Ottawa opens concierge program to community groups

The City of Ottawa is trying to calm fears over a controversial new planning concierge program by extending the pilot to community associations.

Last summer, the city launched a six-month pilot project that would give planning staff “client relationship leader” roles. Those staffers would be paired up with the city’s 20 major development firms to help them navigate the planning process.

Some people argued the move would give private development firms an unfair advantage in the planning process. Others said it risked closing the door to other stakeholders like community groups.

So, in a memo tabled at planning committee Tuesday, city staff have said they will also appoint special liaisons to community associations.

Several representatives of those groups welcomed the news.

“I think that the city is a complex bureaucracy sometimes and a single point of contact can be worthwhile,” said Michael Powell, president of the Dalhousie Community Association.

But Alex Cullen, president of the Belltown Neighbours Association, called the expansion “window-dressing” and said more could be done to involve community associations earlier in the planning process.

Several urban wards will soon have that opportunity. In a separate memo, city staff said they will involve community associations in Kitchissippi, Somerset, Rideau-Vanier and Rideau-Rockcliffe in a “pre-application consultation” pilot project. It allows community groups to meet with developers and staff early in the development process. The program launched in Capital Ward in 2014. 

This article originally appeared on metronews.ca on April 11.