City committees back urban expansion

After 28 hours of committee meetings, 100 public delegations, more than a dozen motions and hours of discussion over three days, Ottawa city councillors on two committees approved expanding the city's urban area in a vote of 10 to 1 on Tuesday evening.

Coun. Jeff Leiper only member to vote against adding 1,650 hectares for development

Here’s why Ottawa’s urban boundary is so important

CBC News Ottawa

10 months ago
The city’s planning department wants to add up to 1,650 hectares of land to the suburbs, expanding the urban boundary to do so. But community groups say that could increase greenhouse gas emissions and create urban sprawl. 1:05

After 28 hours of committee meetings, 100 public delegations, more than a dozen motions and hours of discussion over three days, Ottawa city councillors on two committees approved expanding the city's urban area in a vote of 10 to 1 on Tuesday evening.

The once-in-a-decade expansion will go to full council May 27 for a final decision.

Only Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper voted against the expansion Tuesday. He argued that he didn't have enough information about the implications of staff's recommendation to add up to 1,650 hectares of land to the buildable parts of the city, including the cost to taxpayers to operate the extra infrastructure the expansion will require.

This is exactly what sprawl is.- Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard


"I can't support it," Leiper told his council colleagues. "It's ultimately going to cost the residents of Ottawa more in the long term."

Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard is not a member of either the planning or the agriculture and rural affairs committee, both of which have met together over the past week to deal with the urban boundary.

Despite not having a vote at committee, Menard was vocal in his opposition to the expansion, arguing that it would be detrimental to future tax levels, the ability of the city to provide services to all residents and to the environment.

While the city has an "action plan" for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 100 per cent by 2050, details of that plan are not yet available. Still, city staff told councillors Tuesday the ambitious goal could be achieved even if the city expanded its urban area.

Menard also wanted to make clear that the majority of the 23,000 homes planned for the expanded suburbs under the city's plan would be single-family homes, despite the fact that staff confirmed that the densest form of housing is also the cheapest for the city to operate.

"This is sprawl," said Menard. "This is exactly what sprawl is. And we can pretend that we're going to build these 15-minute communities, but they're going to take decades to come about, if they do at all."

Province calls for single-family homes

City staff have described its recommendation for expansion as both "aggressive" and "progressive," as it calls for more intensification than the current plan.

Staff also pointed out that the city is somewhat at the mercy of the provincial planning regulations, including a new requirement  — which just came into effect weeks ago — that cities provide a mix of housing style related to "market demand."

"How do you measure market demand? This has not been tested yet," Willis told councillors.

However, considering the provincial government's policy discussions on the subject, and the fact the province specifically added the words "single family houses" to its policy statement, Willis said the province is "expecting us to provide for them now."

In his support of the urban expansion, Goulbourn ward Coun. Scott Moffatt said that the city needs time to deal with the changes brought by intensification, as well as how to pay for community amenities, like older recreation facilities. Expanding the urban boundary will provide a little more breathing room to bring in more concrete intensification policies and zoning rules.

"We've already seen the challenges that we face with increasing our densities," said Moffatt. "This will not be simple, this won't happen overnight. It's not going to be easy, but it needs to happen and we need to start somewhere."

Protect large farming areas

Councillors dealt with more than a dozen motions, including one to exclude lands in an "agricultural resource area" from being added to the urban lands or to any village.

The motion, which was unanimously approved, is meant to protect good quality farming land from being developed. And it does, but only certain larger parcels of land — generally about 250 hectares — that have been identified by the city's land evaluation system. That means that some prime agricultural lands, including ones being farmed right now, would not be protected by this motion.

And the fact agricultural land won't be considered as a possible addition to the urban boundary means that the city may have to look at letting in property even farther afield in order to reach its target for physical growth.

Councillors are being asked to approve the urban boundary expansion without knowing exactly which lands are likely to be added, or seeing any modelling about what this level of intensification might look like in different parts of the city. Instead they are being asked to approve criteria against which to score potential land additions.

Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley moved a motion to give additional transit-related points to properties that are near existing and future transit corridors, as well as park-and-rides, and not just transit stations. 

River ward Coun. Riley Brockington unsuccessfully moved to increase the city's intensification target to 70 per cent, as opposed to staff's recommendation of 60 per cent. The increase would have meant 243 fewer hectares being added to the urban lands.

The two committees responsible for city planning agreed to go with city staff's advice and make hundreds of hectares available for future subdivisions. Kate Porter breaks down what this urban boundary change would mean for Ottawa's future. 8:00

About the Author

Joanne Chianello

City affairs analyst

Joanne Chianello is an award-winning journalist and CBC Ottawa's city affairs analyst. You can email her at or tweet her at @jchianello.

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