A Primer on the City of Ottawa’s New Official Plan
Official Plan Timing Update:
The new Official Plan was submitted to the Province for approval in December 2021. The target date for Provincial approval was April 2022, but consistent with Bill 109, the Minister can now suspend its approval timeline for official plans (including the City of Ottawa's).
The document has been affected by the Ford government's legislation (Bill 109) which is aimed at boosting housing supply. Bill 109 was introduced on March 30, 2022, but was fast-tracked at Queen's Park and received both third reading and royal assent in mid-April.
It is not anticipated that the new Official Plan will receive Minister approval prior to the June Provincial election. Without that decision, planning decisions in Ottawa will keep following the old official plan, which remains in effect.
A Primer on the City of Ottawa’s New Official Plan
Replacing the current City of Ottawa Official Plan, which was adopted in 2003, the New City of Ottawa Official Plan promises a revamped vision for managing the future growth of the City. Built on over two years of work by the City’s planning staff and an extensive public outreach program, the Plan has generated its fair share of controversy. Despite that, City Planning staff and Council have given full support to the New Plan.
The Official Plan was approved by Planning Committee on October 18, 2021 after 25 hours of deliberations with 84 delegations. It received City Council’s approval on October 27, 2021, with three councillors dissenting on Schedule C-17 (Urban Expansion Lands), which proposed the expansion of the urban boundary to include the Tewin Lands development on the southeastern fringe of the City. The Plan will carry over 28 of the existing Secondary Plans, with some existing Secondary Plans carried over as Area-Specific Policies. All Community Design Plans will remain in place and seven new Secondary Plans are at varying stages of completion at the staff level.
The new Official Plan was created via a multi-disciplinary team of City staff and through significant public consultations. The New Official Plan is based on the City’s Five Big Policy Moves, which govern the five strategic policy directions that new Plans will follow. The Five Big Moves are:
Growth: Ensure that most growth occurs through intensification rather than greenfield development by the end of the planning period.
Mobility: Ensure that most trips by the end of the planning period are made by sustainable modes of transportation.
Urban Design: Improve Urban Design and Community Design in Ottawa that recognizes the various neighbourhood characteristics in the City and ensures that intensification benefits the communities involved.
Resiliency: Embed climate resiliency and sustainability into the planning framework.
Economy: Integrate long-term economic stability and growth into land use planning.
Implementation of these goals requires policies from a variety of cross-cutting themes. The Plan identifies six cross-cutting themes that are integrated with policies throughout the Official Plan. These themes are:
Energy and Climate Change
Healthy and Inclusive Communities
The structure of the Plan is underpinned by six concentric Transect Policy Areas, which recognize and acknowledge the existing patterns of development within neighbourhoods in each policy area, and provide intensification policies that align with the existing built form in each transect. The six Transect Policy Areas in order of most to least centrally-located are:
Figure 1: The Rural-Urban Transect planning framework. (Source: Duany Plater-Zyberk)
Figure 2: Transect Policy Areas. (Source: City of Ottawa).
Intensification policies within each of the Transects is based on a ‘hub-and-spokes’ style planning framework, whereby the highest concentrations of density, mixed uses, and height are planned in Hubs. In the new Official Plan, Hubs are focused around planned or existing rapid transit stations and frequent street transit stations. Hubs are connected to by Corridors, which applies to lands along specific streets and plan for a higher density, height, and mix of uses than Neighbourhoods, but lower than Hubs. Corridors are also located along street-level transit stations and connect to Neighbourhoods and Hubs.
Figure 3: Height context transition. (Source: City of Ottawa).
Neighbourhoods are considered the heart of communities and are intended to support a mix of uses and densities that vary based on their maturity and stage of development. The new Official Plan aims to gradually transition neighbourhoods to the 15-minute neighbourhood model, which provides for a mix of uses, increased transit access, and improved walkability. The 15-minute neighbourhood model plans for jobs, housing, shopping, amenities, and public transit service to be located within a 15-minute walking distance. The Plan emphasizes a gradual transition of neighbourhoods, with generally a 1% change expected in a given neighbourhood each year of the Plan’s lifespan.
Overall, the Official Plan provides a bold new policy direction for the City that centralizes healthy, inclusive, vibrant, and walkable 15-minute communities. It plans for more strategically located density that better utilizes existing transportation infrastructure and supports the integration and mix of housing, retail, and jobs within communities. New built form overlays such as the Evolving Overlay provide additional direction for increased intensification through a gradual evolution of site densities between Neighbourhoods and Corridors. The Future Neighbourhood Overlay provides for new greenfield developments in the Suburban Transect to be designed and constructed as 15-minute neighbourhoods, with two land categories for the Urban Expansion Area and the Tewin community, respectively.
Figure 4: Visual depiction of a 15-minute neighbourhood. (Source: City of Ottawa).
The City’s new Official Plan aims to address the City’s housing goals through strong intensification targets to control suburban sprawl and address the need for increased housing supply, diversity, and affordability. It plans for more compact and connected communities, which will reduce reliance on the private automobile and promote more sustainable modes of transportation. The Plan allows for increased flexibility for new developments to meet this intensification goal and regulates built form, density, height, massing, and design of residential development rather than housing type.
In summary, the Plan provides more policy direction for intensification and supports an increased housing supply and diversity than the outgoing plan. It appropriately regulates built forms, heights, massing, and building design without being overly prescriptive and providing more flexibility for the types of housing allowed in neighbourhoods. Despite the controversial inclusion of the Tewin Lands within the Urban Expansion Area, the plan does a relatively good job of controlling sprawl by promoting complete, healthy 15-minute communities in all urban transect policy areas. The plan addresses the reality of jobs and retail locating within suburban and outer urban cores by supporting increased density in these areas, rather than operating on a 20th century planning framework based around suburban bedroom communities and commuting to the downtown core.
More information about the new Official Plan can be found at the City of Ottawa’s website.
Link to the New Official Plan: https://engage.ottawa.ca/the-new-official-plan
Link to City Council Agenda: https://app05.ottawa.ca/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=8224&doctype=agenda&itemid=415044