Five sleeper stories as Ottawa City Hall prepares to enter 2020

These are issues that haven’t been making headlines recently, but but could command taxpayers’ attention in 2020.

JON WILLING Updated: January 2, 2020 Ottawa Citizen

SOS Vanier members gathered at Ottawa City Hall for the city council vote about the Salvation Army shelter in Vanier in Ottawa, November 22, 2017. The council voted in favour of it. JEAN LEVAC / POSTMEDIA NEWS

A few themes often dominate the news out of Ottawa City Hall: transit, taxes and, lately, Rick Chiarelli.

Here are five issues that aren’t making headlines now but could command attention in 2020.

Tow truck regulations 

Could another bylaw review come with controversy?

The city is looking into whether there should be municipal regulations for tow trucks and tow operators. The delivery date for a report is tentatively marked for summer or early fall.

Councillors have been supportive of the bylaw department considering a regulatory system for tow trucks, but staff have been reluctant in the past about creating a licensing system.

A damaged new vehicle on a tow truck.

The provincial government introduced stronger consumer-protection measures two years ago, so now the city needs to decide whether it wants a municipal layer of regulations. A licensing regime would allow the city to pull permits from operators who aren’t following the rules, such as breaking a distance buffer around collision scenes.

Wrapping the tow industry in red tape could prompt on outcry from operators, but if the public calls for city hall to take a tough position on the industry, councillors might be left with little choice.

The department that oversees bylaw policies has had some hot files in the past three years. There was the legalization of transportation services like Uber and Lyft, the restrictions on Airbnb hosts and now a project involving the tow industry.

The urban boundary

The city is in the middle of refreshing its official plan and with every update comes speculation about the size of Ottawa’s urban boundary.

The urban boundary fight hasn’t resurfaced at city hall since an official plan review in 2009. A 2012 decision by the former Ontario Municipal Board (now Local Planning Appeal Tribunal) contributed to the urban boundary’s expanding by more than 1,000 hectares.

Community group Ecology Ottawa submitted to the city in December a petition with more than 1,500 names calling on council to reject an expansion of the urban boundary in the next official plan.

However, staff have already warned councillors that the city might have to expand the boundary based on growth projections.

Councillors should find out by March if staff will recommend an expansion of the urban boundary, which holds lands serviced, or planned to be serviced, by municipal infrastructure, like piped drinking water, sewers and major roads.

If there’s a recommended increase to the boundary, expect environmental groups to show up at city hall demanding council block the move.

Count on Ottawa’s homebuilding industry watching this closely, too.

The north-side stands and arena at Lansdowne Park

Perhaps no longer can the city and the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group put off a public discussion about the north-side stands and arena at Lansdowne Park.

OSEG has been spending more money than it anticipated to run the 52-year-old joint complex, which, like all of TD Place, is a city-owned asset.

Aerial photo of TD Place Stadium and shops at Lansdowne Park. WAYNE CUDDINGTON / OTTAWA CITIZEN

The first question: Fix or rebuild?

And that leads to the second question: Who pays?

A rebuild scenario opens the door to a new vision of that central portion of the Lansdowne property. It could also trigger a discussion about whether a junior hockey arena is still suited for Lansdowne, or if it could be re-established somewhere else (eg. along LRT).

The city paid $154 million for the new south-side stands and the urban park using borrowed money. Council in 2020 might need to decide how much more it’s willing to spend on the other half of the stadium.

‘Level zero’ ambulance service

How much more can the City of Ottawa take when it comes to paramedics held up at hospitals waiting to transfer patients?

Unlike public transit, the paramedic issue isn’t one that receives almost daily attention, but the frequent “level zero” threat weighs heavy on the minds of top-level managers at city hall.

Level zero is the term used to describe times when there are no Ottawa ambulances available to transport patients. In the first eight months of 2019, there were 329 instances of level zero.

Ottawa Paramedic Service FILE PHOTO / OTTAWA CITIZEN

The city, which jointly funds paramedic services with the province, has been breathing down the necks of hospital administrators, particularly at The Ottawa Hospital, to increase the patient transfer time at emergency departments.

The hospital, meanwhile, has said it’s struggling to free up beds used by “alternate level of care” patients who don’t have anywhere else to go.

Mayor Jim Watson has pressed Premier Doug Ford to deliver a fix for a problem with no easy answer.

Salvation Army shelter appeal

It’s been quiet lately when it comes to the Salvation Army’s plan to build a shelter and social services complex in Vanier, but that will change early in the new year.

The Salvation Army has filed an application at Ottawa City Hall to build a new emergency shelter and social services centre at 333 Montreal Rd. in Vanier. DEVELOPMENT APPLICATION

The Local Planning Appeal Tribunal will begin hearing testimony regarding a November 2017 council decision that allows the development at 333 Montreal Rd.

Businesses, supported by grassroots community group SOS Vanier, are challenging council’s decision to allow official plan and zoning amendments for the property, where a motel currently is.

The appeal process will awaken a controversy that was largely dormant in 2019.

The hearing is scheduled to begin Jan. 13 at city hall. It’s estimated to last about 15 days.

jwilling@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JonathanWilling

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