OTTAWA -- Ottawa’s urban boundary is set to expand by up to 1,650 hectares over the next 25 years.

A joint meeting of the Planning Committee and Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee voted 10 to 1 in favour of a staff recommendation to expand the urban boundary by between 1,350 and 1,650 hectares. Councillor Jeff Leiper voted against the proposal. 

The vote came after 28 hours of discussion, debate and hearing from the public on the proposal to expand the urban boundary and increasing intensification.

The City of Ottawa projects the population will grow by 450,000 people by 2046, requiring 195,000 more homes.

Under the plan, city staff say the majority of the growth will be achieved through intensification. By 2045, 51 per cent of the new households will be built in existing urban areas, with the intensification target rising to 60 per cent by 2046. The remaining 49 per cent of the growth will be accommodated within the expanded boundary.

To ensure protection for prime agricultural lands, the city would exclude from consideration any lands in an Agriculture Resource Area. 

Council will vote on the proposal on May 27.

Ottawa's current urban bounday (Photo: City of Ottawa)

City of Ottawa urban boundary


How big is 1,650 hectares?

A hecatre is 10,000 square meters in size. To put it in practical terms, the typical downtown Ottawa block is about 1.2 to 1.5 hectares.

Due to Ottawa's nature of having a mix of urban and rural wards following amalgamation, the 1,650 hectares staff recommend adding to the urban boundary can seem like a lot or a little, depending on which part of the city it is compared. 

Kitchissippi Ward, for example, is approximately 1,510 hectares in size. Capital ward is 990 hectares. 

On the other hand, Rideau Goulbourn ward is approximately 74,400 hectares in size. West Carleton-March ward is 76,300 hectares.  

Three growth scenarios

Staff proposed three approaches to accommodating the projected growth in the city.

The first is a status quo approach, which staff say maintains the current Official Plan intensification target increase but offers no further policy intervention on achieving the majority of growth through intensification. Under this scenario, Staff say 45 per cent of residential growth by 2046 will be through intensification—that is, the development of land at a greater density than currently exists, typically though multi-unit dwellings like row homes and high-rises.

"The remaining 55 per cent of growth is to be accommodated on greenfield lands and requires an urban expansion of approximately 1,930 to 2,230 gross hectares to supplement the existing urban greenfield designated lands and account for potential Urban Employment Area additions," the report says.

The second option is a "hold-the-line" approach, where there is no expansion to the urban boundary at all. Staff say this option would require a rapid development of intensification at levels never before seen in Ottawa.

"Intensification targets increase at a faster rate than historically observed, such that 100 per cent intensification is achieved during the 2041 to 2046 period, resulting in 64 per cent of overall residential growth within the built-up area through intensification," the report says.

Staff also say this approach provides no opportunity for strategic expansion of urban employment areas.

The "hold-the-line" approach is one favoured by groups such as Ecology Ottawa, which collected more than 5,000 signatures on a petition urging city councillors to keep the urban boundary line where it is.

The third approach, which staff are recommending, is a "balanced" approach. This one would have more "realistic" targets for intensification and wouldn't require as large of an expansion of the urban boundary. Under this approach, the City would need to expand the boundary by 1,350 to 1,650 hectares. 

Staff say this approach would permit the City and the housing industry to "lay the groundwork to facilitate more intensification through the introduction of new housing forms to achieve the reallocation of ground-oriented units (single-detached, semi detached and row housing) that are typically provided in greenfield areas, back into existing communities."

Staff note that the majority of new housing built through intensification have been rental apartments and condos with two or fewer bedrooms. "A change in the types of intensification units is needed as the rate of required intensification increases, with special attention to three-bedroom ground-oriented units," the report states.

The land that would be added to the expanded urban boundary would be selected based on criteria staff say would ensure the most cost-effective use of the land and would prioritize "new residences close to existing commercial areas, existing places of employment and most importantly close to existing or already-planned rapid transit."