What we had here was a failure to communicate.
I was one of about 100 people who showed up at a public meeting tonight at Johnny Leroux Arena to hear about the city’s plans to convert the north end of Johnwoods into a linear park and bike path.
Councillor Shad Qadri couldn’t get through his opening introduction without being shouted down by residents opposed to the plan. The main complaint: they weren’t consulted. In his weekly newsletter, Qadri has been referring to the plan as a “proposal”, but it was clear at the meeting this is pretty much a done deal.
There’s an interesting history to this one.
Back in 2013, Mattamy submitted a plan of subdivision for land at 33 Johnwoods, now known as Fairwinds West. Councillor Qadri had to recuse himself from the file because he owns property on Joseph Circle, which is adjacent to the land. That’s a requirement under the city’s conflict of interest rules.
In most development applications, the councillor is the main conduit for information between the developer, the city, and residents. But because of the potential conflict of interest, Qadri couldn’t be involved, and that’s where the communication broke down.
Responsibility for this file was delegated to planning staff and the chair of the city’s Planning Committee. Unless you were reading the Stittsville News very carefully back in late 2013, or you obsessively follow development issues at City Hall, there’s a good chance you missed this one.
The plan of subdivision ended up being approved, including the conversion of Johnwoods between Rosehill and Maple Grove into a park, at Mattamy’s expense.
So that brings us to tonight’s meeting. To set the scene, we’ve got a room full of residents, many of them who think they’ve been blindsided by the city, and many of them fed up that what was billed as a consultation on a “proposal” is turning out to be more like a one-way presentation on an already-approved plan.
David Wise from city’s planning department told the audience that the two topics that spark the most heated debates in communities are parks (“when am I gonna get one”) and traffic (“what are you gonna do”). Combine the two and you’ve got the ingredients for an explosive meeting.
The crowd wouldn’t let Wise get much further with his introduction.
“Is this definite or is this a proposal?” asked one resident. “Tell us, so if it’s definitive we can go home.”
Wise said that it was part of the plan of subdivision, so it would be going ahead, unless Qadri puts forward a motion to the Planning Committee to have it stopped.
A Bryanston Gate resident, who identified herself as Qadri’s niece, admonished the councillor: “You should have let us know,” she said. “If my children are harmed (by traffic) who’s going to come by to give their condolences? Who am I going to sue?”
Another resident asked Qadri if he was still in a conflict. And even if he wasn’t, how could she trust him to handle this issue in the best interest of residents?
(Qadri said there is no longer a conflict, and that he will act in the best interest of residents.)
“This is not a consultation, it’s a done deal,” said a Fairwinds resident.
The crowd allowed the presentations to go ahead when Qadri said that he was willing to put forward a motion to Planning Committee to stop the conversion, if that’s what the community wanted.
City planner Kathy Rygus and transportation planner Robert Vastag from Stantec presented the rationale for closing Johnwoods. In a nutshell:
- Traffic volume and speed has been an issue on Johnwoods for at least 10-15 years. Subsequent development of Huntmar between Maple Grove and Hazeldean has reduced the volume.
- Future roads between Hazeldean and Palladium, including the Stittsville Main extension and Robert Grant Avenue, will reduce traffic down Johnwoods and Huntmar even more.
- The idea to close Johnwoods came from the city’s planning staff, who saw it as an opportunity to “do something unique” and provide a community benefit, according to Rygus.
- Vastag said that closing Johnwoods would force traffic down “a more circuitous and less convenient route”, which will discourage cut-through traffic.
- Vastag said that traffic models suggest that closing the north part of Johnwoods would channel about 500 vehicles per hour down Rosehill, as opposed to 450 per hour if Johnwoods stayed open – an increase of 50 cars per hour.
- The City has asked Mattamy and Tartan homes to implement “proactive traffic calming” on Rosehill between Johnwoods and Huntmar to mitigate safety issues due to the traffic increase.
That may look good on paper, but a lot of residents are scratching their heads: wouldn’t closing Johnwoods just send traffic down other streets like Rosehill, Alon, Santalina, and Warmstone? (Rosehill includes land for a future elementary school and community park, by the way.) Watch this video:
Here’s the thing: the idea to close Johnwoods actually makes some sense, but not until years from now when Stittsville Main Street and Robert Grant both get extended all the way to Palladium. At that point, Johnwoods (and Fairwinds) stops being the most convenient short cut from the Queensway to Hazeldean, and perhaps Johnwoods will become a redundant stretch of road. Why keep maintaining a road when only a few dozen cars use it each day?
Unfortunately our councillor and city staff have screwed up the communication on this file, so any opportunity for meaningful discussion and open minds is probably lost.
If you weren’t at tonight’s meeting you can send comments to Kathy Rygus at the City, 613-580-2424, ext. 28318 or Kathy.Rygus@ottawa.ca