Council must send application for towers near experimental farm back to committee after feds snubbed

An application to allow two towers just north of the Central Experimental Farm will have to go back to committee for a second look, after city staff warned that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the National Capital Commission never got the required notice about a meeting last week.

Council’s planning and housing committee voted in favour of the application from Taggart Realty Management to build towers of 27 and 16 storeys across from the farm on Carling Avenue.

It was set to go to council on Wednesday for final approval of the increased height limits and zoning changes.

But a memo from the city’s interim general manager of planning, real estate and economic development urged councillors to send the matter back to the committee to comply with provincial law.

“Agriculture and Agri-food Canada and the National Capital Commission did not receive proper notice,” Don Herweyer wrote in the memo. 

“To ensure the integrity of the process, City Council are being asked to pass a motion to have the item return to Planning and Housing Committee along with the provision of a new Notice and publication of the staff report to ensure that proper notification takes place in accordance with the Planning Act.”

Herweyer called that a “need” under the Planning Act, which is a provincial law, and under the city’s own official plan. According to an additional memo previewing council business for Wednesday, Coun. Jeff Leiper is planning to move a motion referring the matter back to the committee for Sept. 20.

Agriculture Canada criticized the proposed towers in a letter this spring, saying they would cast shadows over fields on the farm and render them unusable for most research, including studies on making crops more resilient to climate change.

The local community association has also raised concerns about traffic and transition to the low-rise neighbourhood surrounding the site of the proposed towers. But while community association members joined a long list of delegations to last week’s committee meeting, Agriculture Canada representatives were nowhere to be seen.

New heritage statement defends project from shadow critique

While it voted in favour of the application by eight votes to two, the committee also voted to require a new cultural heritage impact statement for the project to specifically address shadowing concerns. That statement is now ready.

Prepared by Commonwealth Historic Resource Management (CHRM) for Taggart, it asserts that shadows from the buildings on the experimental farm wouldn’t exceed the city standards for open spaces.

Central Experimental Farm researchers photographed in a soybean field. Agriculture Canada says two proposed towers on Carling Avenue would interfere with its research. (Arthur White-Crummey/CBC News)

Those standards require that new net shadows “must not result in an average of 50 per cent of any public space being cast in shadow for five or more hourly interval times.”

CHRM said the proposed towers would meet that standard, and shadows would be generally limited to two hours from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the September date it analyzed.

Taggart representatives also argued that the project met city standards for open spaces at last week’s committee meeting. Critics countered that the experimental farm is more than an open space, but a vital research centre of significant scientific and historic value.

Those critics, including Leslie Maitland of Heritage Ottawa, did not think the standards were the appropriate gauge for assessing the project. She requested an amendment to the official plan to recognize the farm’s unique value.

The CHRM statement also argued that the shadow impact is not new, since the farm once had a belt of trees to the north that also cast a shadow over the farm.

But scientists at Agriculture Canada have been adamant, including in interviews with CBC, that the shadowing from the towers would introduce a new variable into their experiments that would make the data difficult to interpret and impossible to apply to real world farms.

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