Vacant industrial land in Ottawa hits all-time low: City

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Local developers looking to build in Ottawa’s business parks and industrial corridors have fewer options than ever before, but municipal officials say the city still has enough land to last for nearly two decades.

Every two years, city staff conduct an inventory of Ottawa’s remaining vacant industrial lands. These are properties that are typically turned into warehouses, showrooms, logistics facilities and light-manufacturing operations, among other uses.

In their latest report, which is being tabled at the city’s planning committee on Tuesday, city staff say Ottawa has 1,619 net hectares of vacant business park and industrial land available for development – the lowest level ever recorded since municipal officials started reported these figures in the mid-1980s.

That’s roughly equivalent to 40 Canadian Tire Centres, including the surrounding parking lots.

The 1,619 hectares is down by 12.6 per cent, or 233 net hectares, from 2015 when the inventory was last conducted. The city report does not factor in developer Broccolini's project to construct a new distribution centre for Amazon on Boundary Road, at Highway 417, which will remove more than 33 additional hectares from the city’s inventory.

Amazon aside, most of the decrease over the last two years actually came from lands being redesignated for other uses, rather than actual development, specifically in the Hazeldean Industrial Area and the Kanata Town Centre Industrial Area.

City staff say Ottawa has enough land to last until the year 2036, based on current consumption patterns.

However, developers have previously said that looking at the total amount of land overlooks the fact that much of Ottawa’s remaining development land is in undesirable locations or is comprised of difficult-to-develop parcels.

Within the Greenbelt, for example, there is only 270 hectares available for development, according to the city. Some 57 per cent of that is owned by the airport authority, and only 21 hectares remain west of the Rideau River.

Industrial development has been somewhat muted in recent years, according to the city. Ottawa saw 32 hectares of development in 2016 and 16 hectares last year, both well below the long-term average of 46 hectares annually.

However, some observers say that trend may change in the coming years. Real estate brokerage firm CBRE said earlier this year that large warehouse space of more than 30,000 square feet is becoming “very difficult” to find as the citywide industrial availability rate sunk to 4.3 per cent.

"Options for tenants entering the market and expanding are becoming more and more scarce,” CBRE said in a report. “Scarcity of available product ... may encourage developers to start speculative builds.”