Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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Bill 23, the Official Plan, and the future of Ottawa

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Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve struggled to write the blog post I’d normally write about the planning changes imposed by Queen’s Park through Bill 23 and the changes to our Official Plan. Virtually every facet of our city planning is affected.

Rather than write my usual dense, unreadable policy backgrounder, I’m going to take a page from my colleague Glen Gower’s book and try to bullet-point the changes that are most impactful, then provide a few paths residents might take. The Province is conducting hearings into Bill 23 as part of the legislative path, and it has not yet been passed. Changes to the Official Plan are immediate and there’s no clear path to reversing that; it is likely that where there is a will there is a way.

I’d encourage everyone to read City staff’s analysis of Bill 23. I’ve posted the documents here.

Bill 23

  1. Exclusionary zoning seems to be eliminated. This means that zones designated R1 - allowing only a single detached residence on a lot - are no longer permitted. I want to clarify: builders will still be able to build a single unit on a lot if they choose, but they won’t be prohibited from building more. Council is going to have to figure out in this term how large new multi-dwelling units in former R1 zones can be. My suggestion is that the new Westboro Infill rules are a good place to start. I am not objecting to the elimination of R1 - that path is being pursued across North America with growing momentum. But, as new zoning rules are crafted for those former singles-only zones it will be critical that we address room for trees and tree preservation, soft landscaping and stormwater management.
  2. The Province is reducing the amount of development charges, parkland charges, and community benefits charges it can collect. This is going to download significant costs onto Ottawa residents through taxes. As we grow, expect more of the new libraries, sewers, fire stations, roads and other infrastructure we need to be put directly on your tax bill. Even the studies we need to determine what infrastructure has to be built to support growth will be added to your tax bill rather than paid for by development charges. Staff haven’t begun to be able to quantify the effect on today’s and tomorrow’s taxpayers. One of my biggest concerns is the effect of intensification on stormwater management. Meeting that challenge was always going to be difficult. With fewer development charges, it will become acutely challenging.
  3. Sixty percent of cash-in-lieu of parkland money will have to be spent each year. We’ll have challenges trying to save enough for big projects and we know in this ward that land acquisition is often a matter of taking advantage of the right opportunity. In addition, private park spaces will count toward public requirements.
  4. The Province is removing the City’s ability to enact by-laws to protect existing rental stock and renters. We are losing far too much of that but were at least on a path to mitigate those losses. What we know today is that if this bill passes, we won’t be able to. The Province is rumoured to be working on Ontario-wide legislation, but many are cynical those will be effective.
  5. The amount of affordable housing that can be built through inclusionary zoning has been reduced, limiting our already limited ability to use that tool to build any kind of affordable housing near transit.
  6. The site plan process has been significantly constrained. This is the technical review of developments looking at the exterior elements. It’s how the City deals with things like landscaping, parking and waste management. It’s also the foundation for our High Performance Development Standards - Ottawa’s version of a green building code. Development of up to 10 units will be exempt from site plan control. The City’s efforts to get better and sustainable design in developments would be gutted.
  7. Third-party appeals on planning decisions would be removed. This means that neighbours and community associations will lose the right to appeal planning decisions to the Ontario Land Tribunal. Sometimes those are brought to force a developer to negotiate or face lengthy hearings, but sometimes those are based on legitimate planning grounds and are an important check on Council.
  8. Properties on the Heritage Registry must be removed if no notice of an intent to designate them is issued within two years. We have around 4000 properties on that list - most would disappear from it. If a developer wants to demolish a building that may have heritage value, they’ll no longer have to give 60 days’ notice to the City. If Bill 23 passes, there is no reasonable path to studying 1000s and then designating dozens or hundreds of building across the city.
  9. Wetland conservation would be gutted since the Province would remove context from the designation of wetlands as provincially significant. Today, wetlands are evaluated in the context of larger systems. Under the new rules, they would be evaluated in a one-off fashion in which they’re much less likely to meet the criteria. Fewer protected wetlands means more flooding and loss of biodiversity. Further, municipalities will lose the ability to ask conservation authorities for input on development proposals.

Official Plan

In addition to Bill 23, the Province has also changed Ottawa’s Official Plan. Here are some of the key changes of which Kitchissippi residents will want to take note.

  1. The height limit on “minor corridors” has been increased from 4 storeys in the Official Plan to six. Minor corridors in our ward include Holland Avenue, Parkdale from the Queensway to the Parkway, Gladstone, Kirkwood and Churchill.
  2. Hundreds of acres of land have been added to the urban boundary - that is, made available for building new subdivisions. Urban sprawl costs us all hundreds of dollars each in taxes annually and contributes to an increase in vehicle kilometres driven and associated greenhouse gasses.
  3. In keeping with Bill 23’s removal of rental stock protection (see above), the Official Plan sections dealing with renter protection have been deleted in their entirety.
  4. I need the lawyers’ advice, but a change to the Official Plan to say we will be supportive of applications that go “beyond the development standards of the underlying zone” for low-rise infill ties in, I believe, to the end of R1 zoning. The parade of fourth-unit after-the-fact applications would also likely become even more rubber stamps.

So what does it all mean?

It is an understatement to suggest that Bill 23 and the changes to the Official Plan are a Hallmark Christmas morning for developers large and small. Every indication is that they open new greenfields and environmentally sensitive lands to new suburban developments. They will allow much greater intensification within the urban boundary. Development proposals will be fast-tracked without regard to their design or the impact to households already in affordable housing. Revenues that would normally accrue to the city to build things will be significantly reduced, and sprawl-related costs increased. There will be less municipal oversight and community influence over developments, and the statutory basis to force those to be more sustainable will be gone.

Clearly Premier Ford considers that supply must be put on steroids to address the very real issue of market affordability. There are virtually no proposals to deal with very deeply affordable housing which is arguably the more critical issue facing Ottawa and Ontario cities today (although not-for-profit housing developers will absolutely benefit from some of the same measures being offered to the sector).

There is considerable uncertainty as to whether these measures, however, will result in much more housing than would otherwise be built. Ottawa City Council is no laggard with respect to approving developments and we only have the word of developers that fees to build infrastructure, parks, and the other foundations of a livable city are a definitive hurdle to home ownership. There are very legitimate questions being asked about the Provincial population growth numbers asserted for Ottawa that are a bedrock on which Bill 23 has been built.

The overall effect will be to perpetuate the mistakes of seventy years of urban planning, building sprawling cities that are financially unsustainable and environmentally catastrophic, car-centric and increasingly devoid of public spaces and programming.

In Kitchissippi I’m concerned that a population boom will exacerbate big expensive issues like stormwater management, transportation demand management and the availability of recreation infrastructure even as our ratepayers are required to increasingly subsidize sprawl that diverts scarce tax dollars. Gentrification will continue to ravage our neighbourhoods with few municipal tools to mitigate that. The workings of an unfettered housing market result in multiple and related failures to accomplish public interest good, and Bill 23 removes many of the regulatory tools we use to address those failures.

What to do?

Civil society is mobilizing to reject the worst proposed changes and adding your voice to their efforts is a real and meaningful way to resist.

Multiple stakeholders will be holding a rally tomorrow, November 15, at City Hall at 1:00 that includes groups such as Ecology Ottawa, the Alliance to End Homelessness and the Federation of Citizens Associations. You can read the basis for the Alliance to End Homelessness’ opposition here and sign their public letter to the Province here, and Ecology Ottawa’s here. I’ve included a copy of the Federation of Citizens’ Associations below in which they argue for a more robust consultation process in addition to outlining their concerns about the bill. I’d encourage residents who are concerned to attend the event.

The Association of Municipalities Ontario has posted a full list of consultations underway with deadlines that you can find here. The various consultations open a new page that includes a comment submission button. Of course, you should also write to our Member of Provincial Parliament, Joel Harden at about your concerns, although I have no doubt that he will be highly aligned with measures that threaten cities' environmental, financial and equitable sustainability.


Posted November 14, 2022