In May 2020, after much debate, Ottawa City Council adopted a framework on how to deal with the City’s future growth to the year 2046. The decision was that City growth would be managed by a combination of 60% of growth occurring through intensification (i.e. building within our current urban boundary) and 40% through urban land expansion (i.e. using undeveloped land on the City’s outskirts for new development). Not everyone agreed with this approach – some Councillors (including myself) voted against urban expansion, based on the cost of urban sprawl.
The next decision in this process was to identify where the urban land expansion (1,300 hectares) would take place. Ottawa is surrounded by potential choices of land, much of it already owned by developers that could be options for new development.
Last week at the City’s Planning Committee, in a follow-up report on urban expansion, City staff presented options to expand the urban boundaries for new development, based on a rating system of the suitability of land parcels. The top choices were given a Category 1 rating (favourable) and the lowest were given a Category 3 rating (unfavourable). The rating takes into account the quality of the soil for building, proximity to water and sewer pipe connections, and current and future planned rapid transit connections. These were taken into consideration to ensure lower cost to develop these land parcels, to provide a higher quality of development for the future homeowners, and to reflect a higher rating on climate change as it would mean better connections to the City’s current transportation/transit infrastructure. Prime agriculture land and natural heritage land was excluded as an option for development (based on a previous unanimous Council vote). City staff had identified 1,011 hectares of land suitable for urban development, largely on the edges of existing communities, but still had to allocate 270 remaining hectares – the subject of the 3 options in the City staff report at Planning Committee.
During the Planning Committee meeting two motions were introduced involving a major shift of land use for the urbanland expansion. Neither were recommended by City staff who had developed the various options and rated them on suitability for development. I too had concerns about both of these motions.
The first motion was to convert land that has been deemed as prime agricultural land in Riverside South to be developed because of its proximity to the new rapid transit line (LRT). I am concerned that making an exception for one parcel of land like this would devalue our City’s commitment to preserving agriculture land. However this motion passed at Planning Committee. I will be opposing this at City Council.
The second motion, proposed a swap of land in South March adjacent to north Kanata, to allow the much larger Tewin lands in the Leitrim East/Carlsbad West area in Ottawa’s south east to move forward for development as a whole. This would mean the City would not permit development on land that is rated Category 1 (favourable) in north Kanata and swap it for land that is rated Category 3 (unfavourable) in the south east end of the City.
The Tewin lands are owned by the Algonquins of Ontario in partnership with Taggart, a development company. These lands had been assessed as Category 3 (unfavourable) due to poor soil conditions in the area, the high cost of extending water and sewer services to this area, and the distance from this site (nearly double the size of Bell’s Corners) to future rapid transit. However, the term reconciliation was used by the proponents in favour of their project but it is not clear how this will be achieved. Further, it is not clear if this arrangement is representative of the Algonquin nations as a whole.
In my view urban expansion must be done in a logical cost-effective way. Given the financial and economic risks to our City in supporting the Tewin lands proposal over the City staff recommendations that satisfy previously-approved development criteria, I will be voting against this proposal.