Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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Why I voted against the Official Plan

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At Council today, I voted against the Official Plan. Here were the remarks I made ahead of casting my vote.

I’m voting today against the Official Plan, as I did at Committee. I’d like to take a moment to explain to colleagues and residents why.

The Official Plan has as its goal to build the most liveable mid-size city in North America. It’s a perfectly laudable goal, but one that I believe will be impossible to achieve: not because we have the wrong Official Plan, but because I’m cynical that we can or will support it.

I want to thank City staff for a relentless pursuit of a more progressive city in this plan. There will be disagreements, but the five big moves are the right big moves. We need to build a city in which more people live in walkable neighbourhoods that have greater options for transit and active transportation. We need to pursue intensification in order to curb urban sprawl and reduce the number of kilometers every resident drives each year.

As I noted at Committee, the stat that I ask everyone to keep in mind is that it takes roughly 500 trees to offset the greenhouse gases emitted in a year by each vehicle on the road. We should never take it for granted that any tree needs to be lost to infill, nor that our zoning should allow such large footprints as are demanded by the market, but when trees are lost to intensification we need to remember that even reducing kilometers driven by half has an offset impact measured in hundreds of trees per driver.

We need to intensify. We need to add housing stock across the city to discipline prices and grapple with a housing affordability issue. We need to shift transportation patterns to more sustainable modes. At the same time, we need to make sure that intensification occurs in a way that is planned and thoughtful. As Councillor Moffatt says, we can’t address population growth with only towers. Our low-rise neighbourhoods will have to change. The fundamental tension we’ve explored in our OP meetings has been the degree to which people want to minimize losing what they love about their neighbourhoods. It is critical to succeed in our big move to improve sophistication in urban and community design.

We need to plan for growth, and then stick to those plans. We need to provide parks and recreation amenities in fast-intensifying neighbourhoods and preserve green spaces. We need to ensure that density is still liveable on walkable, tree-canopied streets and to ensure that dense urban neighbourhoods are just as attractive or more than suburban neighbourhoods.

A lot of work has gone into this Official Plan to move us in that direction, squaring the circle as best as possible. But I believe that its view of the city, chopped into transects in which intensification at one rate will be acceptable here, but not there, means that intensification will continue to affect a few neighbourhoods disproportionately. I believe that the high-level language of the OP will give developers and their consultants exactly what they need to constantly push the envelope and never provide the kind of sophistication in urban and community design that they should.

I believe that this Council has neither the tools nor the will to support intensification with the equitable distribution of amenities such as parks and modern recreational facilities. I don’t believe that we will prioritize our transportation dollars on the solutions that will help achieve sustainability and quality of life goals. I believe that as intensification targets just the inner urban transect, we’ll simply exacerbate existing affordability issues.

I’d like to vote in favour of this OP. But, ultimately, I can’t. In order to succeed in its good intentions, it is going to require an investment of will and resources that I don’t believe we’ll make. The advantages of this OP will accrue mostly to developers, and I believe ultimately it is the residents who will pay the price of inadequately supported and inequitably distributed density.

Posted October 27, 2021