Ottawa’s Planning and Housing Committee has approved the proposal to build some high-rise towers on Baseline Road, despite concerns that the towers will cast shadows on the Central Experimental Farm. The development is on the southwest corner of Baseline Road and Fisher Avenue on the Lonestar Plaza.

The project now goes to full council.

The committee heard concerns about the impact on the Farm, even though nobody was present from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, during the meeting. Though the motion to amend the zoning by-law, which would allow the proposed development, ultimately passed, River Ward Coun. Riley Brockington dissented. 

“Housing and homelessness is a top priority and I certainly want to do my part to facilitate that but what’s really caused me concern is an absence of true federal protections and/or legislation for this property,” said Brockington, whose ward contains the Experimental Farm.

The height and the location of the buildings have alarmed federal agencies, who have warned shadows from the buildings could affect research done there. The Central Experimental Farm is a National Historic Site and is a research centre for the Department of Agriculture. Brockington lamented that it is not a protected area, which leaves local politicians able to make planning decisions that could impact the Farm.

“We look to the federal government to take further decisions and actions to protect this federal land,” said Brockington. “As a local city councillor and as a planning committee for the City of Ottawa, we have very limited tools in our toolkit.”

The development, by Theberge Homes, will include three towers, the first was approved in November. The two other towers would be 24 and 32 storeys tall. The property holds an L-shaped commercial building on 780 Baseline Rd., in Fisher Heights. Theberge’s development would include 1,089 apartments in its three mixed-use high-rise buildings. Once Building A is built, phase two of the development would demolish the plaza and build the latter two towers.

During that meeting, committee members asked city staff to work with the developer and with Agriculture Canada to reduce shadowing of the Farm before the site plan is finalized.

“Scientists have been trying to dispassionately warn us about the possible long term consequences of our decisions when it comes to developments that are going to impact the Central Experimental Farm, consequences to agriculture research and therefore, consequences to the future of Canadian agriculture,” says Knoxdale-Merivale Ward Coun. Sean Devine.

Concern over the impact of shadows on important research has placed the Planning and Housing Committee in a tough spot, many councillors said during the meeting. 

“Being asked to grapple with the impact on nationally significant research is not really the purview of this committee,” said Somerset Ward Coun. Ariel Troster.

A report prepared by Miller Engineering concluded the shadows from the Baseline towers would not affect the farm’s heritage and research capabilities, though representatives from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada disputed these findings.

“We have a big problem in general,” said Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney. “We’re not getting a lot of guidance from the federal government, except we have heard from them repeatedly about housing.”

“We’re all caught in a bind.”