Proposed urban boundary expansion insufficient; will worsen sprawl: Ottawa homebuilders

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A new city staff report recommends adding up to 1,650 hectares of new development land to Ottawa’s urban boundary, but the leader of a prominent homebuilding organization says the city must expand the zone even farther to meet expected demand for new housing over the next 25 years.

In the report released Friday, staff say Ottawa’s population is expected to grow by about 400,000 people by 2046, requiring nearly 200,000 new dwellings. As a result, staff are recommending the city expand the amount of land set aside for residential and commercial construction in the next official plan.

In what it refers to a “balanced” approach, the report calls for the city to increase the rate of intensification in areas where development has already taken place ​– mainly through measures such as infill projects that replace low-density housing such as single-family homes with triplexes, low-rise apartments and other multi-unit dwellings.

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“New housing formats with a range of tenures are needed if intensification is to increase and Ottawa’s housing market is to provide an appropriate range and mix of dwellings,” says the report, which is slated to be presented May 11 at a joint meeting of the city’s planning and agriculture and rural affairs committees. 

By implementing more aggressive intensification measures, the number of housing units in already built-up areas would rise by 60 per cent over the next 25 years, the report says, compared with 40 per cent if the current rate of intensification continues. Staff say this approach would help reduce urban sprawl and foster neighbourhoods that are more walkable and accessible to public transit.

“It is the goal of the new Official Plan to make compact urban living more attractive, affordable and to provide choices that meet all household needs,” the report says. “This means focussing growth in areas that have access to rapid transit and other transportation modes, services, and amenities.” 

Under this scenario, staff estimate the city will need to expand its urban development zone by between 1,350 and 1,650 hectares to accommodate the additional units necessary to house Ottawa’s growing population.  

But at least one prominent member of the homebuilding community says those targets aren’t realistic.

Jason Burggraaf

Jason Burggraaf, executive director of the Greater Ottawa Homebuilders’ Association, says the city is unlikely to boost the number of housing units in built-up zones as much as the report anticipates. Unless the city sets aside more new land for development now, he says, residents will be forced to look beyond Ottawa’s borders for affordable housing in the future.

“It all hinges on a level of intensification and types of intensification that staff haven’t shown is achievable,” Burggraaf told OBJ. “There’s no public buy-in that they even want that kind of intensification.”

Burggraaf says he prefers another option considered in the report – the “status quo” scenario that assumes the city will keep intensifying built-up areas at the current rate for the next few decades. If that’s the case, according to city staffers, an additional 1,930 to 2,230 hectares of development land would be needed for new housing.

“That’s really the more appropriate range right now … until we have a proper plan for (higher levels of) intensification,” Burggraaf said.

The report says if the city elects not to expand its current urban boundaries at all, it would have to find space for another 30,000 single-detached, semi-detached, and rowhouse dwellings in parts of the city that are already built up.

While Ottawa’s homebuilders would like to see more development land added to the urban boundary, others would like to see the boundary frozen or increased by a smaller amount than what is being proposed – setting the stage for heated debates once the report is formally tabled at City Hall.

The new growth management plan will be part of the updated official plan the city is expected to table later this year.

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