What the Province has done

And who pays the price?

By Carolyn Mackenzie

Premier Ford appears hell-bent on doing whatever it takes to increase the housing supply. But at what cost? And will it address the housing crisis in Ottawa? Let’s try to unpack what these provincial moves are and why they matter.

First, there is Bill 23, “More Homes, Built Faster,” combined with some significant changes to Ottawa’s Official Plan – the province sent the changes the day after the municipal election. Together, they will impact virtually every aspect of our city planning.

There are also Bill 3, “Strong Mayors,” and Bill 39, “Better Municipal Governance.” Arguably, they have the potential to gut democratic representation by elected councillors in favour of giving power to the mayor to make decisions without majority support on council, all in the name of greater “efficiency” to support provincial housing priorities. To his credit, the new mayor, Mark Sutcliffe, has clearly stated he will not use these new powers.

Bill 3 is a done deal. Changes to the Official Plan were immediate. As of this writing, Bills 23 and 39 are quickly being pushed through the legislative process with no sign the Ford government is interested in consultation, particularly with Ottawa.

Now for some of the key details.

Bill 23 – More Homes Built Faster

The City’s ability to collect development charges, parkland charges and community benefits charges is being reduced. This will either download significant costs onto Ottawa taxpayers or result in reduced services.

The City will be required to spend the majority of funds currently collected for parks and greenspace each year rather than being able to accumulate them in a fund for future use. Given the increase in land prices, saving enough to acquire park space is already challenging, but it will become virtually impossible.

The City will no longer have the ability to enact bylaws to protect existing rental stock and renters.

The City will now only be able to mandate a maximum of five per cent of units built around transit for affordable housing, down from 10 per cent.

Ottawa’s ability to enforce its newly developed High-Performance Development Standards – Ottawa’s version of a green building code aimed at better and sustainable design – has been watered down.

From a practical standpoint, the City’s Heritage Registry will be gutted. With roughly 4,000 properties currently listed, there is no practical means to assess them for potential designation within the timelines outlined by the province. As a result, they will simply be removed.

Wetland conservation is being gutted. Development applications are currently reviewed within the context of the larger ecosystem. Not anymore. Fewer protected wetlands will mean more flooding and loss of biodiversity. Further, municipalities will lose the ability to ask conservation authority experts for input on development proposals.

Arguably, eliminating the City’s ability to allow only a single home on a lot (R1 zone) is a positive move. This is being pursued in many jurisdictions with growing momentum to allow for more housing close to transit and in walkable neighbourhoods. You can still build a single home on a lot, but you won’t be prohibited from building multi-dwelling units either. In the Glebe, R1 zoning currently applies to properties on Clemow, Linden Terrace and Monkland and on Second, Third and Fourth avenues between Lyon and Bronson, as well as on Dow’s Lake. Ottawa’s comprehensive update of zoning rules across the city will be even more critical to address proper building setbacks, room for trees and tree preservation, soft landscaping and stormwater management associated with this change so that new development fits well and helps meet livability goals.

Changes to Ottawa’s Official Plan

The height limit on “minor corridors” has been increased from four storeys to six. While the Glebe does not have any minor corridors, our neighbours in Old Ottawa South may see six-storey buildings on Sunnyside between Bank and Bronson.

The province has added hundreds of acres of land to the urban boundary for new subdivisions. Adding housing units through urban sprawl costs every taxpayer hundreds of dollars more every year, to pay for new roads, sewers and other infrastructure, not to mention the environmental cost of more driving and greenhouse gases as suburban residents go about their business. Increasing density in existing communities, where infrastructure and services are already in place, is much more cost effective.

Bill 3 – Strong Mayor Act and Bill 39 – Better Municipal Governance Act

With Bill 3, Ford is giving mayors the ability to single-handedly write the budget, reorganize the structure of the city, directly hire key general managers, choose all committee and board chairs – and veto bylaws.

He is also giving mayors the ability to push new bylaws through with support from only a third of councillors. Huh? This is fundamentally undemocratic and lacks important checks and balances. Enough said.

What’s next?

Ford seems determined to do whatever it takes to increase the housing supply, even if it means sacrificing environmental protection and community input, while largely ignoring the real crisis in truly affordable housing. Not to mention the real hit to democracy at the municipal level, which will only result in more cynicism, less engagement and poorer outcomes.

If any of this concerns you,  add your voice to those of the Glebe Community Association, the People’s Official Plan or any of the other organizations advocating for ways to build more housing, including more affordable housing, without sacrificing our communities, the environment and our local democracy.

Carolyn Mackenzie is chair of the Planning Committee of the Glebe Community Association.

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