Booth Street building sale may take up to 10 years

By Sarah Osborne

The federal government might not sell its Booth Street property for another five to 10 years, but the Preston Street Business Improvement Area says the wait is long, but welcomes more development to the area.

Lori Mellor, executive director of the Preston Street Business Improvement Association, says she was pleased to hear about the potential land sale.

“We think it’s just wonderful. Our goal and our vision of this area is to see the residential population grow… and in terms of a place to live, what a location.”

Mellor says the time period for selling the land and moving some of the employees to other government buildings is longer than they would like.

“Sooner would be better, but in the meantime they are also customers in our restaurants at lunch.”

Ghyslain Charron, spokesperson for Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) says the department is still in the early stages of deciding what to do with surplus property at the Booth Street complex. The process, which may take up to 10 years, also includes evaluating the state of the buildings on the property, considering options such as renovating, and obtaining approval from senior management. This all has to happen before the department can begin creating official plans for selling the land.

“It’s clear that some of those buildings need renovation. What will we do? We don’t know yet. How much money will we have? We don’t know,” says Charron.

Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes says she is not surprised the potential land transfer will take so long.

“Well, that’s typical of the federal government,” Holmes says, “I guess I won’t be holding my breath any time soon, because that’s only a first step, transferring the land.”

Holmes says the land in question, which borders on Dow’s Lake and the Queensway, is a prime location. She says the land could be used to build homes for a large range of incomes, such as families and seniors. Putting mixed residential and commercial buildings in the area would also follow Ottawa’s planning guidelines, which encourages more development in the city centre instead of outlying areas.

Holmes says increasing the number of people in the neighbourhood, and losing some of the traffic congestion caused by so many government employees will benefit the area. But she also says that 10 years is a long time to wait.

“I certainly hope they’ll move faster than they’re talking about at the moment,” Holmes says.

Mellor says the Preston Street BIA wants to see more mixed development in the area, such as single homes and apartment buildings.

“It is important to preserve the sense of neighbourhood,” says Mellor, adding the mix of uses is what makes the Preston area so dynamic.

If and when the land transfer takes place, the Booth Street property will be transferred to the Canada Lands Company (CLC). The CLC is a crown corporation which decides, through public and city input, how its properties should be developed. It then sells the land to private developers, who must follow the development plan.

Gordon MacIvor, vice president of public and government affairs for the CLC, says the company does not normally prepare reports such as the one they wrote for NRCan. “These types of evaluations are very rare — and very preliminary,” says MacIvor.

One of the concerns in the report was that some land at the Booth Street property may be contaminated. MacIvor said the CLC had a very preliminary study done at the site. While they only tested a few locations, they did find some evidence of contamination, probably a result of fuel and metals research that has been done on the property.

MacIvor says the CLC cleans contaminated soil itself, rather than sell the land to a private developer to clean up. He says this is partly the result of a report that came out 10 years ago, criticizing the federal government for the way it disposed of property.

MacIvor says that by having CLC oversee virtually all aspects of land sales and planning, the end result may be better than what most private developers can provide.

As it is, a development plan for the Booth Street lands is still a long way away.

“We’re nowhere near being in a position to negotiate buying that property. We’re not even in a legal position to have permission to negotiate,” says MacIvor.