New Official Plan Really Rankles OOE Residents

John Dance

No other City project has rankled Old Ottawa East residents as much as the draft Official Plan (OP). Yet, despite the growing public concerns about the OP’s inadequate consultation and questionable propositions, Mayor Jim Watson has categorically refused to delay City Council’s vote – set for this September – on the 25-year blueprint for Ottawa’s urban development. Extensive coverage of the proposed OP within this issue of The Mainstreeter lays out key objections and suggestions that OOE community members have already voiced in writing to the City.

The OP “provides a vision for the future growth of the City and a policy framework to guide the City’s physical development.” When something gets approved in the OP, developers can then build accordingly with little risk of a community or an individual successfully challenging the building plan.

Over the last two months, many OOE residents and their community groups have written lengthy, thoughtful letters to protest various proposals in the draft OP. Key concerns are that the OP: retains the Alta Vista Transportation Corridor, diminishes the OOE secondary plan by transferring two key neighbourhoods to a huge downtown secondary plan, fails to consider the impacts of the pandemic, and concentrates on future intensification in central communities without corresponding increases in central green space, tree canopy and recreational amenities.

Although the policy thrusts underlying the new OP was well-received back in 2019, the application of these ideas in the online draft has been poorly received.

Part of the problem is the inexplicably short time the City has allowed for public review and discussion of the complex 264-page Plan, all the more so in these difficult pandemic days (see the related article at page 4 of this issue of The Mainstreeter). The Federation of Citizens’ Associations, which is supported by community associations like the Old Ottawa East Community Association, asked Mayor Watson to delay the OP timeline for more than a year.

In a seven-page response, the Mayor denied the request citing various consultations that have occurred to date, noting, “We are very, very pleased to say that our experience throughout this New Official Plan process is that the Council-approved approach that has been undertaken has not only provided opportunities for meaningful consultation well beyond the legal requirements of the Planning Act, it meets what residents and community groups were looking for …”

The remaining part of the OP process consists of City staff revising the draft using recent input, holding a public open house in August, followed by consideration by the Planning Committee in September with the revised package going to City Council for approval later that month.

One glimmer of hope that community input may be having some impact is City staff’s acknowledgement that it is “willing to reconsider” Springhurst Park and the area north of the Queensway being returned to the rest of Old Ottawa East for planning purposes. The draft OP currently has relocated these areas to the “downtown core transect” (see the related article Residents Strongly Opposed to Splitting the Community).

“We would like the City to ensure a stronger role for communities in the future development of Ottawa,” Norman Moyer, president of the Lowertown Community Association wrote to the City. “To that end, we hope you will take into consideration our requests and suggestions.” It remains to be seen.

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