OTTAWA -- Two days before Council votes on whether to expand Ottawa’s urban boundary, a new poll commissioned by three Ottawa Councillors suggests a majority of Ottawa residents are opposed to the boundary’s expansion.

The Planning Committee voted last week to expand Ottawa’s urban boundary by between 1,350 and 1,650 hectares between now and 2046.   The decision came after Councillors on the committee spent nearly 30 hours hearing from public delegations and asking questions to city staff.

The survey by EKOS Research Associates asked "Overall, do you support or oppose to the idea of this type of expansion of the City of Ottawa urban boundary?" The poll found 52 per cent of residents say they oppose an expansion of the urban boundary, compared to 31 per cent who support it.

The poll of 525 residents was commissioned by Councillors Catherine McKenney, Shawn Menard and Jeff Leiper.  McKenney tells CTV News Ottawa that the COVID-19 pandemic and physical distancing restrictions prevented people from taking part in the Planning Committee debate, and they wanted to gauge public sentiment on the issue and their concerns.

“It certainly does mirror what I’ve been hearing, even in the central areas it’s higher – the number of residents who do oppose an expansion,” said McKenney of the 52 per cent of respondents who oppose the urban boundary expansion.

“It does certainly confirm what I’ve been seeing and hearing from residents, really from across the city.”

The EKOS poll shows 70 per cent of respondents said expanding the urban boundary would increase pressure on the delivery of city services, while 55 per cent said it would increase taxes for city residents. It also found 69 per cent of respondents said expanding the boundary would increase greenhouse gases.

Council will vote Wednesday on the Planning Committee’s recommendation to expand the urban boundary by up to 1,650 hectares. Under the plan, 51 per cent of new dwellings would be built in already developed areas, with the intensification target rising to 60 per cent by 2046.

Councillors McKenney, Leiper and Menard support the “hold-the-line” approach to the urban boundary, where there is no expansion to the urban boundary at all.  McKenney says Ottawa can accommodate all new dwellings within the current city boundary moving forward.

“We do have to change how we live as a city, whether we expand the urban boundary or not, every area of the city is going to have to accept intensification,” Councillor McKenney tells CTV News Ottawa, adding Ottawa has the land available and zoned to accommodate all growth until 2036 and then focus on intensification.

“We are going to have to see neighbourhoods that today may just be many, many single family homes start to include low-rise apartments. We’re going to see towers going up along transit corridors. We are going to have to see more townhomes, more semi-detached rather than single family. ”

The Councillor adds “those things are all going to have to happen whether we expand the urban boundary or not. I believe we can do it.”

The Councillor for Somerset Ward wishes the city delayed the debate until the COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed to give the public and staff more time to gather information on expanding the urban boundary.

“I also don’t believe that the report we have in front of us gives us enough information to make an informed decision,” said McKenney.

“We do not know the different costs involved with the different scenarios. We do not know what the implications are for our long-range financial plan. We don’t know what the implications are for our transit plan. Those are things that time would allow staff to be able to come back and allow us to make the best decision possible with all of the information we need.”

Council will vote on the urban boundary expansion on Wednesday during the regularly scheduled Council meeting.

The Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association commissioned EKOS to conduct a poll in early May.  The survey asked, “How should the City of Ottawa ensure that new homes are available to its growing population over the next 25 years?"  The survey found 59 per cent support a balance of intensification and land expansion, while 23 per cent supported new homes in existing neighbourhoods.

In a statement, EKOS Research Associates says “we believe that the underlying data are accurately presented in both surveys and we stand by our original conclusion.”

“First off, it is clear that most Ottawa residents have concerns over boundary expansion; both surveys support this finding. Clear majorities believe the city staff’s recommendation will put additional pressure on city services and increase greenhouse gas emissions.”

However, EKOS Research Associates says “boundary expansion is not a binary issue and there are many approaches to gauging public support.”

“In earlier research, when respondents are given a broader array of options, they opt overwhelmingly for a combination of boundary expansion and other measures to provide housing to Ottawa’s growing population.”

EKOS adds when framing the issue of boundary expansion in terms of housing affordability, “further shifts preferences in favour of expansion.”