Ottawa planning committee OKs proposed concert venue at Wesley Clover Parks

Polo in the park
2018 Polo in the Park at Ottawa's Wesley Clover Parks. Photo by Caroline Phillips.

Ottawa’s planning committee unanimously approved a plan Wednesday to allow Wesley Clover Parks to turn the Corkstown Road equestrian facility into a two-day concert venue next summer, despite objections from nearby residents who say the event could damage precious green space.

Wesley Clover officials say as many as 25,000 people would be expected to attend each day of a country music festival Live Nation Canada is reportedly proposing for the site on June 29 and 30, 2019. The applicants are hoping the event will showcase the site’s potential as an entertainment venue and pave the way for future large-scale events on the property.

The 500-acre site is located on greenbelt land owned by the National Capital Commission. The NCC leases the property to the Wesley Clover Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by tech titan Terry Matthews and run by his daughter, Karen Sparks.

Allowing a major concert on the property would require the city to change its zoning rules. The city wants to limit the outdoor concert theatre to a maximum of 5,000 participants until a traffic management plan and transportation impact study are conducted, but Wesley Clover is requesting an exemption to allow up to 25,000 people to attend the concerts next June.

Sparks told the committee a Shania Twain show that drew 21,000 concertgoers to the property in 2015 caused “minimal damage” to the site.

That event sparked complaints about long lineups and traffic snarls, but Sparks said her team learned valuable lessons from that experience and will be much better prepared to host next year’s event. Wesley Clover officials suffered a “bruised ego” after the 2015 show, she conceded, but said the concert had no other lasting impacts.

She also said the site could provide a future regular concert venue for fun runs and equestrian events.

Wesley Clover officials say the only permanent change required to the site would be the installation of a gravel pad because any music stages would be temporary. In a letter to the committee, the NCC said it supports using the land as a concert venue.

But some nearby residents oppose the plan, saying such a large event could damage the natural environment of the greenbelt.

Former councillor Alex Cullen, president of the Belltown Neighbours Association, told the committee the NCC’s Greenbelt Master Plan discourages non-federal development on the land. He said the Shania Twain concert turned the park into a “muddy field” and said a major festival would be “wholly out of scale” for the site.

“It’s not what the greenbelt is supposed to be used for,” he said.

However, Coun. Mark Taylor, who represents the ward, called the property “the ideal site” for the festival. He argued such events have always been part of the long-term plan for the site, which sits near the junction of highways 416 and 417 and the planned extension of the LRT to Moodie Drive.

Wesley Clover’s proposal “takes a piece of green space and actually invites people into it,” he said.

Wesley Clover is also asking the city to allow daycare and instructional facilities as permitted uses for the land.

The organization currently runs a forest and nature school at the site in conjunction with the Child and Nature Alliance. No new buildings are planned for the time being, Sparks said, although a “modest” four-room structure could be part of future expansions, she added.

Full council is slated to vote on the planning committee’s recommendation on Oct. 10.