OTTAWA -- As Ottawa's population grows, more space is needed for housing and developments to accommodate new people.

It's a fact not lost on city planners and the newly published agenda for a special joint meeting of the planning and rural affairs committees next month is revealing just how much land the City thinks it needs.

The special meeting on May 11 will debate whether to allow between 1,350 and 1,650 gross hectares of land to be eligible for new urban residential and employment development.

A typical downtown city block is about 1.2 to 1.5 hectares, for comparison.

"The new Official Plan provides a strategy and policy framework to guide development and growth over a 28-year period from July 2018 to July 2046. Over this period, Ottawa is projected to grow by about 402,000 persons, reaching a citywide population of over 1.4 million people. This growth will require in the order of 195,000 new residential units," a document prepared for the meeting says.

Ottawa's current urban boundary. (Photo courtesy of the City of Ottawa)City of Ottawa urban boundary

Capital Ward Coun. Shawn Menard was quick to criticize the plan on social media, calling it a "bad precedent" and "perhaps the most important decision" council will make this term. 

"It must be opposed vigourously," Menard said.

Three growth scenarios

Staff say there are 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 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."