Planning Summit, April 26, 2012

On April 26, 2012, the City held a Planning Summit at the CE Centre. Not everyone who expressed a desire to attend was accommodated. Still, several Alliance friends were present.

Here is the brief post-meeting report on the Summit, found on the City’s web site.

As part of a report to Planning Committee (Council meeting of 22 May), staff summarized the participants’ comments.

Prior to the Summit, GA List subscribers had assembled a 7-page, 39-point list of “Speaking Points.” Noteworthy is that about half of the points fell under the heading “Governance and city-wide issues” — an indication of what the core problems are with our municipal government!

A few days after the Summit, Erwin posted the following report to the GA List (edited):


There were 250 people, spread over about 20 tables. You were assigned to your morning and afternoon table. The day started out with Mayor Watson and Planning Committee Chair Peter Hume holding their speech (lasting 10 and 15 minutes respectively), followed by a half-hour window to put some questions. Then Pamela Blais made an economist’s speech, saying setting the right price for things helps. Tiny window to ask questions. First Roundtable, 45 minutes. After good sandwiches, highly entertaining Jeffrey Tumlin, with a talk about transportation planners and all the things they don’t know. Second Roundtable. An extremely summary sum-up by Peter Hume.

More detail

Who was there? Ottawa Citizen journalist David Reevely asked a city staffer. Here is the breakdown of the “guest list”:

· Community associations and organizations 85-95

· Development industry professionals 35-45

· BIAs 5-7

· Advisory Committees 8

· Public at large 30-35

· Councillors, staff, etc. (not including facilitators and volunteers) 35

Right at the start, Mayor Watson explained that we’re not only dealing with the OP and the Transportation and Infrastructure Master Plans, but also with the (obligatory) Development Charges by-law review.

He saw six things as key:

1- contain urban expansion

2- promote transit

3- develop suburbs into complete communities

4- make rural villages more complete

5- have a strong engine of economic growth

6- achieve greater predictability.

He further announced:

– the new Official Plan will include a focus on tall buildings

– selected Community Design Plans (CDPs) and Secondary Plans (SPs) will be reviewed within one year

– the City’s web site is going to be revamped

– there’ll be a SWAT team that works with neighbours and developers to work out problems.

Planning Committee chair Peter Hume, in his remarks, stressed the absence of certainty, asserting that the lack of clarity was at the root of battles about development proposals. He predicted the city will soon see very tall buildings, but only at certain locations. He set out that the following policy discussions would take place in the next 18 months:

1- a tall buildings study

2- streets in transition (e.g., Meadowlands)

3- a small to medium-sized buildings study

4- how suburbs can become complete communities

5- sustainable rural villages

6- certain CDPs and SPs are to be reviewed immediately and confirmed in Official Plan and Zoning By-law Amendments (including Greenbank, Colonel By Drive, Woodroffe).

He repeated the Mayor’s references to a SWAT team that would aim for expedited decisions on specifically targeted zoning issues. He also promised new neighbourhood planning projects and a guaranteed time line for specific applications — if staff misses the deadline the next application will be for free. Finally, he promised that Committees and Council would stick to the rules and not allow exceptions, i.e., there’d be certainty. At the end (I believe in response to a question), he talked about a new “neighbourhood connections office” — presumably the urban equivalent of the Rural Affairs Office.

Development Charges were very much the focus of Pamela Blais’ talk. At one point she even showed a graph straight from a 2004 background study for the earlier DC review, showing very significant differences in the cost of providing infrastructure in the various suburbs. Amy Kempster and I (who were part of the Stakeholders Group on the by-law — it has to be reviewed every five years) pleaded at the time to charge DCs in accord with what growing in that particular part of the city will cost. However, developer solidarity prevailed and the decision was to charge everybody in the suburbs the same — a huge subsidy to development in Kanata West and Leitrim, among other “incorrect” pricing. Ms. Blais’ argument would have fully supported our preference for differential pricing.

In the brief question period, Amy Kempster got in the proposal to do away with the 10% “discount” for transit (discount meaning here an amount that is deducted from the capital costs which lead to the DCs). The Greenspace Alliance made this plea as far back as 2008 to then-Minister of Municipal Affairs Jim Watson. It recently repeated the plea in letters to Mayor Watson and Premier McGuinty. (The discount is embedded in the Development Charges Act.) Ms. Blais’ response was a simple “I agree.”

Pamela Blais’ book is “Perverse Cities: Hidden Subsidies, Wonky Policy, and Urban Sprawl”. There are three copies in the OPL.

The afternoon’s guest speaker, Jeffrey Tumlin, had excellent slides, presenting seven points to keep in mind when doing transportation planning. The man has worked all over the world and has seen it all. I cannot possibly do justice to his highly entertaining yet hard hitting remarks, except to say that sex and even orgasm was mentioned more than once. Hume, in his sum-up said he’ll be walking home as that seemed to come with certain advantages… (The slides do not appear to be available on the City’s web site.)

Jeffrey Tumlin’s book is “Sustainable Transportation Planning: Tools for Creating Vibrant, Healthy, and Resilient Communities”.

My second Roundtable was on Community Design Plans. Participants included Ted Fobert (consultant of the development industry), Lorne Cutler, someone from the Canadian Green Building Council and John Smit, second-in-command to John Moser, who dominated the discussion. He distinguished greenfield CDPs and CDPs in established areas, expressing his view that CDPs for the latter are going out of fashion because they just take too long and create false expectations. He said that the way to go was to create greater clarity in the OP (city-wide policy). Some examples were cited of CDPs that were unrealistic because their development had not included all stakeholders (such as major landowners).

Then it was over. Anna Hercz, who led the Choosing Our Future exercise for Ottawa and is about to retire, commented to me afterwards that major aspects of planning were not discussed — including energy, food, resilience, pollution, GHG reductions… Indeed, the talk was all about buildings, roads and other infrastructure. The number of times that the word environment was mentioned could be counted on one hand.

There were a few media reports:


In the Ottawa Citizen:

– “Watson promises zoning SWAT team toughest planning problems” (no longer available online but see Reevely, 17 Oct 2012, “City Hall promises on-time services“)

– “Ottawa tall buildings underachieve planning summit hears” (no longer available online but see Citizen editorial, 27 Apr 2012, “Let’s think outside the box“)

– several entries on the Ottawa Citizen’s City blog, with contributions by Ken Gray, Joanne Chianello and David Reevely.