Lowertown residents want church to ditch parking lot, put plans in drive

·3 min read
The Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall says the parking lot behind the Notre Dame Cathedral is well-used by parishioners, locals and tourists when COVID-19 restrictions aren't in effect. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
The Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall says the parking lot behind the Notre Dame Cathedral is well-used by parishioners, locals and tourists when COVID-19 restrictions aren't in effect. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

The Lowertown Community Association says it's hard to take the word of the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall when it comes to plans for the temporary parking lot at the Notre Dame Cathedral.

The community association says it's time the city stops giving the church temporary dispensations and demand a plan for the parcel at the intersection of Parent and Guigues avenues, where the church tore down two historic buildings.

In 2003, the group opposed turning the site into a parking lot but the Archdiocese made a deal to create a temporary lot while planning what to do with the land permanently.

Community association member Warren Waters says residents lost patience when they saw yet another application to extend the temporary use of the surface lot.

"Twenty years is absurd. It's no longer a temporary parking lot after that," Waters said.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

He said church officials haven't provided a plan for what to do with the land, and the last temporary zoning allowance expired in 2018. Waters said residents want the surface lot developed.

"It's a beautiful site in the middle of the most beautiful neighbourhood in Ottawa. There's so many things this site could be used for," Waters said. "It's a crime to leave it like this: vacant, essentially."

In an open letter, the community association said the church should develop the land — or sell it to someone who can.

Church asks for 3 more years

In a statement, the archdiocese said redeveloping the site is not so simple.

The parking lot is well-used by parishioners, people attending wedding and funerals, as well as downtown workers and tourists when pandemic restrictions aren't in effect, the statement said.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

In its application to the city, the church acknowledged the special character of the lot's location, between the ByWard Market and Lowertown, but argues zoning in the area doesn't prevent the continued operation of an existing parking lot.

The application says the temporary zoning should be extended for three years to make up for disruption from the recent reorganization of the archdiocese and the pandemic.

Stop parking lot revenue, councillor says

Coun. Mathieu Fleury says he wants the church to honour its agreement with the community and approving another extension to the temporary zoning sends the wrong message.

"Enough is enough," said Fleury, who represents the ward of Rideau-Vanier.

"The first big step that the city must take is to stop allowing generation of revenue on the surface lot. That will be the driver of a redevelopment of that parcel, from my perspective."

The church will still have a grace period for operation of the lot, he said, but then there would be an incentive for the church to present a new plan.

Yasmine Mehdi/CBC
Yasmine Mehdi/CBC

Fleury says he favours creating an underground garage at that site with some kind of development at the ground level. He says that would advance the goals of the ByWard Market public realm plan for moving parking from the core of the district to its edges.

That plan would also allow the city to re-purpose its nearby parking structure at York and ByWard Market streets, according to Fleury.

"It's ultimately their land, it's ultimately their project. They've been extremely slow," he said. "They've got more complex governance than city hall. They've referred often to getting approvals from the Vatican."

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