Before vote on Ottawa's official plan, councillor wants to see 'missing pieces'

Time is running out before Ottawa city council votes on a new official plan and one councillor wants staff to make public detailed costs for expanding the suburbs and "robust modelling" of the intensification proposed for older neighbourhoods.

Capital ward's Shawn Menard wants detailed cost estimates, 'robust modelling' made public

Coun. Shawn Menard wants detailed cost estimates of urban expansion and modelling for future intensification made public before voting on Ottawa's new official plan. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Time is running out before Ottawa city council votes on a new official plan and one councillor wants staff to make public detailed costs for expanding the suburbs and "robust modelling" of the intensification proposed for older neighbourhoods.

"These are both essential missing pieces," said Capital ward's Shawn Menard.

Menard will introduce a pair of motions at the final council meeting before the summer break on July 21, just a few weeks before residents get to see their long-awaited final version of a blueprint for city growth.

An official plan is one of the most important legal documents in a municipality and as it crafts a new document, the City of Ottawa's proposals have drawn intense interest by residents and builders alike over the past couple of years.

Costs to maintain new suburbs

In February, city council voted to urbanize 1,281 hectares of rural properties to meet the housing needs of a growing population. That included a controversial political decision to create an entirely new 445-hectare suburb in the city's rural south-east called Tewin, led by the Algonquins of Ontario and developer Taggart.

Staff have often called sprawl much more costly to the city than servicing new housing units in existing areas, but Menard says the urban boundary report produced in 2020 did not include estimates for how much it would cost taxpayers to maintain all those extra suburban roads, pipes, and other infrastructure for decades.

City staff had explained last year they could only do a reliable or accurate financial analysis once the official plan is approved.

But Menard points to the City of Edmonton, which tabulated costs for various growth scenarios before adopting a final plan, and thinks Ottawa should show its public a similar accounting.

"This is a city hall with a history of hypocrisy, taking the time to pound the table at budget time about fiscal responsibility, while at the same time making massive decisions which put significant pressure on our taxes," he told CBC News.

An aerial shot of several homes on a suburban street, one of which is under construction.
A bird's-eye-view shows new homes in various stages of construction in the Kanata area in May. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Modelling where 'dense builds will go'

Menard's second motion relates to targets council adopted to intensify existing areas with infill developments that can house more than 200,000 people. Residents have seen no modelling, and are right now "inferring or guessing" at whether their neighbourhoods can handle it, he said.

"The modelling is important. It reveals what communities can expect and where those newer, more dense builds will go," he said, noting those calculations have so far been "too opaque" for residents. 

Last month, city staff said they had "redone their math" to increase heights allowed for high-rises in order to take pressure off neighbourhoods that faced a lot of change.

As for Menard's motions, staff would not comment while they review them ahead of the July 21 meeting.

That same day, city council is also expected to vote on a new chair of the planning committee.

Former chair Jan Harder had taken part in regular meetings of a small group of councillors involved in championing the new official plan. She reluctantly resigned from the committee in June after an integrity report into her relationship with a development consulting firm.

Ottawa's official plan will be debated during a three-day committee meeting scheduled to begin Sept. 13. After council endorses it, Ontario's minister of municipal affairs must give his final approval.


Kate Porter


Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past two decades, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.