Ottawa's suburb expansion debate far from over

The battle over the urban boundary continues this morning after 11 hours of public arguments Monday for and against expanding Ottawa's suburbs over the next two decades.

After 11 hour meeting, councillors still have more than 60 people to hear from

Ottawa's urban boundary debate is a once-in-a-decade decision on how the city will grow. (Kate Porter/CBC)

The battle over Ottawa's urban boundary continues Tuesday morning after 11 hours of public arguments Monday for and against expanding the suburbs over the next two decades.

More than 60 of the 109 people that signed up to speak to city councillors have yet to weigh in during what is turning into a multi-day public meeting held on Zoom. 

That so many people want to weigh in is an indication of the importance of this once-in-a-decade decision.

Whether to expand the urban boundary — an invisible line within the city limits that separates the core and suburbs from Ottawa's rural areas — will have long-lasting ramifications for how the city will grow for years to come.

Here’s why Ottawa’s urban boundary is so important

3 years ago
Duration 1:06
The city’s planning department wants to add up to 1,650 hectares of land to the suburbs, expanding the urban boundary to do so. But community groups say that could increase greenhouse gas emissions and create urban sprawl.

    City planning staff are recommending council stretch the boundary to swap as much as 1,650 hectares of rural land for suburban land to help absorb the estimated 181,000 new homes the city will need by 2046.

    Under the plan, 23,000 of those would be built in these newly-urbanized areas, while existing communities would also see more intensification.

      During a special joint meeting of the planning and agricultural and rural affairs committees Monday, councillors heard from groups opposing any expansion and developers and landowners who not only want the boundary expanded, but believe it should move out even farther than recommended.

      'An affordability issue'

      The first of the public delegations on Monday was from the Algonquins of Ontario supporting the plan for expansion, saying through modern-day treaty negotiations and other consultations they soon expect to be in control of thousands of acres of land in city limits

      In a letter to councillors, executive director Janet Stavinga — herself a former city councillor  —  said the lands would be an investment in their future and economic development.

      Several landowners and developers, including Claridge Homes vice-president Neil Malhotra, warned the city's recommended plan for expansion will be "challenging" for the city because many families still want to live in a single-detached home with a backyard.

      "Ultimately, the market demand is going to drive where the housing is going to go," Malhotra told councillors. "It's simply an affordability issue."

      Those in favour of expansion argue that families don't generally want to live in high-rises. (Trinity Development Group)

      He said that building family-sized homes in high-rise or even mid-rise condos is simply too expensive for many families, estimating the cost of a 1,000-square-foot, three-bedroom home in a condo at about $600,000 to $700,000. 

      For that money, he said they'd rather buy an old house in a gentrifying neighbourhood or a more spacious place in the suburbs.

      Call for better intensification

      Those opposed to urban expansion argued residents need more choices than a house with a white-picket fence or living in a high-rise.

      The city's recommendations include more semi-detached, row- and stacked-houses — but not by enough, according to critics.

      They called for intensification through six- to nine-storey mid-rise buildings on main streets instead of towers and argued for better services such as schools, daycares, and parks to attract people to more dense living areas.

      City staff are proposing some new forms of intensification in existing communities, like the "613 flat" that could house families in three-bedroom units on single lots. However, some argue that these sorts of initiatives won't provide enough housing over the next 26 years without urban expansion (City of Ottawa)

      "We acknowledge that saying 'no' to urban expansion means saying 'yes' to greater density within the boundary and 'yes' to greater density in Lowertown," said Liz Bernstein of the Lowertown Community Association.

        Walking around Lowertown during the COVID-19 lockdown, she said "it's clear just how much space has been devoted to car infrastructure that could easily be repurposed for housing solutions, let alone office buildings that may be rethought in that post-pandemic world."

        Coun. Jan Harder, who chairs the powerful planning committee, first wanted to continue the meeting next week before it was changed to Tuesday.

        At first no more days had been set aside, despite it being known for days more than 100 people wanted to make presentations.

        The first public delegation set to speak on Tuesday is Sheila Perry of the Federation of Community Associations, which is against expansion.

        The meeting is set to run until 4:45 p.m., after which councillors may need yet another day to ask staff detailed questions before voting.

        That final day of debate at this committee is set for next Wednesday, May 20, a week before the final decision is to be made by full council.

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