City council approves urban boundary expansion

Ottawa City Hall

City council voted Wednesday to make an additional 1,281 hectares of land available for residential development by 2046 – a move disappointing critics pushing for more intensification as well as the city’s homebuilding industry, which had argued more development land was needed.

The 15-6 vote was the culmination of several hours of debate Wednesday and multiple days of public delegations during committee meetings. A decision on adding an additional 69 and 369 hectares of land for employment purposes, such as business parks, was deferred so city staff could undertake more studies.

Critics, many of whom took to social media Wednesday to denounce the decision, argued that the expansion would increase urban sprawl and lead to more greenhouse gas emissions from commuters as well as more pressure on taxpayers as city services are extended.

On the other side, homebuilders had argued that the amount of additional development land was insufficient to accommodate the city’s projected growth and would lead to higher home prices, driving residents outside Ottawa’s borders to neighbouring communities such as Carleton Place, Kemptville and Rockland.

“That tells me that council is landing exactly where it should – in the middle of these competing extremes,” Mayor Jim Watson said just ahead of the vote. He called Wednesday’s vote “a test of our ability to juggle the competing demands and interests that come from governing a fast-growing city.”

In addition to expanding the urban boundary, city councillors also voted 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.

Wednesday’s vote did not specify which land parcels would be opened for future development; those locations will be determined later this year.

However, the city committees set out criteria that would limit expansion to areas near existing or planned transit hubs.