Some thoughts on 1010 Somerset and how we move forward

When I was first elected as councillor for Somerset Ward in 2022, one of the first meetings I had was with city staff about a proposed new development on the land adjoining the Plant Recreation Centre in Little Italy.

At the time, I was vaguely aware that in 2021, the city had bought some land at 1010 Somerset from the federal government and that the plan was for affordable housing and an expansion of recreation facilities.

I soon learned that the city was able to buy the adjacent land at a huge discount by agreeing to a series of conditions set out by the federal government, including Indigenous presence on the site, particularly spaces for artists; 150 units of market housing and 150 non-profit/affordable apartments; and a district energy system to power the whole site. The city’s secondary plan for the neighbourhood also calls for an extra hectare of parkland and the expansion of indoor recreation facilities.

In the year that followed the purchase, the Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario (the French public school board) entered into an agreement with the city to discuss building a new French elementary school on the site.

As you may have read, the students at École élémentaire publique Louise-Arbour are currently located in a building with terrible ventilation, lead in the pipes and no library or yard. The parents of these students are understandably eager to get their kids into a healthier school environment and want to see the new school built as soon as realistically possible.

When the city released the first draft of a proposed site plan for the 1010 Somerset/Plant Bath development, the renderings plunked the school right in the middle of Plouffe Park – one of the only sports fields in a part of the city with the lowest proportion of green space in the National Capital Region. Plouffe Park has been around for 100 years, and is a beloved space in our community – you only have to stop by the Plant Recreation Centre’s lobby to take in photos from its century of community use.

Residents were understandably upset and the community association launched a “Save Plouffe Park” campaign in an effort to see the plan changed to preserve the park and also double the green space on the site, as was promised in the Corso Italia Secondary Plan.

This created understandable tension between parents who want to see a school built immediately, and other residents who wanted to save the park. I took the position (along with Councillor Jeff Leiper) that it was unfair to pit a beloved park against a French language school. Our community needs both, and I was convinced that if we put our city’s best minds together, we could come up with alternatives. Mayor Sutcliffe agreed, and instructed staff to draw up a new plan to get the school out of the park.

What followed was several months of intense work by many city departments. There was a draft proposal to place the school on Somerset Street, but the plan proved to be technically infeasible from a transportation perspective.

After working through nearly 100 objections and technical conflicts, city staff have released a final site plan proposal for the project. The new plan preserves Plouffe Park, doubles the green space/park facilities, places Louise-Arbour public school on Oak Street, and creates an internal connection for both the school and Plant Bath to a new state-of-the-art recreation centre. To be extremely clear – this is the plan for where everything will be located on the site, but lacks many design details that will be consulted on in the future.

I understand that there are still some concerns, particularly from community association members, about possible encroachment on greenspace, potential loss of trees and whether or not park space will be accessible from Somerset Street. As I said in a recent meeting with the community association and the Louise-Arbour school council, many of these concerns can be addressed as part of the detailed design phase of this project.

I agree that any loss of mature trees should be avoided and that the district energy system proposed for the site should be placed underneath the residential development that is slated to go on Somerset Street. The devil, as it always is, is in the details and these are details we will be able to work through in the days and weeks to come.

Simply put, I am confident that this configuration of the plan is the best one we are going to get that satisfies as many needs as possible. It is possible that the city over-committed when we bought the land from the federal government and again when we agreed to build a school as part of this development. But the truth is, I don’t think our community can afford to lose any of these elements. We need a new French public school, more gym space, affordable housing and expanded parks. This new plan delivers on all of these commitments in what appears to be the only way that is technically feasible.

I genuinely appreciate all of the community engagement on this issue. It shows that citizen involvement makes city developments better. And while this may be the final site plan, so many of the design details are not final and will be subject to – you guessed it – more community consultation.  I know that Somerset Ward residents will continue to advocate to make this project better, and I look forward to our continued conversations.

You can check out the final site plan on Engage Ottawa, and sign up for email reminders if you would like to participate in the final virtual conversation before the site plan goes to committee and council.

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