For 15-minute Communities, “uncertainty will reign”

John Dance
Ottawa Official Plan

Old Ottawa East residents like the existing Old Ottawa East (OOE) Secondary Plan (SP) and the Community Design Plan (CDP) that was its basis. By contrast, residents don’t like the City’s proposal in the draft Official Plan (OP) to diminish the OOE Secondary Plan by moving two large sections of the community to the downtown planning area.

Ironically, the City’s unilateral consolidation and modification of extensively consulted-on Secondary Plans seems to undermine the draft OP’s key goal of having “walkable 15-minute neighbourhoods.”

“[T]he draft fails to identify what are the existing and potential 15-minute neighbourhoods. It’s time for the City to fully assess the importance of neighbourhoods and neighbourhood streetscape character,” noted OOE Community Association (OOECA) President Bob Gordon in the OOECA response to the draft plan. “Rather than consolidating and eliminating Community Design Plans and Secondary Plans, the City should be working with community associations to ensure each neighbourhood/community has such a plan and that this plan establishes what is necessary to get to effective ‘15-minute-ness,’” Gordon noted.

Back in 2012, Mayor Jim Watson told a gathering of hundreds of community representatives and members of the development industry that “(w)e need greater predictability and certainty when it comes to development in our City.” Two years later he said, “[Residents] want certainty and predictability when it comes to planning issues because when someone buys their home it’s usually their most expensive investment in their life and they want to make sure that they know the rules of the game and they don’t constantly change.”

Now the City wants to change the rules and, as many OOE residents have eloquently concluded, the consultation on the draft Official Plan and its rules has been rushed and inadequate, contrary to the Mayor’s claims. For example, Lise and Yves Morneau have asked, “What will be the impact of the new Official Plan on Merritt Avenue?”

In 2011, after four years of hard work, OOE residents had an approved CDP and SP and, as a result, thought theyhad the certainty that Mayor Watson promised. Over the last 10 years, OOE development has been substantial but with clear limitations established by the SP. Unless the draft Official Plan is substantially changed, uncertainty will again reign and the result will be taller buildings and more intensification than what the OOE SP established.

As former editor of The Mainstreeter Joseph Zebrowski commented, “I feel this response from the City does a lot to breed cynicism about the City’s planning process and public consultations and also to discourage the public from participating in public consultations.”

Although 15-minute neighbourhoods are mentioned repeatedly in the draft OP, the City makes no attempt to identify the neighbourhoods, which, according to the draft OP are “complete communities that support active transportation and transit, reduce car dependency, and enable people to live car-light or car-free.”

Local residents also object to the OP’s focusing of intensification in the central areas of the City while not ensuring there are the same recreational and greenspace provisions that the suburban areas will have.

An unprecedented number of community associations – including OOECA – have provided hundreds of pages of suggestions for improving the OP and they have asked that the consultation process be extended.

The Mayor has dismissed a request from the Federation of Citizens’ Associations of Ottawa to extend the process, even though a year was added for the development of the transportation master plan. The consultations on the OP have been extensive and better than with previous OP efforts, he has asserted in rejecting the request. Community associations dispute this.

Mayor Watson aims to have City Council “make the best decisions we can for the good of the City of Ottawa as a whole.” Unfortunately, he appears determined to do this without adequately considering “the good” of the many communities that make Ottawa a wonderful city.

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