Canada

Feds still saving land at key LRT node for new offices despite workplace unknowns after COVID-19

A 26-acre site near St. Laurent Station is still eyed for a new federal government complex as questions build about how the COVID-19 pandemic will forever change office workplaces.

The federal government’s development plans for 530 Tremblay Rd. at St. Laurent Boulevard have been in the works for several years, but it wasn’t until last month that city hall received a development application for part of the massive mixed-use project.

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), which owns the land, is working with the Canada Lands Corp. (CLC) on transforming 18.6 acres of the property into a residential and commercial neighbourhood, while retaining the remaining 7.8 acres for federal offices.

While planning the major development has been happening for about 10 years, the pandemic has forced federal employees to work from home and the government to consider future office space requirements if remote work cultures become a legacy of the pandemic.

PSPC couldn’t respond to a question by deadline about whether the department will be reviewing the necessity of a new federal offices on Tremblay Road in light of COVID-19 impacts.

There are two separate, but complementary, processes in the works when it comes to the Tremblay Road property: one led by PSPC to develop the federal offices and the another led by CLC to develop the surrounding residential and commercial buildings.

Development documents filed by the CLC indicates the feds are considering a government office complex with 150,000 square meters of space, but the layout of the complex hasn’t been determined.

A separate PSPC-run request for qualifications to develop the office complex, which describes the government leasing back the space from the builder over 25 years, suggests 8,000 federal employees would work out of the “campus,” with two unidentified organizations each taking up just over 60,000 square metres of space. The rest of the space would be for “generic portfolio space.”

Preliminary plans in a 2011 public works report had the federal government eyeing the Canada Border Services Agency as an ideal tenant for the complex.

The federal government is eyeing 2024-2026 for employees to move into the office complex in phases, according to the request for qualifications.

When it comes to the residential and commercial development, CLC held public consultations in 2019 to get a sense of what residents want to see in an new high-density community beside the future federal office complex.

The concept plan recently filed with the city plots low-rise and mid-rise residential buildings up to nine storeys closest to the Eastway Gardens neighbourhood, while reserving the south portion of the property for high-rise buildings up to 30 storeys.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation previously owned the land. The federal government bought the property for about $25 million in 2009 with the intention of creating an office complex, although the vision became a more of a mixed-use development that includes residential units and retail space.

The site is deeply important to the city’s transit-orientated development strategy since it’s located near St. Laurent Station. A major mixed-use project with residential, retail and office components has huge potential to feed the LRT system with transit customers. There would be a good argument to build another pedestrian bridge over Highway 417 connecting the station with the development, and in fact, the concept plan considers the potential for a crossing.

A transportation analysis included in the development application filed at the city estimates that the federal office complex alone would generate about 1,300 transit trips in both the morning and afternoon peak hours. The analysis doesn’t contemplate how many new transit customers could be generated by the office complex.

The portion of the land not involving the federal office complex could also bring more property tax money into city coffers. Instead of paying property taxes, which it isn’t required to do under law, the federal government makes payments to the city in recognition of the municipal services it uses. The payment in lieu of municipal taxes for the entire Tremblay Road property in 2018 was about $242,000, according to the Treasury Board Secretariat.

The development plan for the entire site includes more than just buildings. Land for a city park has been reserved along the southern border of the property, and Tremblay Road would be realigned to accommodate the development. The road would kick south through the property and turn east to St. Laurent Boulevard.

jwilling@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JonathanWilling

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