Ottawa looks to add up to 1,650 hectares to its suburbs

The City of Ottawa's planning department wants to add up to 1,650 hectares of land to the city's suburbs, far more than the last time council decided to expand its urban boundary more than a decade ago. 

Amount recommended far exceeds what community groups wanted

City staff are recommending expanding Ottawa's urban boundary to accommodate tens of thousands of new households, as the city's population could grow by 400,000 people over the next 26 years. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

The City of Ottawa's planning department wants to add up to 1,650 hectares of land to the suburbs, far more than the last time council decided to expand its urban boundary more than a decade ago. 

The city projects Ottawa's population will grow by 402,000 by 2046, requiring 195,000 more households. 

Staff say that while intensifying Ottawa's existing neighbourhoods will cover off half of those households, the other half should go on undeveloped lands.

In all, they recommend 1,281 hectares for new urban areas, with possibly another few hundred hectares for industrial parks or warehousing near highway interchanges, for a total of 1,650.

Builders and community groups have been waiting months for this recommendation, with each side knowing that city council's decision will shape how the city grows for decades to come.

If council takes its staff's advice at a meeting on May 27, it will mean expanding the urban boundary, the invisible line that effectively separates where suburban development is allowed and where Ottawa's rural areas begin. 

Ottawa's urban boundary (CBC)

The decision to add so much land for new housing and businesses is sure to lead to a heated video conference meeting on May 11, when the two committees responsible for city planning will hear from the public remotely.

Community groups have argued for months that the city should keep the urban boundary where it is, if it wants to hit its greenhouse gas emission targets.

Moments after the recommendation was made public Friday morning, Coun. Shawn Menard said on Twitter the decision should be "opposed vigorously" and called it a "developer's dream."

3 futures

In a Friday report, however, staff said holding the urban boundary where it is would be "too ambitious" and would require both the city and housing market to adapt too quickly — and that would leave the city without the housing supply the province requires it to plan for.

Staff set out three scenarios:

  • The city could expand the boundary by 1,930 to 2,230 hectares. Over the next 26 years, 45 per cent of new households would be built in existing areas, and 55 per cent on so-called greenfields, undeveloped or underdeveloped lands designated for urban growth.
  • The city could expand the boundary by 1,350 to 1,650 hectares. Between now and 2046, 51 per cent of new households would be built in existing urban areas, and 49 per cent on undeveloped land. 
  • The city could keep the boundary where it is. Existing areas would absorb 64 per cent of new homes, with the other 36 per cent going in undeveloped areas within the boundary.

Staff recommend the second scenario, saying it will give both the city and the building industry the chance to come up with new forms of housing beyond typical single-detached and rowhomes, while potentially creating neighbourhoods where amenities are within a 15-minute walk.

'Not sprawl'

"Balanced growth is not sprawl," said planning committee chair Coun. Jan Harder in a statement. "The large, low-density suburban neighbourhoods of decades ago have changed significantly."

The city has yet to choose particular rural properties that would become urban, but the report sets out how to score them, based on how close they are to pipes, fire stations, and transit.

Provincial rules call for prime farmland to be avoided, unless there are no "reasonable alternatives." The existing urban boundary already bumps up against agricultural areas, and city staff note parcels that are zoned simply rural are "finite."

The last time council tried to tweak the line was back in 2009. It added 230 hectares, but after builders appealed, the city was forced to add another 1,100 hectares for development.

This time around, laws have changed to not allow appeals and council's decision will be final. 


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.

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