The city’s planning committee reviews the document that acts as a guide for where houses, offices and manufacturing facilities should be located every four years.
The 2009 review resulted in a legal fight between homebuilders and the city that ended with more than 1,000 hectares opened up for development.
This time around, however, the committee won’t be considering a change to the urban boundary – the area where developers can build new suburban subdivisions – as part of the review that needs to be completed by 2014.
“It’s a distraction from some of the real important work we need to do in order to make our city prosperous,” said Peter Hume, the chair of the planning committee, adding that more work must be done to plan where people will work.
Councillors will look at where worksites such as office parks and manufacturing facilities should be located over the next few years in their review of employment lands.
It’s all part of an effort to eliminate problems such as congestion on area roads by making sure that as many people as possible are working close to where they live.
But that doesn’t mean the issue of expanding the urban boundary further is going away, either.
To Barry Nabatian, who has for years studied the effects of Ottawa’s planning decisions, the review of the land available for office use is overdue.
The city has for too long reserved land for industrial and manufacturing that will likely never be used for that purpose again, said the director at market research firm Shore Tanner and Associates.
“The type of industry for which these lands have been saved from 50, 60 years ago, we do not have them and they are not coming back here, so why keep them industrial?” said Mr. Nabatian.
He would instead like to see many of these spaces, which include industrial lands south of Innes Road and west of Highway 417, rezoned so businesses can build office space, stores and in some cases homes.
He believes that will make the city more amenable to the sorts of knowledge-based jobs that help the city’s economy grow.
It’s also going to be the key to striking a greater balance between the number of people who live in the same area where they work, said Mr. Nabatian – a problem the city has recently been looking to solve.
Staff produced a report in late October calling for a tax break for companies that move into Orleans. This is one of the clearest examples of a community where people live but travel elsewhere for work, said the report, produced by the city’s economic development branch and approved by city council in November.
The report cited a study from 2006 that showed only 20 per cent of people who work in Orleans live there as well. That’s lower than the 50 per cent of people who work and live in Kanata.
City staff proposed creating a mechanism that would give companies that relocate to the area more time to pay the incremental increases on their taxes that result from property upgrades.
The report discussed the example of a business that begins by paying $10,000 on the property its using but soon has to pay $100,000 because of the increased value from development in the area. City staff want to give those businesses a longer period than usual to pay the difference in those taxes.
This is part of the goal of councillors’ review of the employment lands designation, said Mr. Hume. He’d like to know if changing the mix of commercial, residential and retail will help get more people to live where they work.
But he also stressed that the need to have some quality land set aside for industrial use isn’t going away any time soon. In 2010, for example, the city found itself battling a developer that wanted to build a Frito-Lay distribution in Barrhaven on property set aside for a “prestige” business park.
Ottawa, said Mr. Hume, must be able to accommodate such land uses.
“Where do you put the Coke plant, if you have one?” Mr. Hume said.
Despite initially asking for 2,500 hectares of land, a representative of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association says he’s satisfied with the 1,103 hectares added to the urban boundary by the Ontario Municipal Board as part of the most recent review.
That’s why it won’t be challenging the city’s plan to keep the boundary steady in 2014. The review after that, in 2019, will be another story.
“We have adequate lands for now but in another six or seven years we’re going to be back into the fire in terms of insufficient land,” said John Herbert, the executive director of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association.
More and more seniors and parents whose children have moved out are deciding to stay in their suburban homes rather than move into condominiums or apartments, he said. That means more land needs to be made available to build homes for the families who would have bought their houses from these two demographics.
The city, however, disagrees.
City councillor Mr. Hume said the need for single-family homes is dropping. He said he believes the municipality has supplied enough land to meet Ottawa’s requirements until 2031.
“We don’t think we need to add more land for housing ... at this time,” he said.