Ottawa prepares to add as much as 1,650 hectares to suburban development in updated Official Plan

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

Ottawa’s municipal planners have proposed adding as much as 1,650 hectares of land to the suburbs – an addition that the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) says is far more than the last time council decided to expand its urban boundary more than a decade ago.

The city expects its population will grow by 196,000 more households based on a population increase of 402,000 by 2046.

Overall, city staff recommend adding 1,281 hectares for new urban areas, with some additional space for industrial parks or warehousing near highway interchanges, totalling 1,650 hectares.

Council will decide on the official plan amendments on May 27.  The decision will shape how the city grows for decades to come.

While planners believe that much urban population growth can be accommodated by intensifying the city’s urban neighbourhoods, they believe about half of the new households should be accommodated on currently undeveloped lands.

In a report, staff set out three options:

  • Under the status quo scenario, 45 per cent of new dwellings would need to be in existing, built-up areas, with an intensification target that would rise to 50 per cent by 2046. This scenario requires the most significant urban area expansion.
  • Under the balanced scenario, 51 per cent of new dwellings would need to be in existing, built-up areas, with an intensification target that would rise to 60 per cent by 2046. “That small increase to intensification targets would reduce the need for expansion considerably,” city planners assert.
  • Under the no expansion scenario, 64 per cent of new dwellings would need to be in existing, built-up areas, meaning by 2046, 100 per cent of all new housing would be delivered through intensification – requiring much more aggressive intensification targets.

Community groups have argued for months that the city should keep the urban boundary where it is, if it wants to hit its greenhouse gas emission targets, CBC reported.

At least one councillor, Shawn Menard, says he is disappointed with the planners’ recommendations. He said on Twitter that  the decision should be “opposed vigorously” and called it a “developer’s dream.”

However staff said in the report released last Friday that holding the urban boundary where it is would be “too ambitious” and would require both the city and housing market to adapt too quickly — and that would leave the city without enough housing supply.

Staff indicated a middle course – allowing some expansion of the urban boundary – would give both the building industry and the city the opportunity to introduce new housing forms beyond typical single family dwellings and rowhouses. The new plan would potentially create neighbourhoods where amenities are within a 15-minute walk.

“Balanced growth is not sprawl,” planning committee chair Coun. Jan Harder said in a statement. “The large, low-density suburban neighbourhoods of decades ago have changed significantly.”

The report outlines how to score which rural properties should be come urban land, based on how close they are to pipes, fire stations, and transit.

“As chair of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee, I’m encouraged that none of the proposed growth scenarios will impact agricultural lands,” Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, chair of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “As well, if the urban boundary is to expand, the report does a good job of outlining where that expansion could happen, while maintaining a significant buffer around our rural villages to ensure they remain distinct.”

In its last official plan review, in 2009, the city set out rules limiting urban boundary expansion to 230 hectares. However, after developers appealed the decision to the former Ontario Municipal Board, the city added another 1,100 hectares to the urban development area.

This time around, city planners appear to have listened to the development community in allowing for some urban expansion.

“Balanced growth is not sprawl,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said in a statement. “The large, low-density suburban neighbourhoods of decades ago have changed significantly. In fact, intensification numbers for the ‘burbs’ are already surpassing inner urban areas, resulting in higher densities. The balanced growth scenario is smart growth – making use of existing infrastructure, transit access and completing communities.”

This time, the rules have been changed to not allow appeals. Council’s decision will be final.

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