Ottawa

City staff adjust official plan after intensification worries

After concerns flooded into city hall from Ottawa residents worried their neighbourhoods would be transformed by infill development and multi-unit buildings, city staff have pulled back on some of the most contentious proposals in their draft official plan.

Blueprint for urban growth now has intensification targets instead of requirements

Ottawa's new official plan aims for far more density, measured in housing units per hectare, in existing neighbourhoods. (Kate Porter/CBC)

After concerns flooded into city hall from Ottawa residents worried their neighbourhoods would be transformed by infill development and multi-unit buildings, city staff have pulled back on some of the most contentious proposals in their draft official plan.

"We heard you," said Alain Miguelez, the urban planner leading the creation of the new official plan, who continues to meet weekly with multiple community groups.

On Thursday, the city made public a long-awaited report on the unprecedented feedback it received on the draft blueprint for how Ottawa should grow through to 2046.

One of the biggest issues for residents was a single table found among hundreds of pages that stated how many units per hectare would be required in the future.

Residents in Alta Vista, for instance, were alarmed to see their neighbourhood might be expected to have four times more homes, and that they wouldn't be permitted to rebuild a single detached home on their properties. Those requirements have now been dropped.

"We started out with something very coarse and ... it sounded too aggressive to people," explained Miguelez.

He described urban density as a Rubik's Cube, with many ways to achieve a desired number of people per hectare. Ottawa has a goal, set by city council after great debate in 2020, to house more than half its growing population through intensification and the rest by expanding its suburbs.

Now, staff will replace contentious neighbourhood density requirements in the official plan with a target range. To offset that move, the maximum height of highrises will rise to 40 storeys and taller buildings will be permitted at transit hubs.

"We can make our math work, but it's more sensitive to what we were hearing about not going too far, too fast in some areas," said Steve Willis, the general manager of planning, infrastructure and economic development.

Public meetings this month

City staff have also redrawn the map for what is considered Ottawa's "inner urban" area to capture areas built before 1950. Alta Vista and some areas south of the Central Experimental Farm will be shifted to "outer urban."

Gone is some jargon that many people found confusing. The word "regeneration" will return to "intensification" and the "transforming overlay" that tagged some areas as especially ripe for rapid change will be removed.

On the whole, Willis and Miguelez said people supported the city's goals to create neighbourhoods where amenities are within a 15-minute walk, to rely more on transit and cycling than personal vehicles, and to encourage more types of housing beyond single-family homes or apartments in tall buildings.

Despite the changes, concerns remain.

Many community groups wholly agree that intensification is the environmentally responsible way for the city to grow, but say certain areas will still be under much greater pressure than others. 

Planning general manager Stephen Willis, seen here at Ottawa city hall in 2019, says residents embraced the concept of the 15-minute neighbourhood, but were anxious about how and where the city planned to intensify. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Nelson Coyle explained Carlington area residents understand the need for tall buildings along Carling Avenue, but will keep fighting to try to prevent Fisher Avenue being designated a "minor corridor." They fear old forest could be lost if the street were widened for six-storey buildings or shops.

"That's a big deal for us — over 200 signatures on a petition," said Coyle.

The final version of the official plan could be released by chapter, as staff finish each one over the summer. It all leads to an important three-day meeting and vote by the two committees responsible for city planning scheduled to begin Sept. 13. 

In the meantime, the city will hold a series of meetings by geographic area in the coming weeks:

  • June 22 at 6:30 p.m. — Rural.
  • June 23 at 5:30 p.m. — Suburban. 
  • June 23 at 7 p.m. — Outer Urban. 
  • June 24th 6:30 p.m. — Downtown.
  • June 28th 6:30 p.m. — Inner Urban. 

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