RPRA’s Update re Rockcliffe Lawn Tennis Club Lighting
June 22, 2020
The Rockcliffe Park Residents Association received dozens of letters, emails and calls in April, May and June 2020 from neighbours arguing strongly for and against the Rockcliffe Lawn Tennis Club (RLTC) plan to install lighting. This debate has caused controversy in our community.
On that basis, the RPRA would like to take the opportunity to update the community on the current situation, provide facts, outline actions and clarify the RPRA’s role.
Objecting opinions to tennis club lighting can be broadly summarised as follows:
- Concern that tennis club court lighting would add significant light pollution, and accompanying increased noise traffic into the night which would detrimentally impact the quality of life, and property value of all surrounding residential neighbours.
- Concern that introducing bright lighting would be incompatible with the unique and protected nighttime character of the village. Tennis court lighting would not to be compatible with the Rockcliffe Park Heritage Plan.
- Concern over the impact of bright lighting on sensitive wildlife and nature in the area.
In contrast, the RLTC and supporters of tennis club lighting argue that:
- Tennis court lighting would not have a significant negative impact on surrounding neighbours, and the overall nighttime character of the village.
- Tennis court lighting would help the club compete for members with other tennis clubs.
- Tennis court lighting would provide a benefit to the community, by promoting active living and allowing for shared enjoyment and interaction into the evening.
- The Heritage Plan lists the tennis club as a “Heritage Attribute” to the Heritage Conservation District, and does not specifically restrict tennis court lighting.
Community members have offered their views, and turned to the RPRA for information and guidance.
The RPRA’s role is “to foster a spirit of community within the Village, to preserve and enhance its unique natural environment and its special heritage character, and to represent the interests of Rockcliffe residents.” The guiding principle of the RPRA is its commitment to the three, linked core values: Heritage, Community and Environment. The RPRA’s articles provide that the purpose of the RPRA is “to provide any service or carry out any activity whatsoever tending to the benefit of the residents of the Heritage Conservation District of Rockcliffe Park, in the City of Ottawa, Ontario.
The volunteers of the RPRA board and RPRA committees have spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort over the last several months listening to all voices in the community.
This document provides a factual overview of the background, and current situation.
- Consultation with the RPRA Heritage Committee and community prior to submitting a Heritage Permit application to the City of Ottawa is strongly encouraged, but there is no legal obligation for Heritage Permit applicants to do so. The RLTC did not enter into a consultation process with the Heritage Committee or neighbours prior to submitting an application for a Heritage Permit application to the City of Ottawa for tennis court lighting in April
- The City of Ottawa and the (then) Ward Councillor did not notify the RPRA Heritage Committee of the RLTC application upon receipt. The City of Ottawa also did not notify or consult with the RPRA Heritage Committee during their review and approval process. Note: there is a legal obligation for the City to notify the public of all heritage applications except those that the City heritage staff deem to accord with the conditions under which the City staff can exercise Delegated Authority.
- The RPRA and the wider community therefore only became aware of the application after the Heritage Permit was granted under Delegated Authority on 3 May 2018. The permit was granted on the basis of the 1997 Rockcliffe Park Heritage Conservation District Guidelines, not the Rockcliffe Park Heritage Conservation District Plan, which only came into full force in May 2019.
- The RPRA became aware of the growing discontent within the community in 2019, and the president of the RPRA sent a letter to the RLTC in early Dec 2019 asking the tennis club to consider foregoing their lighting plans: “The essential equation, in short, is the long-standing heritage character of our community and the legitimate interests of close neighbours vs. the desire of some members to play later … than has been the practice in the past.”
- Due to the Covid-19 crisis, a public information meeting planned by the RLTC for the 25 March 2020 was cancelled.
- In April 2020, neighbours of the tennis club legally challenged the City with regards to the approval process for the Heritage Permit, arguing that the RLTC application did not meet the criteria for Delegated Authority, and that the Heritage Permit was therefore invalid. The City’s legal department maintained that their decision was legal.
- The RLTC has committed to the community in an open letter on 2 May 2020 that: “… the (RLTC) Board has decided to hold off on further project development until there has been ample discussion.”
- Subsequently, the Heritage Permit expired on 3 May 2020 (two years after approval), as confirmed by the City of Ottawa. Neighbours withdrew their legal challenge.
- A group of individuals distributed a collection of letters on 9 June 2020, asking residents to email the RPRA and state their objection to any future lighting plans by the RLTC.
The RLTC currently has no Heritage Permit for any court lighting, and it is currently unknown to the RPRA if or when the RLTC will pursue future lighting plans.
As a matter of policy, the RPRA and its Heritage Committee generally do not comment on hypothetical or future applications. Instead, the RPRA (through its Heritage Committee) only provides comments on specific cases, when:
- An applicant approaches the RPRA Heritage Committee informally prior to the submission of a Heritage Permit application. This is an informal and confidential pre-consultation allowing the applicant to better understand the Heritage Plan, and decide if or how to proceed with a Heritage Permit application to the City of Ottawa.
- The Heritage Planning Branch of the City of Ottawa invites the RPRA Heritage Committee (and Ward Councillor) to comment as part of a coordinated, formal consultation process upon receipt of an application. Any comments the RPRA Heritage Committee provides are only shared with the City’s Heritage Planning Branch at that stage. The City’s Heritage Planning Branch is solely responsible for preparing a recommendation to the Built Heritage Sub Committee, and City Council.
The RPRA and its Heritage Committee have no decision-making authority in the Heritage Permit process. Only the City of Ottawa can grant Heritage Permits for Rockcliffe Park.
The RPRA Heritage Committee fairly evaluates any specific proposal on its own merits, based on the provisions of the Rockcliffe Park Heritage Plan and in line with the above policies.
The RPRA is bound by its mandate and commitment to uphold the Heritage Plan which recognises the importance of subdued nighttime illumination. The visible night sky, lack of glare, light pollution/spillage and a dimly-lit visual environment are important, defining aspects of our unique neighbourhood that the Heritage Plan seeks to protect. Any lighting that materially diminishes or alters the nighttime character of Rockcliffe Park is in conflict with the purpose and intent of the Heritage Plan.
There are legitimate and fundamental concerns regarding tennis court lighting in the sensitive location of the RLTC. The RPRA appealed to the RLTC in the past not to pursue future lighting plans in recognition of our protected nighttime environment, and in the spirit of being a good neighbour.
The RPRA has offered assistance in seeking alternative ways of improving the club’s membership without the need for court lighting at the RLTC location. The RPRA values the tennis club as an important community facility, and is looking forward to continued dialogue and partnership for the next 97 years.