Major zoning move could bring more multi-unit lowrises to Ottawa's core

Older neighbourhoods in Ottawa could soon see more lowrise apartment buildings popping up between houses as the city updates its zoning rules in an attempt to encourage more rental units.

City aiming to loosen rules to deal with housing shortage

The updated zoning would affect large sections of Ottawa's inner urban area, shown in black on this map. (City of Ottawa)


  • City council approved the R4 zoning changes on Sept. 23. Coun. Mathieu Fleury dissented.

Older neighbourhoods in Ottawa could soon see more lowrise apartment buildings popping up between houses as the city updates its zoning rules in an attempt to encourage more rental units.

The changes to what are known as R4 zones are four years in the making, and stem from the city's earlier issues with illegal rooming houses in neighbourhoods such as Sandy Hill and Old Ottawa South.

City staff closed a loophole allowing the rooming houses a few years ago, but also saw them as a symptom of a greater need: a shortage of affordable rental housing. As a result, the city decided to update its 50-year-old zoning rules to make it easier for developers to build walk-up apartments in established neighbourhoods.

The changes would allow an eight-unit building on a lot just 12 metres wide, and a 12-unit building on a lot just 15 metres wide. Larger lots up to 38 metres in width won't have a cap on the number of units developers can build.

Coun. Jan Harder, who chairs the city's planning committee, called it a "really important policy piece" Thursday as committee members gave their unanimous approval, sending the matter on to city council for the final OK.

    Most of Hintonburg, Vanier affected

    The zoning changes would affect neighbourhoods from Westboro in the west to Blair in the east and south to the Rideau River.

    Community associations have had these changes on their radar a long time, and most agree on the overall goals of creating more affordable housing, adding density to existing areas to cut down on traffic emissions, and having more people living in areas where they can walk to neighbourhood amenities.

    But during Thursday's virtual meeting, they also pressed city officials on such details as building facades, parking and green space requirements, and unit sizes.

    "There's nothing zoned lower than R4 in Hintonburg, so our entire area will be affected by the changes," said Jay Baltz of the Hintonburg Community Association.

    Historically, the area ended up with lowrise buildings that weren't interesting to look at but cheap to build, Baltz said. That's happening again, he said, as developers anticipate the city's new direction.

    "We've had a slew of rezoning applications for lowrise apartment buildings in Hintonburg," said Baltz. "Almost universally, the first iteration was a plain box." 

    Older walk-up apartment buildings like these are still a common sight in neighbourhoods such as the Golden Triangle and Vanier, but city staff say zoning rules have made them more difficult to build in recent years. (City of Ottawa)

    Community groups also questioned whether the new units would truly be more affordable than the old buildings they're replacing.

    Others worried about ending up with an overabundance of bachelor and one-bedroom apartments, rather than units more suitable for families.

    That lack of housing for the "missing middle" — options for families that are neither single-family homes nor condos in tall towers — is a key challenge in Ottawa, and in many North American cities.

    Even though Thursday's decision dealt only with core neighbourhoods, city staff are preparing maps for this fall that could "upzone" or increase the density allowed in areas all over the city.

    That's because Ottawa city council approved goals last spring to deal with a growing population by intensifying existing areas, in addition to expanding its urban boundary.


    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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