LeBreton Flats Saga: Three proposals received for Library Parcel development

The long saga of LeBreton Flats continues.

On October 5, the National Capital Commission (NCC) announced that three detailed proposals had been received from shortlisted proponents for redevelopment of the LeBreton Flats Library Parcel situated at 665 Albert Street in Ottawa. The announcement stated, “With a successful development proponent being announced in January 2022, the Library Parcel could be ready for construction as early as 2022.”

Photo of the current state of the Library Parcel development site at LeBreton Flats: a vacant 1.1-hectare parcel located at 665 Albert Street in Ottawa. (Courtesy NCC-CCN)

The development is described as “mixed-use and affordable,” and in partnership with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), through the Federal Lands Initiative (FLI) will include at least 180 affordable housing units with rents of no more than 80 per cent of median market rent. Minimum qualifying requirements are affordable housing, accessibility, energy efficiency and net zero carbon development. It is part of the LeBreton Flats Master Concept Plan, which was approved by NCC in April

The three proponents announced are:

  • Dream LeBreton is a partnership between Dream Asset Management Corporation and Dream Impact Master LP. The Dream LeBreton design team is led by KPMB Architects and Perkins & Will, supported by Two Row Architect and Purpose Building, with PFS Studio as the landscape architect, EllisDon as the construction manager and Innovation Seven as the Indigenous engagement consultant (the announcement neglected to define this term)
  • One Planet Living LeBreton is a partnership between Windmill Development Group, Ltd. (Windmill), Epic Investment Services (Epic) and Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC), supported by Diamond Schmidt Architects, DTAH Landscape Architects and Ledcor Projects Eastern
  • Team Central is a consortium led by Trinity Development Group, along with their local partners Hobin Architecture as design lead, Morley Hoppner as construction manager, Ottawa Community Housing as owner and operator of affordable housing, and the Good Companions as the owner and operator of seniors’ services.

The Master Concept Plan for LeBreton Flats is described as “… a multi-decade vision to transform this important 29-hectare site into a complete urban community and Capital destination.”

“Multi-decade” indeed.

Long used by indigenous peoples as a campground on their way up and down the Kichi Sibi (Great River) – now known as the Ottawa River, named for the Anishinàbemowin word adàwe, meaning “to trade” – LeBreton Flats was purchased in 1809 by industrialist Robert Randall as “Lot 40” with plans to harness the adjacent Chaudiere Falls for milling. Due to financial difficulties, Randall went to debtor’s prison and his plans were not implemented.

Acting upon inside information gained during an officer’s dinner in Richmond military settlement with the Earl of Dalhousie, the then recently appointed Governor-in-Chief of the Canadian Territories, that “Lot 40” should be purchased by the government for military storehouses, Captain John LeBreton scooped up the land at a sheriff’s sale in Brockville for 499 Pounds Sterling (intending to flip it for profit to the government) with partner Livius Sherwood. This may represent the first recorded instance of insider trading in Canada. Dalhousie viewed LeBreton’s actions as profiteering, and furiously refused to purchase “Lot 40” from him. He instead purchased “Fraser Parcel” which became Bytown a few years later.

Over time, LeBreton and Sherwood divided their land into smaller lots and sold them off (at a huge profit), but the area is still known as LeBreton Flats and Sherwood heights to this day. Following the Great Fire of 1900, which levelled much of LeBreton Flats and over 3,000 homes in Ottawa and Hull, the area became largely industrial.

In 1962, the John Diefenbaker government decided to expropriate LeBreton Flats – viewed by many as an industrial slum and eyesore on the National Capital Region that didn’t align with French urban planner Jacques Greber’s 1949 vision of Ottawa as a grand capital – and clear the land. The government had plans to build a freeway and construct a new 30-storey National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) building on the site. Almost 3,000 residents were expropriated. Following expropriation, authority was transferred to the NCC. The last building was torn down near the end of 1966, with the goal to complete the new NDHQ in time for Canada’s centennial, in 1967. Ultimately, plans for NDHQ foundered upon intergovernmental (federal, provincial and municipal) negotiations.

Over the years, various concepts for LeBreton Flats – including government buildings, housing projects, a giant incinerator, and an aquarium – have come and gone. For decades, it was used as a snow dump. In 2016 a much-publicized, but ultimately unsuccessful, mixed-use development proposal by joint venture Trinity Development Group led to a billion-dollar lawsuit and NCC scrapping the concept.

Almost 60 years on, LeBreton Flats remains largely vacant.

Photo of the current state of the Library Parcel development site at LeBreton Flats: a vacant 1.1-hectare parcel located at 665 Albert Street in Ottawa. (Courtesy NCC-CCN)

Given the lengthy history of failed best-laid plans for LeBreton Flats, Canadians can be forgiven some scepticism regarding the latest proposal for the Library Parcel. In fact, the NCC announcement of proposals received was largely ignored by the press.

The RFQ issued by NCC in April describes the Library Parcel site as,

a) approximately 0.96 hectares (2.37 acres) of land, with an address municipally known as 665 Albert St.

b) approximately 0.12 hectares (0.29 acres) of the air rights reserved by the NCC over the Pimisi station and the small parcel of approximately 0.03 hectares (0.07 acres) located north of the Pimisi Station,” and abutting the site of the future $193-million Ottawa Public Library – Library and Archives Canada Joint Facility which is schedule to open in 2025.

Due to previous land uses, the site is contaminated, and the NCC says it is “buyer beware.” The RFQ included the disclosure, “The Subject Site is contaminated and will require remediation and/or risk management as determined by the proponent’s proposed uses. Notwithstanding the condition of the Subject Site, the property for this development project is offered on an ‘’as-is’’, ‘’where-is’’ basis with no compensation from the NCC for remediation. The Subject Site has metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) impacts in fill to a depth ranging from approximately 1 to 3 meters below ground surface. One area of petroleum hydrocarbon impact was identified in the southern section of the block. Historical leachate tests have determined that the soil is classified as non-hazardous, however confirmatory testing will be required, at the sole cost of the proponent. The fill is underlain by glacial till. It is possible that contamination may extend into the till in some areas of the site.”

Map showing the boundaries of the 1.1-hectare Library Parcel site, located at the northeast corner of Booth and Albert streets in Ottawa’s LeBreton Flats area. (Courtesy NCC-CCN)

The three proposals will be evaluated by NCC and CMHC throughout the fall, with a decision targeted for January 2022. Savvy Ottawans are not holding their breath on this development moving forward anytime soon.

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