Councillors aim to take farmland off table in boundary debate

A highly anticipated city meeting about expanding Ottawa's urban boundary kicked off Monday morning with some city councillors attempting to take all prime farmland off the table.

Marathon meeting begins with more than 100 delegations signed up to give video presentations

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

3 years ago
Duration 1:05
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.

A highly anticipated city meeting about whether to expand Ottawa's urban boundary kicked off Monday morning with a move to take all prime farmland off the table.

The two committees responsible for planning issues will meet for hours, if not days, to discuss the city's second attempt at urban expansion since amalgamation nearly two decades ago.

City staff have asked councillors to approve adding 1,281 hectares of rural land to the urban area to meet a population that's expected to grow to 1.4 million people by 2046. Those 400,000 additional citizens will require an estimated 195,000 new homes.

Additional land could be assigned to future warehouses, industrial parks and logistics centres near 400-series highway interchanges.

Agriculture and rural affairs committee chair Eli El-Chantiry tabled a motion to exclude all prime farmland from those calculations.

"By being explicit about this, we offer more certainty for our farmers and for food security in Ottawa," said El-Chantiry, who pointed out provincial laws require the city to protect farmland.

City council will vote on the expansion May 27.

Corn is harvested near North Gower on Ottawa's rural edge. The city is struggling to find the right balance between protecting valuable farmland like this, and making enough room for the estimated 195,000 new homes the growing population will require over the next two and a half decades. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Long list of speakers

This "land budget" will dictate how Ottawa grows, and that has attracted an unusually long list of public delegations looking to weigh in by video.

There are 109 delegations signed up to speak, among them community associations, environmental groups, executives of several development companies, and even John Smit, the city's former director of economic development and long-range planning, speaking on behalf of consultants GBA Group.

City planner Don Herweyer began the staff presentation by admitting their recommendation to push out the rural-urban divide was "not popular" in some quarters.

The Greater Ottawa Homebuilders' Association has waged an ad campaign arguing the city is seeking too much intensification. Meanwhile, community groups held a video rally to argue expanding the boundary would clash with the city's goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and nearly 4,000 residents have signed an Ecology Ottawa petition calling on the city to "hold the line."

Herweyer described the staff proposal as "ambitious" and "forward-thinking" because it calls for more intensification and more compact suburbs than in the past.

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