New Official Plan requires more public consultation

Shawn Menard
Councillor, Capital Ward

Phone: 613-580-2487

During this term of city council, staff have been working on updating the Official Plan (OP). The OP is the city’s most important planning document. It sets the direction for all city planning initiatives—from zoning to affordable housing, tree protection to transportation and just about any other city issue you can think of.

The first decision made by council on the OP was a disappointment. Last year, it agreed to perpetuate Ottawa’s urban sprawl by expanding the urban boundary further into rural lands. This means there will be more expensive, unsustainable, environmentally damaging development in our future.

With that unfortunate decision, it will become even more important for the rest of the OP to be done right. During the winter, the city released a 264-page draft document and 21 supporting documents. While there are some good elements in there – the focus on active transportation, 15-minute neighbourhoods and city-wide tree canopy targets – there are also concerns.

The information released by the city is dense. This makes it all the more daunting for residents to try to have a say – few are professional city planners and many have to try to squeeze in time for reviewing city documents between work, meals, family time and rest.

I would like to highlight a few concerns we have with the proposed new Official Plan. I’ll begin with how staff have segmented the city for planning purposes. They propose to implement six context-specific “transects” that guide the planning approach and rules throughout the city. While that idea is sound, it is not being implemented properly.

Most of Capital Ward will be in the Inner Urban transect, except for the section of Old Ottawa East north of the Queensway, the area around Lees station and the Glebe Annex. These areas, which are physically and culturally integrated into our ward, would be severed from the rest of the community and shuffled into the Downtown transect. We are pushing to change this.

Further, it is not clear that the new OP lives up to its promise of “recognizing the specific needs of neighbourhoods.” Neighbourhoods do have character and that should be respected when seeking modifications.

There will be a push for intensification (now re-labelled “regeneration”). This makes sense, as we will need to fit much of our expanding population into our existing city if we are to limit the negative effects of sprawl. But it must be done equally across the city and respectfully, getting communities on board and achieving buy-in.

Will taller development on main streets block out the sun, creating caverns? Will residential development push up to lot lines, where every other building on the block is set three metres back, reducing space for trees and greenspace? We wouldn’t accept that.

And the process itself is concerning. While staff are working overtime producing material and responding to the extensive community questions and concerns, the mayor and planning chairs have sent a letter rebuking the umbrella group of community associations – the Federation of Citizens’ Associations (FCA) – for its call for city council to allow the time it deserves and to face an election on the draft plan.

Consequently, the public consultation process is unclear. The upcoming meeting with public delegations in June was cancelled as part of a three-month “extension,” while the September deadline for council to vote on the plan remains.

The latest city memo offers some hope. Staff have committed to reviewing the transect approach and adjusting some boundaries. Minimum density requirements will be less prescriptive than originally proposed, with the push for density happening near transit stations and major corridors. Intensification in the next draft of the OP will be more context-sensitive at the neighbourhood level and governed by zoning bylaws and updated secondary plans.

These are all positive developments which have been achieved through the tireless work of committed volunteers poring through the plan. We continue to be inspired by that level of engagement, knowledge and commitment to our communities.

The fight on the OP is far from over – ideally the final version would be voted on only when residents feel confident in the product. We will continue to push to improve the process and to integrate the feedback that has been so thoughtfully offered in our communities.

OP schedule as it stands:

  • Released in November 2020
  • Input received until March 12, 2021
  • New draft to be produced for June 2021
  • Final council vote scheduled for September 2021

Shawn Menard is City Councillor for Capital Ward. He can be reached directly at Shawn.Menard@ottawa.ca.

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