Ottawa's new official plan forges ahead, despite criticisms

The City of Ottawa's new official plan, which will lay out how the city will grow over the next 25 years, will still be produced by the fall, despite calls from some community associations to delay the important document.

Final version will go before for council in September

One goal in the City of Ottawa's new official plan will be to create more neighbourhoods where all amenities are within a 15-minute walk. Some critics of the plan say the city needs more time to review comments from the public. (Andrew Lee/CBC)


  • Planning GM Stephen Willis sent council a memo March 17 describing "unprecedented engagement."
  • Staff will revise the draft to plan intensification that's sensitive to individual neighbourhoods.

The City of Ottawa's new official plan, which will lay out how the city will grow for the next 25 years, will still go before councillors for a decision in mid-September, despite calls from community associations to delay the cornerstone document.

The complex 264-page draft version and its many maps and appendices became public in mid-November. Hundreds of people have spent hours lately poring over what it prescribes for how land can be used across the city — from how tall buildings can be, to targets for squeezing in more households per hectare. The city accepted comments until last Friday.

The Federation of Citizen's Associations (FCA), an umbrella organization for 57 community groups, wrote to Mayor Jim Watson asking that the city show residents a second draft and postpone a final decision until after the next election, calling the timeline "woefully inaccurate."

"The policies in place were hard to disentangle. What applied to what neighbourhood? We need the time to digest this, to figure this out," FCA's president Alex Cullen, a former city councillor, explained to CBC News.

The mayor, along with the two councillors who chair committees that decide planning files — Jan Harder and Eli El-Chantiry — wrote a letter in response saying they would "not be placing your request on a future agenda."

The letter described various official plan meetings held over two years, boasted about having reached 100,000 residents so far during consultations, and pointed out the final report has already been pushed from June to September. 

City to answer questions March 24

"The timeline the mayor refers to in his letter to us was decided before the pandemic," said Cullen, adding the mayor's response is not going over well.

The pandemic has limited how volunteers work together on feedback for the city, but moreover could affect future patterns for where people want to live and how they get around, Cullen said. 

"Giving some time to see how the world plays out would make sense," he said.

The city first launched the process to create a new official plan in early 2019, and city council has already made some big decisions that will underpin it. For instance, council settled in February on nearly 1,300 hectares of rural properties where future development will be allowed, including an entirely new suburb called Tewin.

It also set a goal to greatly intensify neighbourhoods, which will bring big change especially to older areas or those located near transit stations. Eventually, the city wants 60 per cent of new development to take place through infill.

Despite talk about creating "15-minute" walkable neighbourhoods, Cullen saw no map in the draft official plan to identify where such neighbourhoods are or could be.

In the draft official plan, the City of Ottawa expects much of the 'inner urban' area within the Greenbelt to be suitable for low-rise infill development. The dotted areas could see 'gentle' change, while the striped areas are expected to change 'rapidly' because they're close to services and rapid transit. (City of Ottawa)

Daniel Buckles also felt the draft document was sometimes vague or contradictory, and worried greater intensification would affect the tree canopy the city seeks to protect.

The adjunct Carleton University professor is part of a network called People's Official Plan for Ottawa's Climate Emergency, which submitted 100 pages of comments to the city.

The group will be "on tenterhooks" not knowing if staff incorporate their advice until September, but Buckles says the city doesn't usually seem receptive to shifting its positions on big issues.

"That leaves us somewhat skeptical and mistrusting of the sincerity and utility of the consultation process," said Buckles, who also wants the city to produce a second draft with all the feedback it received.

The City of Ottawa said it has received hundreds of questions about the draft official plan in recent weeks, so it will hold a question-and-answer session online on March 24, from 6 to 8 p.m. 

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