Infill II: Zoning By-Law Amendment affecting residential zones within greenbelt

Infill II: Zoning By-Law Amendment affecting residential zones within greenbelt
Posted on March 4, 2015 | Fisher Heights & Area Community Association | Written on February 27, 2015
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RE : Zoning By-Law Amendment affecting low density residential zones
within the greenbelt (Infill II)

Dear Mr. Gauthier,

The purpose of this letter is to bring to the attention of the City and its Planning
Department views and comments from the Fisher-Heights & Area Community
Association (FHACA) in regard to the Infill II Study and the whole question of
Intensification in our neighbourhood.

Fisher-Heights & Area covers the Ward 9 residential quadrilateral bordered by
Merivale Road, Baseline Road, Fisher Avenue and Meadowlands Drive.
Characterized by its mixed built form, the neighbourhood offers a home to some
1,400 households living in single dwellings, row houses and both low and
medium-height apartment buildings. In terms of zoning, Fisher-Heights, while in
most part R1F and R1FF, includes R2, R3 and R5 areas.

A resident from this neighbourhood have attended meetings of the Infill II
Working Group while the FHACA has actively participated in the work and
deliberations of the Federation of Citizen’s Associations of Ottawa-Carleton
(FCA) and Knoxdale-Merivale Council (KMC) in the context of the Infill II Study.
The following comments and suggestions result from the information and insights
gained in the course of this involvement.

Such public involvement should be welcomed since the City stands to benefit
substantially from the Community’s input. An intensification system that gives
greater weight to the interests, views and wishes of the City’s residents, will find
greater acceptance in the public, hence will be easier to implement across the
General Urban Area.

The FHACA therefore urges the City to consider carefully and positively the
various resolutions put forward by Community Associations, notably the FCA, in
regard to such matters as corner lots, equitable massing and Height and
projections above building height.

Broader Public Awareness

Notwithstanding the engagement of various community groups in discussion with
City staff, we suggest that the vast majority of affected homeowners are blissfully
unaware of the extent of impact that proposed Infill II bylaw could have on their
immediate surroundings. To take just one example: while we acknowledge that
narrower lots are inevitable under provincial intensification policies, the City can
expect widespread negative reaction to the idea that the Infill bylaw will propose
no specified minimums for a residential lot frontage.

FHACA plans to hold a general meeting to inform our residents of proposals as
they are firmed up. However, we submit that it is properly the City's responsibility
to educate the public of the benefits (and costs) of intensification and residential
infill. We elaborate on this issue in the following sections.

Intensification Benefits and Costs

The Community has heard a great deal about the potential benefits of
intensification, particularly for the more efficient use of the City’s infrastructure
and therefore for a better return on public investment. It has not been similarly
informed on the downside effects, notably the inherent socio-economic defects of
unbridled intensification.

Until now, young families and middle-income earners have been able to
purchase the type of family dwelling they want in the outer-urban areas and in
new developments beyond the Greenbelt. Unless energetic measures are taken
to ensure that new development in established middle-class neighbourhoods,
such as Fisher-Heights, is designed to meet the needs of the broadest segment
of our population, there is a real danger that intensification, which discourages
new building in outlying areas and promotes the tearing down of old
neighbourhoods, will reduce the supply of dwellings affordable to median income
families.

The FHACA has witnessed instances when fast, disruptive intensification causes
the marginal value of lots and dwellings to spike far above the long-term housing
cost trend. In recent years, Fisher-Heights has seen, on lots half to a third the
size of the original property, the construction of very large homes sold at twice
the average price of a single detached house in the area. This type of
development is neither financially nor socially sustainable. Over the long-term, housing prices and wages should move along similar trend lines. Cities face social disarray and incur significant costs when a significant gap is allowed to persist between the two.

While a municipal government has very few tools to influence the wage or
housing market, it does have the power and responsibility to avoid that
intensification contribute to a widening gap between housing costs and wages.
Rather than adopt a laissez-faire attitude, the City should ensure that the various
criteria of its intensification policy, whether they relate to lot severance and
minimum size, to building mass and height, or to appearance and setbacks do
steer developers towards good business opportunities that are unrelated to the
construction of high-end homes.

The City would not be meeting its social obligations, or exercising good
governance if it were to ignore the potential socio-economic pitfalls of its
intensification policy. By and large, these social costs are avoidable, and
therefore, we suggest, must be addressed in the present study.

Targeted and non-targeted Intensification

Faced with the Province’s decree to intensify development, the City decided to
divide the General Urban Area into two parts:

  • The first (Central Area, Transit-oriented Areas, Mixed-use Centres, Mainstreets, Town Centres, and the Community Core in Riverside South) being targeted for denser more urban forms of development; and
  • The second, which includes the residential neighbourhoods in Infill I and II, to remain subject to intensification, with rules and procedures to be determined by the Infill Study.

Implicit in this division is the expectation that targeted areas will differ from nontargeted
areas by the pace of intensification as well as the type of built form.
It makes sense to channel high-rise, fast, and potentially disruptive development
in the targeted areas, and to schedule it to coincide more or less with the
unfolding of the Confederation Transit Line (from Tunney’s Pasture to Blair Road)
by 2017 and, at least, of the ‘Affordable’ Network from Kanata to Orléans with a
connecting line to Barrhaven by 2031.

Developers will apply their energy and focus their investments where the best
opportunities for development arise. Coherence with the City’s Official Plan and
Transportation Master Plan, means that the great majority of these opportunities should appear along the Mass Transit Lines, and especially the central Confederation Line. For the City, knowing how and where to turn the intensification tap on and off will make or break Ottawa’s future development. For the City, knowing how and where to turn the intensification tap on and off will make or break Ottawa’s future development.

When the City clearly lets it be known that intensification in low-rise residential
neighbourhoods should move forward at a restrained pace, in a non-disruptive
fashion, it nudges interested developers to deploy strategies that show greater
respect for Neighbourhood Character and helps to maintain reasonably small the
gap between the sale price of new dwellings and the average value of existing
homes. Up to this point, the City has not properly tackled these matters. It has, somewhat disappointingly, kept at the level of technicalities and chosen to interpret
intensification as a set of building norms.

The FHACA believes that the City can and should make the difference between
targeted and non-targeted areas sharper and easier for developers to follow and
for residents to understand and monitor. The FHACA also believes that many
other Ottawa Community Associations would be willing to work alongside the City
to this end.

Neighbourhood Integrity: Arterial Mainstreet Merivale Road versus Residential Fisher-Heights

Also implicit in the distinction between Targeted and Non-Targeted Areas for
intensification is the idea of a clear spatial separation between the two. The City has not sufficiently highlighted this separation either as a concern or a development criterion. The resulting ambiguity, and lack of guidance for planners and developers, is likely to have significant detrimental effects. Fisher-Heights could well become the victim of some of these adverse effects.

With Arterial Mainstreet Development along Merivale (from West Hunt Club to
Baseline Road) and low-rise intensification in the residential areas, the Fisher-
Heights & Area Neighbourhood is at risk, high risk, of being subjected to two sets
of very different and very unequal forces. Unless a firewall divides the two zones
(AM on one side, R on the other), there is no doubt that the dynamism of the
commercial/high rise development will spill over into our residential streets.

There have been harbingers. When the first application for the development of
the property at 1445 Merivale Road was made public, in 2007, the City instructed
the developer to place the only entrance and exit to the new business on Burris
Lane, i.e. told him it was acceptable for commercial establishments to encroach
on the adjacent residential neighbourhood. The Community fought long and hard
to secure two entrances and exits, with one, which should be the principal access
to and egress from the property, on Merivale Road. What this firewall consists of is a matter that should be resolved in consultation with local residents and their Community Association.

The optimum solution,  applicable to all neighbourhoods, would be to introduce the notion of respect for Residential Neighbourhood Integrity. This could easily be done, in the Amended By-law and in Ottawa’s Official Plan.

For the time being, the FHACA wishes to place on the record that it would be
opposed to the subdivision and subsequent rezoning of part of the existing R1F
zone as well as opposed to the spot rezoning of any property situation in close
proximity to the Merivale AM zone, and most particularly the Merivale Triangle
.
(The area West of Farlane Boulevard is of greatest concern to the FHACA).

Neighbourhood Character

Like most large cities in the world, Ottawa has grown into a mosaic of
Communities and Neighbourhoods, each with its distinctive identity. By-law 2012-
147, which results from Infill I acknowledges the relevance of neighbourhood and
introduces Streetscape Character Analysis into the planning and development
process.

The City should have applied the same logic to Infill II and the whole Outer-Urban
Area. First, there are no grounds for saying that one neighbourhood has
character and another does not. Each epoch gives birth to its own architecture
and urban style in response to the wealth, taste, technologies and public spirit
prevailing at the time. Ottawa’s core was built before the advent of the automobile, the first suburbs very much on the basis of it. Presumably, the next generation will see post-automobile home building.

Second, the developers who appealed against Neighbourhood Character and
Streetscape as development criteria in By-law 21012-147 would have found it
more difficult to make a case had the City applied the same rule consistently to
the entire General Urban Area.

Third, using Neighbourhood Character throughout would introduce a measure of
predictability to development and make intensification less disruptive and more
gradual in residential areas, which the City has, from the outset, set aside as a
zone of non-targeted intensification.

The FHACA unequivocally urges the City to adopt Neighbourhood
Character for the Outer-Urban Area and use Streetscape Character Analysis as
a step in development applications. This Community Association and no doubt
many others would be more than willing to sit down with City Officials and
Developers to work out the details of this procedure.

Equitable Mobility

The Merivale Road Secondary Plan betrays its origins when it states that: “…the
area will continue to be primarily automobile-oriented”. Since 1982, Ottawa has moved on, as its massive investment in Rapid Mass Transit clearly demonstrates.

Nevertheless, the City still does not plan sufficiently for pedestrian access or for
cycling. Intensification in our residential neighbourhood revolves around building
form and ignores streetscape. Our residents ask how can denser housing be
considered in Fisher-Heights when most streets lack sidewalks and children as
much as adults are compelled to walk on the pavement. Winter only makes
matters worse by significantly reducing the width of the roadway and making
walking far more hazardous.

At the minimum, Ottawa’s intensification policy should be complemented by a
plan to build bikeways and sidewalks (as well as protected pathways to link
neighbourhoods to commercial streets and shopping malls) in all residential
districts susceptible to intensified redevelopment.

Respect for the Intent of Building Zones

The intent of Building Zones must be a paramount consideration during the
assessment of any proposal to intensify development in any residential
neighbourhood. Simply put, R1- Residential First Density means detached
dwellings, R2- Residential Second Density means two unit dwellings, R3-
Residential Third Density means townhouse dwellings, and R4- Residential
Fourth Density means low rise apartments.

Clear and Transparent Procedure for intensification in Low-Rise
Residential Areas

The FHACA urges the City to observe a Planning and Development policy that
acknowledges that Ottawa is a City of Communities and Neighbourhoods. The distinctive Character and Maturity of each neighbourhood, in the Inner and Outer-Urban areas equally, should fully be taken into account. In consequence, any development proposal in either area should include a Streetscape Character Analysis based on the closest set of 21 neighbouring dwellings within the building zone.

A clear and transparent procedure should be instituted to guide developers and
builders in the preparation of their development applications. Such a procedure
should outline a logical and efficient path, which includes, in the order set below,
the six following phases:

  1. Conformity with the intent of the existing Building Zone;
  2. Streetscape Character Analysis;
  3. Conformity with lot-size minimum frontage and area (here any change should be gradual);
  4. Building height (exceptions kept to a minimum);
  5. Building mass (with respect for mass equivalence); and
  6. Appearance and Perspective (setbacks, backyards, etc.).

Role of the Committee of Adjustment

Lurking in the background, in all these discussions of possible bylaw provisions,
is the spectre of the Committee of Adjustment's powers. This Committee can
and does grant land severances, which dramatically alter the size and shape
requirements of any given zoning bylaw. Similarly, it can and does approve
variances to setbacks and other provisions, which to the typical resident appear
to be anything but "minor".

This situation would appear to render almost meaningless the recent detailed
discussions about limiting lot size, building heights, projections, and setbacks.
The FHACA therefore urges the City to re-examine what alternatives are
available to it under the Ontario Planning Act. Nothing prevents the City from
displaying leadership on this issue.

FCA Key Findings on Ottawa’s Official Plan, Transportation Master Plan and Infrastructure Plan

 

The FHACA wishes to endorse the Community principles and position put
forward by FCA. (Summary reprinted as Annex A).

 

Points 1 to 5 apply more directly to the Fisher-Heights Area. These are:

  1. Terminate and put a moratorium on the practice of routine random spot rezoning.
  2. Install Transport-Oriented Development as a key principle of Ottawa’s Official Plan.
  3. Place the emphasis for designation of Mainstreets on established commercial centres and major activity.
  4. Protect Community Character; Plan for Ottawa as a City of Communities and Neighbourhoods.
  5. Conserve, Avoid Sprawl – conserve resources, stabilize residential neighbourhood.

Development of the Merivale Road Arterial Mainstreet Zone

In April last year, in response to the City’s Merivale Road Intensification Study, the Knoxdale-Merivale Council of Community Associations (KMC), of which the
FHACA is an active member, wrote to the City and the Councillors for Ward 8
and 9 that:

The Merivale Road residents and their community associations hope the
Merivale Arterial Mainstreet Densification Initiative will regenerate Merivale
Road as:

  • A desirable place to live and raise a family. Growth should be smart and efficient;
  • Development should improve quality of life. A desirable and efficient place to conduct business and a desirable place to visit, shop or eat, to find leisure and entertainment;
  • An attractive Mid-Town, destination for all Ottawa residents, easy to reach from any part of the city and, once there, easy to navigate;
  • A thoroughfare that allows for efficient commuting. A North-South axis as well as a local road; and
  • The road which defines Ottawa’s Mid-Town and gives it character

The FHACA continues to assert this position. It believes that the Densification of
the large commercial tract of land along Merivale Road (zoned AM), from
McFarlane to Baseline Road (including the AM zone immediately to its North)
must move forward with due consideration for the surrounding residential
neighbourhoods, Fisher-Heights among them. The ultimate rationale of all these
changes can only be to improve conditions, to enhance the experience of living
and raising a family in Ottawa.

In effect, that’s our bottom line, change in Fisher-Heights, intensification in
particular, makes absolutely no sense if it does not better the lives of this
community and its residents. It should go without saying. After all, we not only
are the City’s taxpayers; in every sense of the word, we are the City.

Yours Sincerely,

Original signed by
Bob McCaw, President FHACA
1469 Merivale Rd,
Box 78022 Meriline,
Nepean ON K2E 1B1

c.c. Councillor Keith Egli
c.c. Councillors members of the Planning Committee
c.c. Councillor Rick Chiarelli
c.c. Councillor Riley Brockington
c.c. Alain Miguelez, Planning, City of Ottawa

About The Author

We are the communities of Fisher Heights, Orchard Park, Parkwood Hills North, and Skyline in central Ottawa just to the south of the western end of the experimental farm.  We are bordered by Merivale Road, Baseline... More