Final draft of city-building blueprint draws scrutiny

The City of Ottawa has released new targets for how much intensification it wants in its older neighbourhoods, and a new 40-storey definition for highrise buildings, in the lead-up to a major debate on an official plan this fall.

Parts of new Ottawa official plan released ahead of big debate in September

An infill development is built in Ottawa's desirable Westboro neighbourhood in May 2021. (Kate Porter/CBC)

The City of Ottawa has released new intensification targets for different parts of the city, and a new definition for highrise buildings that allows up to 40 storeys, in the lead-up to a major debate and vote this fall on its new official plan.

Municipal planning staff posted several chapters of the long-awaited final draft to the city's website last Friday, leaving visible the language they have cut and added since their much-dissected earlier version released in November 2020.

Now, residents are again wading through those hundreds of pages of urban planning to discern how the document could transform streets and neighbourhoods.

Several community groups had spoken out earlier this year, arguing the city aimed to achieve too much of its infill development goals in neighbourhoods that are already under pressure. They also wanted assurances the city would preserve tree canopy, and create amenities such as libraries and recreation centres if tens of thousands more people move into older areas.

Targets, not requirements, for density

Staff now propose setting targets instead of requirements for how many dwellings it wants per hectare in different parts of the city. The contested 80 dwellings in "inner urban" areas built before the 1950s, for instance, will instead have target densities of 60 to 80 units. "Outer urban" neighbourhoods could see 40 to 60 dwellings instead of the previous 40.

Kitchissippi ward resident Roland Dorsay wonders what that will look like in practice, however, and expects housing densities to veer toward the top end of the new ranges.

"A lot of it looks to be more wordsmithing than it does to be substantive change," said Dorsay, who chairs a collective of community associations called "K9". He's in the midst of studying the new draft line by line, and is still waiting for more chapters to be posted in the coming days or weeks. 

Like many people, Dorsay supports the city's goal to intensify existing areas over creating new, car-dependent suburbs. Still, he doubts the city will spend the money to build amenities and create environmentally friendly, walkable neighbourhoods even as it allows developers to build more units on each lot. 

40-storey highrises

In the new document, transit "hubs" and main streets could see higher buildings than previously planned, as staff tried to appease those who worried the insides of neighbourhoods might lose character from increased infill.

Instead of ranging from 10 to 30 storeys, the definition of highrise will now top out at 40 storeys. Such buildings would be allowed on many of the city's wider main streets, where city staff originally proposed capping building heights at nine floors.

Among the many other changes in the proposed official plan is new language for possible future development at Lansdowne Park, such as protecting the view of the the Aberdeen Pavilion from Queen Elizabeth Drive.

Last month, city council took the first steps toward replacing Lansdown'e north-side stadium stands and arena, which it might pay for by adding housing on the site.

The city has always intended to host an open house late in the summer but is still confirming the details. The city has set aside three days, beginning Sept. 13, for a joint committee to hear public delegations and debate the new official plan.

But residents have long argued that timeline is one set by politicians who want the file closed during this term of council, even though residents want to digest the important document and get it right.

"There's no compelling reason why more time can't be given," said Dorsay.