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Residents frustrated with lack of consultation in Heart Institute lot expansion

Photo by Adam Feibel 

IN ORDER TO accommodate the University of Ottawa Heart Institute’s upcoming expansion, the Civic Hospital is building a multi-level parking garage, to contain up to 700 new parking spaces, much to the frustration of its neighbours.

Those living close to the new parking garage, set for construction on Ruskin Avenue, are not happy about the plans. An agreement from 1995 exists between the hospital and the community stating that no further developments may take place on that land.

“A series of letters had been signed between the hospital and the residents, where the residents made a concession to keep the parking lot open on Ruskin Avenue when the city was going to turn it into a park,” said Paula Burchat of the Civil Hospital Neighbourhood Association (CHNA). “During the time when the city was amalgamated, this long-time policy was lost and now they won’t put it back.”

Burchat is a member of the subcommittee for the parking project.

“The agreement was rescinded, but this does not negate the fact that there was an agreement in principle between the residents and the hospital,” she said.

City counsillor Katherine Hobbs said she believes the parking garage will increase the value of homes in the surrounding area and the 1995 agreement is inconsequential.

“In reading the 1995 agreement that was made between the hospital and the community, there is nothing that says it can’t be renegotiated before its 30-year time period was up,” said Hobbs. “I want to make sure for the immediate residents that we don’t devalue their property. We want to make it a better situation for them and I am hopeful we can make it that way through the current site plan process.”

Since 2007, negotiations have been in progress between the city of Ottawa and the Civic Hospital, including a proposition for the University of Ottawa Heart Institute to renew its lease on the Ruskin Avenue parking lot. The CHNA was not included in these discussions.

Ruskin Avenue is a small two-way street and the residents have been pushing the hospital to expand parking onto Carling Avenue instead because it can handle more traffic. Cameron Love, senior vice-president of the Civil Hospital, insists that Carling is too far and Ruskin is the only viable option.

“The issue here is that if the new parking garage were to be put on Carling, it would be less accessible and have issues with sight lines and it is not a good location for a high garage,” Hobbs said.

Members of the CHNA argue that they have been marginalized by a process lacking in public consultation. A public consultation process was open for a month and ended Sept. 10 whereby citizens could write to the city.

“Our involvement in consultation has been fairly limited,” Burchat said. “We really haven’t had an opportunity to speak much to the hospital. The hospital has tried to create this wedge issue whereby you either support Heart Institute patients and this garage or you’re against Heart Institute patients and this garage.”

The CHNA said that because of the polarization of the discussion, they have been unable to have a discussion about potential compromise. Hobbs said she sympathizes with the CHNA but believes the parking garage will have a positive impact on the area.

“I definitely empathize with the neighbourhood because obviously Ruskin is a residential street and is the actual address of the Heart Institute, so it is an industrial site as well, but I emphasize and understand what the goal is of the community,” she said.