Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Ottawa still waiting for followup offer from feds to buy Wellington Street | CBC News

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The City of Ottawa has yet to receive another federal offer to buy Wellington Street, nearly a year after it rejected an initial bid.

One of the biggest obstacles may be figuring out exactly what the piece of prime real estate is worth. 

The road in front of Parliament Hill has been a source of conversation — and consternation — since the city was forced to close it as a result of the winter 2022 protests against the government’s COVID-19 measures. 

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) tried to stop the street’s reopening last spring, but the city and Mayor Mark Sutcliffe rejected the request while confirming that negotiations over transferring the land to the federal government would continue. 

“Conversations with the federal government are continuing,” said Vivi Chi, the city’s interim general manager of planning, real estate and economic development. “As for where we will land, that’s what we don’t know yet.” 

Chi confirmed that there has been no followup monetary offer since the unnamed amount suggested last year — one of “many issues still to resolve.”

Vivi Chi, interim general manager of planning, said negotiations are ongoing and a decision will not come quickly. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Closure a ‘golden opportunity,’ argues senator 

PSPC’s pitch was to create a “care and control agreement” that would have kept the road closed as a security measure. The land transfer could also see the area become a new public space. 

“I think we’ve got a really golden opportunity to do something bold and exciting,” Sen. Andrew Cardozo told members of the city’s transportation committee on Thursday.

“Wellington Street is going to go through a lot of changes over the next few years.”

He argued that Centre Block’s ongoing, decade-long renovation is the perfect time to give the parliamentary precinct an even bigger facelift, on par with beautification efforts in Europe. 

“Pedestrianization is a major movement across the world. I think we can take three blocks of one street and do that here in Ottawa,” Cardozo said.

A federal and municipal working group has analyzed several scenarios to see how vehicles diverted off of Wellington Street might affect other downtown streets, suggesting a closure could also add pressure to cycling and bus infrastructure. 

It’s possible there will be no financial impacts, staff wrote in a report to councillors this week, but it’s also possible that the change could create a need for upgrades costing millions. 

Workers in orange and yellow use a tank and hose to paint a bike lane green.
Workers paint a bike lane green on Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa in April 2023. Staff say the temporary lanes have substantially increased cycling traffic. (Reno Patry/CBC)

Staff did express hope that ongoing efforts to “reshape travel habits” could offset issues — pointing to the success of temporary bike lanes.

“There might be some impacts on neighbouring streets, but we don’t know if that’s going to be the case,” argued Neil Saravanamuttoo, a community organizer who gave a public delegation. 

He urged councillors to consider policies to promote active transportation and divert vehicles from the downtown core. 

Money offered was ‘not enough,’ says chair

The delegations failed to move Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney, who chairs the transportation committee. 

“We need those streets,” he said after the meeting.

“If we have to go out, reconstruct, change one-way streets … that’s a long-term process to ensure we continue to have traffic flow. The simple solution — the best solution — was to open it back up, and we’ve had much success with it.”

Tierney also said any beautification efforts should start with improving Ottawa’s existing pedestrian areas: Sparks Street and the ByWard Market.

A city councillor speaks in a meeting room.
Coun. Tim Tierney, the chair of the transportation committee, says the money offered by the federal government was ‘not enough.’ (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Cardozo doesn’t think Ottawa can afford to wait. 

“There is a financial offer on the table,” said Cardozo, an independent senator. “These two governments need to get on with talking and make it happen.” 

Tierney, like Chi, believes that any decision is a long way off. 

“It’s not simply, ‘here’s a cheque,’ which, by the way, was not enough. We have to listen to our residents,” Tierney said. “People are very satisfied with the street being opened, and I don’t see it closing.”

CBC News reached out to PSPC for comment, but it was unable to provide a response before publication. 

All in a Day6:52How would permanently closing Wellington affect Ottawa’s downtown?

The city’s transportation committee received the final study of how permanently closing Wellington street would change Ottawa’s downtown core. We hear from the councillor representing residents living there

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