Ottawa’s new official plan is moving forward despite criticism

The city of Ottawa’s new official plan, which will describe how the city will grow over the next 25 years, will still go to councilors for a decision in mid-September, despite calls from community associations to delay the cornerstone document.

The complex 264-page draft version and its many maps and appendices were published in mid-November. Hundreds of people have recently spent hours considering what it prescribes for how land can be used throughout the city – from how tall buildings can be, to goals to squeeze more households in per acre. The city accepted comments until Friday.

The Federation of Citizen’s Associations (FCA), an umbrella organization for 57 community groups, wrote to Mayor Jim Watson asking the city to show residents another draft and postpone a final decision until after the next election, calling the timeline “terribly inaccurate.”

“The current policies were difficult to separate. What about which neighborhood? We need time to digest this, to find out,” FCA President Alex Cullen, a former city council member, explained to CBC News.

The mayor, along with the two councilors who chair committees that determine planning acts — Jan Harder and Eli El-Chantiry — wrote a letter in response that they “would not place your request on a future agenda.”

The letter described various official planning meetings held over two years, boasting having reached 100,000 inhabitants so far during consultations, pointing out that the final report has already been pushed from June to September.

City to answer questions March 24th

“The timeline the mayor refers to in his letter to us was decided before the pandemic,” Cullen said, adding that the mayor’s response is not going well.

The pandemic has limited how volunteers work together on feedback to the city, but may also affect future patterns of where people will live and how they get around, Cullen said.

“It would make sense to give some time to see how the world unfolds,” he said.

The city first started the process of creating a new official plan in early 2019, and the city council has already made some major decisions that will support it. For example, in February, the council settled on nearly 1,300 acres of rural property where future development will be allowed, including a brand new suburb called Tewin.

It also set a goal of intensifying neighborhoods, which will lead to major changes especially in older areas or those located near transit stations. Eventually, the city wants 60 percent of the new development to take place through filling.

Despite talk of creating “15 minutes” walkable neighborhoods, Cullen saw no map in the draft official plan to identify where such neighborhoods are or may be.

In the draft official plan, the city of Ottawa expects much of the ‘inner city area’ of the Greenbelt to be suitable for low-density landfill development. The dotted areas could see ‘gentle’ change, while the striped areas are expected to change ‘fast’ because they are close to services and fast transit. (City of Ottawa)

Daniel Buckles also felt that the draft document was sometimes vague or contradictory, and worried greater intensification would affect the tree the city is trying to protect.

The adjunct professor at Carleton University is part of a network called the People’s Official Plan for Ottawa’s Climate Emergency, which submitted 100 pages of comments on the city.

The group will be “on tenterhooks” and do not know if staff will incorporate their advice until September, but Buckles says the city usually does not appear to be receptive to changing attitudes on major issues.

“It leaves us a little skeptical and suspicious of the sincerity and usefulness of the consultation process,” said Buckles, who also wants the city to draft another draft with all the feedback it received.

The city of Ottawa said it has received hundreds of questions about the draft official plan in recent weeks, so it is holding a question-and-answer session online on March 24 from 6 p.m. 18 to 20

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