Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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1946 Scott Street approved: my vote

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This week, the 9-storey development for Scott Street was approved. The vote was unanimous, including with my support. This was a highly contentious proposal, and some residents are very upset that I voted in favour of it with my colleagues.

I want to take this opportunity to explain why I voted for this development, and how I considered the multiple comments on the proposal that I’ve heard for months. This post won’t change any minds, but I do strive to communicate how I approach the various votes I take, and to be transparent in my work here at City Hall.


The development was opposed by many (and supported by many) since it has relatively little parking. There will be 13 spots, including 4 for visitors. The visitor parking for the 49 units meets the number required by the zoning by-law. The required parking for residential units was reduced, from 19 required spots to 9.

I heard through the consultation two key concerns. The first relates to resident parking, and the second to parking for visitors. Both gave residents pause and raise the spectre of spillover parking on adjacent streets – whether Clifton or West Village Private.

Residential parking

The clearer of the two in my mind is for residential parking. The assertion has been made that while the development will offer little parking, residents will nonetheless be purchasing and bringing cars anyway. I have thought carefully about this, and don’t agree with that position.

The last numbers we have are, unfortunately, from 2011, the last time a major survey called the Trans Destination-Origin study was done (a new one will be done in the next couple of years). In the Inner Urban Area, which includes the downtown core and near suburbs single-car ownership dominates, but the number of car-free households is very significant, particularly in apartments/condos.

What that study showed was that in owner-occupied apartments – condos in multi-residential buildings – 31% of households had no cars, 59% had one, and 4% had two[1]. Translated into absolute numbers, that was around 2,300 households. That number would obviously be higher today. Where apartments in multi-residential buildings are rented, car-free households are actually the norm at 56%. I raise that figure since it’s likely inevitable that some of these units will be rented by the owners.

The evidence simply doesn’t bear out that everyone who buys a condo has a car.

I believe that the market for car-free living will only grow, particularly in locations such as these. This building is within very easy walking distance of what will be in a few years an LRT stop, the Farm Boy and Superstore, the amenities of Richmond Road, and increasingly excellent cycling infrastructure. Empty-nesters, millennials and even families are making that choice in a trend that is North America-wide.

At the end of the day, we’re seeing a diversity of housing types being built and proposed on Scott. Buildings such as 1960 Scott (to which I objected strenuously due to the over-provisioning of parking and its sheer height) are going in with very high levels of parking that are the flip-side of the parking concern. I think that most residents would agree that we can’t sustainably keep adding to traffic in the ward, and buildings that encourage people to have cars just exacerbate the problem. Residents are concerned about congestion and pedestrian safety. The key to addressing that will be to make it possible and encourage people to live car-free. Yes, people still have cars, but they also have lots of options to live in Kitchissippi with those.

Beyond the data, I also consider that it’s worth pausing to consider how potential buyers with cars will view a building that has no parking. I wouldn’t even consider spending several hundreds of thousands of dollars on a property if I knew I’d have no convenient place to park my car. Would you?

Visitor parking

The provision of visitor parking starts to become a little more problematic, but I do not consider that it will be the problem that some fear. There are four visitor spots for 49 units, which meets the by-law minimum. To be fair to those raising this as a concern, though, that minimum was changed in 2016 to be roughly half of what it has been for decades.

I’ve been challenged to demonstrate empirically that the new required visitor parking minimums are appropriate, which would be a very lengthy post. For those who want to read the studies, they're available here. I can say, though, that we still have to go through site plan, and I'm open-minded to re-visiting the distribution of those spots. But, by and large, I believe that the visitor parking is adequate. I'm also cognizant that the City's studies of Westboro parking show a significant amount of available parking in the near vicinity (with some clear pressures through the week). As parking becomes scarcer with intensification, the success of our commercial strip, and the elimination of parking as semi-detached homes replace singles (which creates more curb cuts), there will clearly be pressure throughout the ward. None of us will be able to guarantee our visitors a convenient spot in front of our homes throughout the week. We're all having to learn to direct our visitors to available parking a block or two away, or even to paid parking options nearby.

Built form and intensification

One of the easiest ways, of course, to manage the transportation impacts we're experiencing in the ward would be to stop intensifying. And, one of the biggest hurdles to supporting this building is that its height will have a very large impact on the two-storey homes beside and kitty-corner to it. At nine storeys, even with an innovative series of stepbacks that will include terraces for planting small trees to break up the face of the building, there is no doubt that several residents will now be looking up at a tall building very close to their property line. Shadow impacts are minimal since the building is mostly to the north of existing residences, but they exist. Residents who have looked north to see sky will now look up to see apartments.

The counter-argument to the immediate impacts on these neighbours is that the City is pursuing a strategy of intensification that has public benefits that residents, I think, recognize.

It's important to note that intensification isn't something about which the City has a choice - at least in general terms. Cities in Ontario take their planning orders from Queen's Park, and the Province has told them that they have to intensify. Urban sprawl has unacceptable implications for taxpayers and the environment. An easy example to understand is that it costs less per person to plow and maintain a road when there are 20 residents on it instead of 10, and when there are fewer kilometers to maintain than more. Denser development supports better transit and more vibrant commercial mainstreets. Pursued thoughtfully, it can reduce traffic, and better support infrastructure such as libraries and recreational facilities and programs.

With the order in place to intensify, cities in Ontario create Official Plans that describe how that will happen in their jurisdictions. Those are given more nuance for particular neighbourhoods through secondary plans that specify where growth will occur, and those then get translated (not always) into zoning. In Ottawa, those plans generally specify that to mitigate the impact of taller, denser buildings in residential neighbourhoods, height is directed to higher-traffic-volume roads, near transit and close to commercial amenities on the edge of existing low-rise communities. They don't, by any means, wholly eliminate impacts. A building built according to the plans may have very serious impacts for some residents, but at least those are known ahead of time.

Official Plans and secondary plans as well as the planning policy documents flowing from those that describe how taller buildings should be built to minimize impacts on existing neighbourhoods are the lens through which planners, Council, and bodies such as what used to be called the Ontario Municipal Board look at requests for re-zoning. Ideally, those documents all work hand-in-hand to balance Queen's Park's order to intensify with some certainty about where tall, dense development can go. People living in and buying properties should be able to look to those to understand whether an existing low-rise neighbourhood or parcel of land is likely to change, what the likely parameters of that change should be, and to make choices based on the plans.

Richmond Road/Westboro Secondary Plan

The single biggest challenge we face in Westboro is that the secondary plan that describes at a neighbourhood level how intensification will proceed is out of synch with our newest Official Plan, and has been for some time. We faced this issue at 1960 Scott (the Trailhead), are facing it even more problematically on Roosevelt at Richmond with the development proposed across from Tubman's, and faced it at 404 Eden. The City's explicit plan is to intensify near transit, and that will presumably be its plan for many years to come. There is far too much uncertainty, however, in what that will eventually look like.

The edges of the area bounded by Island Park Drive, Golden, Byron and the Transitway will get taller and denser. But, at the moment, we don't know what limits there will be on those buildings, and we don't know how far around some of those will wrap into the residential streets. We're left to guess, and that uncertainty isn't fair. In the absence of a new plan for the neighbourhood each new ad hoc spot re-zoning creates yet more tension and anger that amplifies opposition to intensification overall.

Faced with a choice as to whether to vote "yes" or "no" to 1946 Scott Street, I have been in the same shoes as residents trying to determine how to balance the specfic impacts of that building against the overall public interest in intensification as directed by the Province and our own Official Plan. I approach these votes pragmatically. Simply opposing all intensification isn't credible, but I also believe that too much is being approved without enough regard to the public interest. I am left to think long and hard about what an up-to-date secondary plan might look like. Knowing how the tension between impacts to existing communities and the requirement to intensify tends to resolve itself in the context of our Official Plan policies, in this case I determined that a mid-rise building envelope, with minimal parking, is likely where an update to our secondary plan would land.

My vote on 1946 Scott was, I believe, the most pragmatic one I could take based on my understanding of the interplay between individual and collective considerations.

Moving forward

At the beginning of this term of Council, I asked the planning department for two things.

First, I pressed to have the Richmond Road/Secondary Plan updated. Everyone recognizes that light rail will drive intensification pressure, and few believe that the limits on development built into the existing plan will stand up in light of new Official Plan policies. We need a modern, defensible secondary plan like those in place for the eastern side of the ward that will provide some certainty. Unfortunately, the City has not finished the work of creating secondary plans for areas of Ottawa that currently have either no plan or where the plans are even older. In our ward, that's meant work on the Cleary-New Orchard corridor, and the resumption of work on the Gladstone Station CDP. The planning department has been working for the last several years on plans for areas such as Stittsville and other fast-growing areas. The department's resources were not adequate to take this work on as well.

Secondly, I also sounded out the potential to bring in what's called an interim control by-law to simply pause development until further study of Westboro could be complete. ICBLs are used largely when there is a specific public interest crisis. There is one in effect right now, in fact, to put a pause on the building of "bunkhouses" in R4 zones - a very specific and targeted problem. However, there is no support from senior planning management or the legal team for an ICBL to put a general pause on Westboro intensification. As a community, spending our time on trying to achieve an ICBL would be a doomed distraction.

Throughout this term, I've been speaking at length with City staff, and recently our new head planner, about the need for a new plan, as well as raising it at every opportunity at Planning Committee on which I sit. We have, I believe, at least some commitment to a planning exercise for Westboro in the next term of Council. I will continue to persist in that endeavour.

In the meantime, we have to continue to work on the underlying frameworks for planning in Ottawa. On governance, I believe we're in a better place for the lobbying that the community, I and some colleagues did to eliminate corporate donations to campaigns, as well as to reform the OMB. I am currently serving on a sponsors' group of councillors guiding a multi-phase review of the R4 zoning in the city, and was recently nominated to serve on the sponsors' group that will guide the development charges review in the next term.

More broadly, this term of Council has been defined by the implementation of plans created in the previous term. The next Council will undertake a refresh not just of the Official Plan, but the various plans that stem from that including the Transportation Master Plan and others. These are foundational documents, the lens through which Council determines whether or not to approve any given spot re-zoning. We need those plans to be thoughtful, and to better recognize and try to resolve the tensions that intensification creates.

[1] For single detached homes, in 2011, 9.3% had no cars, 57% one car, and 29.3% two cars (the rest is some figure more than 2). For semi-detached homes, 20.3% had no car, 62.1% had one car, and 12.8% had two cars. In row or townhomes, 25% had zero cars, 58% had one car, and 15% had two cars. In tenant-occupied apartment or condos, 56% had no cars, 40% had one car, and around 4% had two cars. Taking out apartments and apartment condos, which tend to proliferate closest to transit and downtown, overall 16% of singles, semis and towns/rows had no car, 58.4% had one, and 21.8% had two.


Posted March 2, 2018