The Process: “This is no way to plan for the future…”

Lorne Abugov

Dozens of Old Ottawa East residents have let the City of Ottawa know in plain words that they are concerned and, in many cases, displeased by proposals for change in the City’s new draft Official Plan.

In letters submitted to the City, residents were not shy to inform City staff that the plan was riddled with major flaws and contradictions in areas such as transportation planning and infrastructure and greenspace and tree canopy coverage. Equally unpopular was the City’s elimination of community-developed Secondary Plans, the imposition of arbitrary and divisive boundaries, and the disregard for affordable housing.

But if there was one common denominator in the blizzard of letters with an OOE postmark, it was our citizens’ frustration from the procedural steps the City adopted – or failed to adopt – to allow for meaningful debate and understanding of the 25-year blueprint for the City’s future.

For example, comments about the City’s planned schedule for bringing the plan into law included words such as “unfair”, “sneaky” and “undemocratic”. Even those who supported the City’s underlying planning principles questioned the need to rush the massive and consequential changes contained in the Plan through to the City Council for approval in September in the absence of public debate.

In her letter, Lynda Colley of Merritt Avenue wondered “Why did we not receive a notice from the City advising us of the proposed transformational changes to the City’s official plan and asking us to review and provide our feedback? We receive a notice in our mailbox if the City is turning off the water in the area for half a day!” wrote Colley.“I only heard about the proposed changes to the official plan from a neighbour just over a week ago, and I consider myself to be a reasonably well-informed member of the community.”

Colley “was shocked to see that the proposed changes are set out in a 264-page document with no executive summary.” Likewise, Linda Pollock observed that the “proposed plan is complex, and I feel the City has significantly underestimated the time needed by citizens to understand it and assess its impacts on our communities.”

Like many others, Pollock recommended that the time allowed for feedback from citizens on the plan be significantly extended. Several OOE commenters felt that the City’s determination to push through massive and consequential long-term changes during the COVID-19 pandemic was an affront to democracy.

Tara Wheeldon, a 12-year resident of Old Ottawa East, questioned the speed and volume of the changes which denied “people enough time to process or even notice what’s happening, especially when stressed out by employment or health concerns.”

Ian Sadinsky of Bower Street was one of several to question the City’s approach to governance and management of the new Plan. “The Official Plan should be broken down into a minimum of five 5-year plans to allow for consultation, innovation, recalibration and reflection,” Sadinsky suggested.

“Any period beyond five years is inherently undemocratic and may bind future generations to outdated or unworkable ideas and concepts.” In his letter to the City, Sadinsky felt “the timeframe for producing the new Official Plan (or mini-Plans) should be extended to December 2023 to allow for greater citizen input, more research on collateral issues, assessment of the permanent impacts of the pandemic, and integration of other Plans such as economic development, public health or climate change.”

Mitch Vlad and Deborah Moriarty Vlad of Hazel Street felt that the release of the draft plan during the pandemic served to further undermine trust in our elected municipal officials. “Under cover of COVID, planning issues with serious long-term implications will not be subjected to the truly public scrutiny and engagement that would otherwise be the case.”

They concluded with a common-sense plea to City Hall to “hold your proverbial horses…make these vital issues 2022 election issues…Rein this in and wait until we can all meet openly, hear presentations, pose questions, call experts. This is no way to plan for the future.

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