Councillors open door to fewer single-family suburban homes

Two city councillors disagreed with the new rules that could see fewer single-family homes built in the suburbs, but for different reasons.

2 suburban councillors spoke out against the new rules, for different reasons

There could be fewer single-family homes in the suburbs after council approved changes to the minimum number of them allowable in new communities. (Dave Rae/CBC)

Two Ottawa city councillors disagree with new rules that could see fewer single-family homes built in the suburbs, but for different reasons.

On Wednesday, council approved changes to the official plan — the city's overall planning blueprint — to decrease the minimum number of single homes to 30 per cent of a new development, down from 45 per cent.

The maximum would remain at 55 per cent.

In other words, a new suburban community could now be built with just 30 per cent of homes being single-family dwellings and more multi-unit ones.

According to a city report, the change "will permit greater flexibility in the provision of new housing and a greater likelihood that the target suburban housing densities are achieved in the remaining undeveloped lands."

    The decision is actually the culmination of policy changes the city has tried to put in place over the last decade, changes which have — in some cases — been appealed by developers.

      A more robust review of the housing mix is now taking place as part of the city's official plan review.

      Parking issues

      Despite the seeming technicality of the report to council, a couple of suburban representatives spoke out against the new measures.

      Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Carol Anne Meehan said she understands the city wants to intensify all areas of the city in an effort to avoid expanding the urban boundary.

      But she said she was worried that the new housing mix would result in multi-residential complexes, including townhomes, that don't have enough parking space to accommodate vehicles and forces people to park on the street.

      According to the suburban councillor, residential streets are already so packed with parked cars sometimes that emergency vehicles have trouble driving through.

      Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Carol Anne Meehan said she's worried the new rules could worsen the problem of on-street parking in the suburbs. (CBC)

      "Anybody who visits a new suburban area will recognize that we actually we have a serious parking issue," Meehan said.

      "While I know that we're supposed to be encouraging people … to be on transit in the city and to leave their cars at home, Ottawa is a vast city and our busing cannot accommodate everyone to get exactly where they want to go. So people are are buying these residential units and they have one, two, sometimes three cars."

      The city's general manager of planning, Stephen Willis, said while he recognizes the issue that Meehan described, more formal parking would defeat the city's aim of eventually bringing "a higher level of transit" to more areas of the city. 

      Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley was somewhat less diplomatic, suggesting that Meehan "not exaggerate" the problems that parking creates on suburban residential streets.

      Trades away leverage

      Representing the opposite end of the city, Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais opposed the rules because he believes communities would benefit more if the city negotiated proposed developments one at a time.

      "This takes all of our leverage away from the builders," said Blais.

      Currently, developers who want to build more dense communities have to apply to the city, and those applications are  "approved through negotiation," he said.

      Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais objected to the new rules, arguing that the city is giving away its leverage in negotiating community benefits with developers. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

      Those negotiations come with potential benefits, Blais added.

      "[It's] getting the park faster. It's getting a bigger park with more money put into it. It's getting intersection modifications or speed reduction … So let's not give them this density by default. Let's negotiate it to for the benefit of the community on a case-by-case basis."

      Council approved the changes to the housing mix Wednesday, with Blais and Meehan voting no.


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