By Ray Boomgaardt. This article originally appeared in the April 2021 edition of the New Edinburgh News.
In November 2020, the City of Ottawa published a draft revision of its Official Plan, intended to guide the growth of the city for the next 25 years. It invited public comments on the four volumes (Vol. 1 alone is more than 250 pages long). The Board of the New Edinburgh Community Alliance (NECA) submitted its comments on Mar. 12 (find our submission at newedinburgh.ca). Our City Councillor Rawlson King has invited residents to make any further comments to his office.
The City terms its revisions to its Official Plan as a “New Official Plan.” That’s actually a fair description, because the New Plan reverses many of the policies of the existing Plan. The extreme departure from existing policies is very strange – even bizarre – because the existing Plan is well written, has been regularly updated by Council, and seems to have served the City rather well. The New Plan is full of empty jargon, reverses not only well-established policies but also many recent Council decisions, and attacks fundamental rules and procedures protecting Ottawa’s urban neighbourhoods.
Having been critical of the City in the past, it feels strange to be suddenly noticing all the merits of the existing Plan. But that is perhaps the easiest way to convey to you, dear reader, how worrisome this revision, the draft New Plan, is.
Fifty years ago, the ideas of urban-renewal activist Jane Jacobs lead the citizens of Toronto in their campaign to stop the Spadina Expressway. In 1979, those same ideas galvanized New Edinburgh to stop the Vanier Arterial. Perhaps the writers of the New Plan were indulging in some black humour when they decided to label the Queensway, Ottawa’s expressway, a scenic route (yes, really!). But we digress. This article is not about that bit of Orwellian nonsense, although we do think it illustrates how poorly thought out and aggressively anti-urban the New Plan is.
One of NECA’s core values is our commitment to Jacobs’ understanding of what makes a city thriving and liveable: the city is made up of neighbourhoods. The existing Plan, was also explicitly based on this idea. The proposed revised Plan talks about developing “15-minute neighbourhoods,” but then repeatedly undermines urban neighbourhoods.
Let’s look at some examples.
An overview of the Plans
The existing Plan states: “This Plan manages this growth in ways that reinforce the qualities of the city most valued by its residents: its distinctly liveable communities, its green and open character, and its unique characteristics.”… “The environmental integrity of the city is reinforced throughout the Plan.”
The New Plan replaces these four commitments – to community, greenspace, unique characteristics and environment – with a far weaker and vaguer sentence: “we will need to find ways of supporting city neighbourhoods … as healthy, inclusive and vibrant places,” offering vague support for “healthy, inclusive and vibrant places.”
For existing urban areas, “healthy” seems to mean adequate parks and recreation facilities, and might even be construed as a back-handed reference to environmental integrity (i.e., a weakening of existing policy, but not a complete reversal); “inclusive” seems to mean more high-density buildings without lawns or trees (what the Plan calls the “missing middle,” i.e., with no accommodation for communities, greenspace, or unique characteristics); and “vibrant” seems to mean rapidly transforming with high-density infill (the existing Plan supports infill, but doesn’t require it to be dense, and does make it subject to the four commitments.)
NECA has been fighting for the four commitments in the existing Plan to be respected by new development proposals; the New Plan simply deletes the commitments altogether.
NECA and other community associations have done a lot of work on our vision for the development of the Beechwood Avenue corridor. The new draft Official Plan proposes to designate Beechwood from the St. Patrick bridge to Hemlock Road as a “Mainstreet Corridor.” The good part of this proposal is that new projects along the Corridor are required to have ground-level commercial units and to provide extra-wide sidewalks.
On the other hand, there is a series of additional elements that community associations would like to see included to help ensure appropriate development along Beechwood. Under both the existing Plan and the draft New Plan, secondary development plans can be initiated by the City, and, when approved, become part of the Official Plan.
However, the draft New Plan introduces a new prerequisite for secondary plans: “the City shall require a landowners’ agreement. This Agreement shall be provided to the City prior to the commencement of the Secondary Plan. The … agreement shall include … how development and density are to be distributed, as well as how the costs of studies and plans will be divided.“
In short, landowners who do not agree with a proposed planning process can veto it simply by not signing a landowner’s agreement.
Again, the City has simply deleted the prior ability to receive community input.
Dealing with growth
The New Plan notes that provincial policy requires the City to designate enough land to account for growth over the next 25 years; and that the City expects to grow to 1.4 million people by 2046, an annual growth rate of about 1.2 per cent.
Over the past 30 years, the number of living units in New Edinburgh has probably grown at a rate of more than 1.2 per cent annually. So you might think that the City would use us as a model for the future. You would be wrong.
The New Plan proposes that 47 per cent of the growth will occur within the existing urban boundary (this is targeted to rise to 60 per cent by 2046, sec 2.2.1(1)), 46 per cent in the currently undeveloped land at the periphery of the urban boundary, and seven per cent in rural areas. So far, so good.
The New Plan goes on to state: “The target amount of dwelling growth represents the proportion of new residential dwelling units, excluding institutional and collective units such as seniors’ and student residences, based upon building permit issuance within the built-up portion of the urban area.”
Apparently, seniors’ units do not count. Really: that’s in the New Plan! New Edinburgh has three long-term care facilities built in the last 30 years. But they wouldn’t count under the New Plan’s math.
Dealing with intensification
Fun fact: the draft New Plan uses the word “transect” as a noun, with a meaning unknown to either the Oxford or Random House dictionaries.
Here we go. In the inner urban “transect” (which includes New Edinburgh), the New Plan provides that “The minimum residential dwelling density …for each lot” is 80 units per hectare. This intensification requirement would apply to any new construction in New Edinburgh outside the Heritage District. The density requirement along Beechwood Avenue is 80 to 160 units per hectare.
A hectare is 10,000m2. So, at 80 units per hectare, each unit occupies 125 m2, or 1,345ft2. This is the exterior dimension, so the interior living space on each floor would be about 1,200ft2 assuming 100 per cent lot coverage. Therefore, if one wants to build a two-storey 1,800ft2 house (at 900ft2 per floor) on a 1,200ft2 lot, there is only 300ft2 of space for lot setbacks, a deck and parking. For lots that have approximately 15m frontage or wider, at least 50 per cent of the units developed on that lot must have three or more bedrooms.
If you know the size of lots on your street, you can calculate what requirements a new development would need to meet. If a lot is 50×100 = 5000ft2 (464m2), the building would need to have four units to meet the standard, and two of them would need to have three bedrooms, since the lot is more than 15m wide. Assuming 50 per cent lot coverage, 2500ft2, and three floors, this provides 7,500ft2, or approximately 1,900ft2 for each unit (exterior dimensions).
Remember, these are minimum requirements. Presumably the by-laws will be amended to permit this kind of intensification.
You tell me. What’s up with City Hall?
Ray Boomgaardt is a board member of the New Edinburgh Community Alliance.