Now that Council approved the new Official Plan: How did the environmental agenda fare?

Now that Council approved the new Official Plan: How did the environmental agenda fare?
Posted on December 19, 2013 | Erwin Dreessen | Written on December 19, 2013
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Author's Note:

Author's Note:

This look-back was published on the Greenspace Alliance's web site, as the latest episode in the review of Ottawa's Official plan. The web site version has several hotlinks. Please visit http://www.greenspace-alliance.ca/OP2014 for this and earlier episodes.

In posting this to the green-news list, I noted that the environmental agenda we identified a year ago was naturally focused on the Alliance's mandate - "greenspace." One could expound on the beneficial impact of less car-oriented transportation and continued densification policies but I will leave that to others.

On December 11, 2013, Council passed the By-law giving formal approval to the new Official Plan approved on November 26. It is now sent off to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. When it comes back with "Ministerial Modifications" a Notice will follow and a 20-day appeal period will start. (The by-law is item cc) on Council's list of by-laws adopted "in third reading." Its official name is: "cc) A by-law of the City of Ottawa adopting a comprehensive amendment to the Official Plan to promote affordable growth and well-designed development oriented to transit.")

Back in January, the Alliance put forward a 7-point "environmental agenda" for this project. How did it fare?

+ The policy on country lot estates, first expressed by staff as continuing the moratorium of 2009 -- a formulation we decried -- was recast as simply a prohibition. The policy was approved, despite several last-minute attempts to weaken it; it included a clarification that we had asked for. At the last minute, however, a concession to Cavanagh was inserted which will allow an additional 200 lots in two locations, which happen to be chock-full with natural heritage features including wood- and wetlands.

+ The City came through on its undertaking to conduct a natural linkages analysis and certain areas were added to Schedules L1/2/3 indicating the need for an Environmental Impact Statement when development is proposed in or near these areas. The 1-km wide corridors identified in the penultimate stage of the analysis were not designated as such, however. Nor did we achieve, for now, more "readable" Schedules L1/2/3 that would differentiate the various elements of natural heritage rather than just showing one even green colour. However, we have been promised the GIS data layers and may yet see the layers accessible on geoOttawa. Also, there is hope that documentation of the data sources (and vintage) of the information displayed in the L1/2/3 schedules will become available. We drew staff's attention to the defective nature of the report on this analysis tabled at Planning Committee. The corrected version of the report (4 MB) finally made it for Council's meeting of November 26.

+ We did not succeed in persuading staff to re-open the definition of "significant woodlands," nor did we gain any further commitment about the partly complementary measure, a site alteration by-law, besides the promise that it's on staff's 2014 workplan. (It's been a to-do since 2003.)

+ We kept a watching brief on any moves to modify the urban boundary. The freeze held. A last-minute attempt to change the boundary of the Village of Greely was defeated.

+ Another watching brief was on the Official Plan's policy on aggregate resources. An initial proposal to designate several new areas was later withdrawn, as a result of consultation with affected landowners. (This was, by the way, the only truly significant consultation held during this OP review exercise.) We teased out the information that staff is working hard on a protocol that will efficiently cover the review roles of both city and province.

+ A final watching brief was on the Land Evaluation and Area Review (LEAR), which identifies agricultural resource lands. Due to unspecified data problems, this review was postponed. Our watching brief must continue, especially as regards the Walton Group of Companies' proposals for conversion of agricultural land into residential and employment lands.

During the course of the project, a few other issues of environmental import came to the fore:

+ Initially, a policy was proposed that would clarify that stormwater ponds must stay out of the flood plain, but it was later withdrawn. Our protests resulted in a letter from the Conservation Partners (the three Conservation Authorities in the Ottawa area) that sets out their policy. This statement means in effect a change in policy (or at least a clarification) for two of the three Authorities. In addition, staff responded to our comments, confirming city policy. It's short of having it encoded in the OP, but clearly an improvement. Another policy that never even made it to a draft would have stated that stormwater ponds must stay inside the urban boundary too. Still, on this we extracted a statement that, in principle, they must not spill over into the rural area.

+ A policy initially proposed to require green infrastructure in parking lots was withdrawn. An attempt to have it re-instated failed.

+ Staff tabled a revised version of the Hemson Report. First tabled in March, it analyzes the fiscal impact and the degree of cost recovery through Development Charges of four types of residential development.

On a final note, we have been promised that the Official Plan will be posted as ONE pdf file on the City's web site, making efficient searches possible; and we will continue to ask that basic planning documents, including their updates, be deposited in our public libraries.

About The Author

Retired economist (Ph.D., Berkeley, 1972) Co-founder (1997) and former chair of the Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital.  Wrote an annotated bibliography on what sustainability means for businesses (2009) --... More