By Charlie Senack
More than 100 people attended a virtual meeting on July 12, to express their concerns over a proposed truck depot which could soon be built at the South Merivale Business Park.
The meeting, which was co-hosted by Gloucester-South Nepean councillor Carol Anne Meehan and Knoxdale-Merivale councillor Keith Egli, was the second public forum to be held in the past few weeks. The non-statutory community information meeting for a Site Plan control application was attended by many who strongly oppose the development.
Residents who live in the area say they are concerned about what it could mean for traffic and pollution in the area, with roads not receiving proper infrastructure upgrades. They are also worried about the possible safety effects of having large transport trucks sharing the same residential roads as where children play.
The meeting was attended by representatives of Novatech, a company which represents the unidentified future tenants for the warehouse, and a handful of employees from Broccolini, the firm which would build and manage the site, also had representatives on the roughly two and a half hour-long video call.
If approved, the 262,000 square foot facility would be built on 40 acres of land, located at 2, 20 promenade Leikin Drive and 99 promenade Bill Leathem Drive.
For the first time since development has been talked about for the site, drawings were provided of what the warehouse and office space would look like. Andrew Tarassoff, Director of Design and Innovation at Broccolini, said the site would be well landscaped to shelter the building from the road. Multi-use pathways in the area would be expanded to promote walking and biking to work, and a bus drop off depot would also be located on the site. The building itself would be made out of concrete and its facade would have designs, including coloured trim, to make it look visually appealing. The building’s colour scheme would then mirror the colours of the future company which would move in.
Just a few weeks ago, on June 9, council approved controversial rezoning for the land, which would allow for a warehouse and truck terminal to be built on the site. It came after 4,000 people signed a petition asking council not to approve the change, saying a development of this magnitude would change the area forever.
Council voted 15-9 in favour of the change, despite not knowing who the possible future tenants would be. The public and members of council were also told on numerous occasions that no solid plan actually existed, and that this change would just make the site look more visually appealing for possible tenants in the future.
But just days after that meeting, Councillor Carol Anne Meehan, who represents the ward where the business park sits, says she was “caught off guard” when this new application came forward, with a plan for the site using the same Novatech consultant who had spoken at previous meetings during the hopeful zoning change.
Meehan said she was upset by the games that were played and that she, along with community members, were kept in the dark about what was really being planned behind the scenes.
“We were told all through the process; the hearing that we had; the special open house we hosted; through planning committee and council; that there was no official applicant attached to this zoning bylaw amendment request,” she told the Barrhaven Independent shortly after the news broke. “They kept saying we can’t talk (number of) trucks because there was no applicant and they were just preparing this land to make it look more appealing to anyone who would come along and want to build on the land.”
No need to rezone
As it turns out, the South Merivale Business Park didn’t have to be rezoned at all to allow the current application to go through. Because it has a small office that makes the warehouse a secondary rather than primary use, this type of development has been allowed for years.
“The Light Industrial Subzone 9 – South Merivale Business Park designation under the City of Ottawa’s Zoning By-law permits uses which include office, warehouse associated with a permitted use, and light industrial uses among others,” said city officials during the meeting.
Under the new plan, an office that spans almost 17,000 square feet would be built if approved, along with a 262,000-square-foot warehouse — that’s about a quarter the size of the Amazon distribution centre on Boundary Road. The land would also include roughly 500 parking spots for vehicles and 313 for tractor trailers, in addition to the 100 truck loading bays.
Lee Sheets, Director and Project Lead at Novatech, said the site would be in operation 24 hours a day and would see 400 truck trips a day.
The trips would be spread out, and only 15-20 trucks would be deployed during peak hours to help minimize traffic congestion. It was also noted about 50 trucks would head east towards Prince of Wales, with the other hand heading west towards Greenbank.
If approved, the site would bring everything from entry level to high level positions to Barrhaven, said James Beach, Vice President of Real Estate Development at Broccolini. He said that would mean “hundreds of jobs”, a number which would grow as the tenant expands operations.
The proposed development comes at a time the city’s e-commerce sector is booming, something we all are to blame for. Online shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic has driven demand for more warehouses in Ottawa. Consultants have said as our shopping habits change, we need to adapt and allow for developments of this kind to be built, noting if we want fast delivery, warehouses need to move into the communities where we live.
Dozens of questions were asked during the meeting, primarily relating to traffic and congestion. Concerns were also raised about the noise it would cause and possibly reducing speed limits in areas where the trucks would travel. Many were also disappointed to not find out who the future tenants would be.
Councillor Keith Egli called upon representatives of the applicant to say who’s eying the site, noting it’s a “failure” and “if the community is to make sacrifices, they want to know who is going to be moving in.”
The Vice President of Real Estate Development at Broccolini said that would not be possible due to a confidentiality agreement, however noted their clients are “well respected”. They also backfired saying regardless of who the tenant might be, it won’t change the backlash from the community. Egli responded by saying it’s about being transparent, and that the community deserves to be a part of the process when it’s them this development will impact.
Many were also confused by the two different development proposals that have been submitted, a technical planning process made even more confusing because this application is for an actual plan. The Zoning By-law Amendment application was to permit additional uses in the IL9 zone, and the recent Site Plan control application submitted proposed by the applicant, is for a light industrial building and an office component, which is currently permitted under the pre-existing rules.
Typically, site plan applications like this are approved by city staff, and don’t go through the various processes of being approved. However, Councillor Meehan, who has been opposed to a warehouse being built on the site since the beginning, decided to take the rare step of removing her delegated authority so it will go back to the planning committee.
While it’s believed they will approve this development application, it at least allows for another round of debates and discussion to take place before a decision is made. Meehan said this was the only tool left to allow the community to at least have some control as to what happens in their own backyard.