The City’s Intensification Strategy is Not Just About Adding Density…. Or is it?

The City’s new Official Plan includes some terrific language that suggest a much-needed revised approach to intensification.



The City signals that in future, development through intensification will be more predictable, and planned for in ways that support walkable, 15 minute neighbourhoods. In other words, it will ensure that amenities that support neighbourhood life (small shops, services, green/social infrastructure, etc.) and that are critical to livability will “keep pace” with intensification activity and accompanying growth in population of our neighbourhoods.

Refreshingly, the new OP also acknowledges that in the past, the City has prioritized adding housing units to our neighbourhoods, at the expense of other impacts of development. Many residents have been frustrated by approvals of buildings that far exceed zoned heights, with accompanying loss of trees and soft landscaping space, loss of privacy, sun shadowing, and inappropriate transition of higher buildings to low-rise buildings, etc. Yes, intensification is important, but it seems to have trumped these considerations in the past. It’s great to see the City reflect that we can’t continue on this path and that we should rely on more predictable and more balanced decision-making.


"[liveable complete neighbourhoods] ...all of these good words seem to go out the window by the time we get to Section 5 [of the Draft Official Plan]."

Have a quick read from the Chapter 2: “Strategic Directions”:


growth and development within the built-up area is not only about the numerical targets of intensification and simply increasing urban density. Intensification is about guiding the evolution of neighbourhoods into complete 15-minute neighbourhoods... [and] considers other components in planning for liveable complete neighbourhoods, in line with our goal of becoming the most liveable mid-sized city in North America.


So it was with some shock that all of these good words seem to go out the window by the time we get to Section 5, where the “Evolving Overlay” policies are introduced. The Evolving Overlay refers to areas, generally 150m, but sometimes quite a bit more, to either side of a Mainstreet Corridor. Think Bank Street, Wellington, Carling, Bronson, etc. Entire neighbourhood blocks that are shorter, and substantial portions of neighbourhood blocks of moderate length will be included in this designation. For some communities, the Evolving Overlay represents roughly half of the neighbourhood.

"Are we really saying that 4 story buildings are always going to fit well on established neighbourhood streets that have only two story houses now?"

Why the shock? Because the OP seems to very clearly state that the City will be supportive of applications up to 4 storeys where an application achieves density, built form and site design objectives. Are we really saying that 4 story buildings are always going to fit well on established neighbourhood streets that have only two story houses now? How does this fit with the intent of the Strategic Directions language above? It does not say that Council, “may support” such applications, but “will support”. This amounts to tying Council’s hands and taking away any ability to make decisions about development that weigh other development impacts It also takes away, or minimizes considerations about neighbourhood characteristics and ability to absorb such added density. By including this policy, it seems we are once again right back to prioritizing intensification above all other considerations.



Now, allowing 4 storey multi-unit buildings that add density and help us achieve intensification targets may be a very good option in a number of circumstances. But it should not be implemented with this blunt, or blanket approach that once again, will only create conflict and destroy trust. It should only be done after a closer look at neighbourhood fabric, informed by input from local communities, through a Local Plan.

So let’s get rid of language in the new OP that ties our hands and makes blanket decisions about infill building height without balancing intensification with the important features of liveable complete neighbourhoods.

If you think that predictability in development planning is critical to supporting livable neighbourhoods, email your Councillor and the Mayor, and tell them that you stand with the People's Official Plan and Walkable Ottawa in support of the Motion below:


MOTION 2: PREDICTABILITY IN DEVELOPMENT PLANNING

WHEREAS The Official Plan provides specific direction guiding intensification across

the city;

WHEREAS intensification targets can be attained under these directions;


WHEREAS Council has directed that the land supply and intensification targets be

reviewed no later than five years after the adoption of the Official Plan;

WHEREAS local plans are tools whereby communities can participate in the planning of

growth in their communities;


WHEREAS community trust is built up through such exercises but is easily destroyed

when expected outcomes are breached;

WHEREAS predictability in development planning is a reasonable expectation of

residents, builders and municipal officials;


WHEREAS policy 5.6.1.1(3) opens the door and incentivises applications to go beyond

these directions and local plans and put at risk public confidence in development

planning;


Let it be resolved that policy 5.6.1.1(3) be deleted.

Section 5.6.1.1 (3)

a) The City will be supportive of applications for low-rise intensification that seek to

move beyond the development standards of the underlying zone where the proposal

demonstrates that the development achieves objectives of the applicable transect with

regards to density, built form and site design in keeping with the intent of Sections 3 and

5 of this Plan;

See other motions recommended to 'fill the holes' in our new Official Plan.