considered by the planning committee on Thursday.

The secondary plan calls for towers up to 30 storeys in the OCH development area near Gladstone Avenue, while the city also envisions a potential 30-storey development on the Somerset Street end of the land.

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