Greenspace Alliance comments to Council

Joint Submission of the Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital and the Friends of the Greenspace Alliance to Council on the Official Plan Amendment to be tabled June 10, 2009.

This submission complements the previous submission of the Greenspace Alliance made to the Special Joint ARAC/PEC meetings on the Official Plan amendment held March 31 – April 3. It addresses the following issues:

  1. country lot subdivisions;
  2. the proposed expansion of the urban boundary;
  3. the protection of endangered species; and
  4. the Flewellyn Special Policy Area.

1. Country Lot Subdivisions

ARAC/PEC Recommendation

The report coming to Council by the Joint Special Meeting of ARAC/PEC (held May 11, 12, 14, 26) makes a recommendation (2.b) that a moratorium be placed on country lot subdivisions. We strongly support this recommendation and the rationale for it.

The issue of allowing country lot subdivisions (CLSs) in the general rural area was debated during the drafting of the 2003 Official Plan. At that time, staff produced a report (Planning and Development Committee, Agenda 49, March 31 – April 7, 2003, Document 10) that recommended prohibiting these subdivisions for a number of good planning reasons. The recommendation was accepted by the Planning and Development Committee; however, a motion to allow the subdivisions was introduced at Council and approved for inclusion in the new Official Plan. The Greenspace Alliance, as well as others such as the Federation of Citizens’ Associations (FCA), did not agree with this decision and subsequently appealed it to the OMB. In December 2006 the City, the Alliance and the FCA agreed to dispose of the appeal on the condition that “City staff place before Council for its consideration an official plan amendment or modification that includes the prohibition of new country lot subdivisions.” A motion had been drafted for this purpose and included in the Staff report to the Special Joint ARAC/PEC meeting (May 11,12, 14,26) in Document 7.

The Alliance is in principle against country lot subdivisions for many reasons but essentially this type of subdivision has proven to be a form of uncontrolled and wasteful development, that undermines the intent of the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) and goes against the strategic policies of the Official Plan for “smart” growth. Many studies (*) have shown that the uncontrolled development of subdivisions is: an inefficient use of land (low household density per area of land); costly to the City regarding the provision of infrastructure and services; unfairly subsidized by taxpayers; destructive of environmentally sensitive areas and the rural character of the countryside; too car oriented; and a form of development that is not community-friendly.

It was not clear to us at the time of the initial decision to allow country lot subdivisions, that any planning rationale was used to justify them and we still fail to see what that rationale would be. Many other municipalities in Ontario have prohibited this type of development and we do not understand why the situation in Ottawa should be different. It appears that short-term, political considerations have taken precedence over good planning practice and we hope that with a second look, Council will decide differently.

Question of Choice

The question of choice was brought out in the rural working groups and remains a significant consideration for many people when discussing country lot subdivisions. On an individual level, it is easy to understand and empathize with the choice to live where and how one wants to; however it becomes a question of who is making that choice. There are many choices – the choice of the individual to live on a multi-acreage lot, the farmer to farm without undue hindrance from residential neighbours, people looking for affordable housing, the home-owner desiring to live in an unspoiled rural setting, the environmentalist advocating for the protection of natural habitats, and the developer seeking to maximize profits. Obviously these and other choices need to be managed and priorities set, and these should be done taking into account the best interests of the community as a whole – this involves planning, the setting of rules and necessary limits.

The Need for Limits

In an ideal world, everyone could live as they wished, but given that there is a limited amount of land that eventually can be developed, the City has an obligation, as stated in the PPS, to allow for “limited residential development“ in the rural areas, to achieve “efficient development and land use patterns” which avoid “environmental or public health and safety concerns”. It is our concern that development such as exhibited by country lot subdivisions goes against these precepts, and with increasing, unlimited demand, endangers the watershed and the existence of ecological resources such as significant woodlands and wetlands in the rural area. In the end, we are afraid if nothing is done to limit country lot subdivision development, the natural resources that make up the rural area will be gradually degraded and eventually disappear.

“Conservation” Subdivisions

One thing is to limit the number of rural subdivisions but another is to mitigate the impact of any “limited” development on natural areas by reconfiguring the layout of subdivisions as suggested in the Official Plan amendment to promote “conservation” subdivisions. We agree that whatever development is to take place, it should avoid the sprawling, land-consuming country lot subdivision form and that its planning should conserve as much natural space as possible by concentrating residential lots into smaller areas as described in section 3.7.2 – General Rural Area, policy 10.

2. Comment on Extending the Urban Boundary

We do not find the Staff’s response to the questions regarding the expansion of the urban boundary convincing. As the Alliance stated in its earlier submission, a great deal depends on the interpretation of data on household and population projections that can lead to hasty decisions which result in the wasteful and irrevocable expenditure of valuable lands. We would point to an excellent analysis that was submitted by Paul Johanis during the March 31 – April 3 special joint meeting that provides a more detailed and alternative approach to the Staff’s proposal.

Again, we ask what is wrong with a measured, prudent approach that the current procedural mechanism of five-year reviews of the Official Plan provides?

We repeat our previous arguments that City’s Official Plan objectives of arresting urban sprawl and promoting intensification within the urban area need to be supported by consistent policies in the Official Plan.

3. Endangered Species

The Alliance is concerned that the Official Plan amendment does not fully take into account the City’s responsibilities to protect species-at-risk and their habitats. In Section 4.7.4 – Protection of Endangered Species, the province’s Endangered Species Act is cited but no policies are given on how the City is to identify or manage species-at-risk or their habitats – we see this as a major lacuna in the Official Plan. The Act states that it is the municipality’s responsibility to devise management plans for endangered species, but this requirement is not addressed in the Official Plan amendment. We would think that the City has a legal obligation in this regard.

As well, there are federal laws such as the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and the Federal Wetland Policy that are not mentioned in the Official Plan amendment; and no policy is outlined on how the City would deal with federal lands that are protected by these laws, if they were to be transferred to non-federal ownership. We strongly feel that natural habitats and endangered species should not only be explicitly recognized and protected by the Official Plan if identified by the Ministry of Natural Resources, but also, the Official Plan should recognize that the City has an obligation to afford the same protection to lands falling under its jurisdiction that have been identified for protection by SARA and the Federal Wetland Policy.

Finally, there are no provisions or protocols given in the Official Plan amendment explaining how species-at-risk and their natural habitats can be identified, verified and approved for protection under the law. It currently appears that the City is shirking its duty and would rather sweep any mention of species-at-risk under the proverbial rug.

4. Flewellyn Special Policy Area

We strongly oppose the policy of allowing site alteration in wetlands designated as provincially significant wetlands (PSW). We refer specifically to Section 3.2.5 – Flewellyn Special Policy Area that would allow landowners of the remaining PSWs to carry out site alteration in those PSWs which would result in these wetlands losing their PSW designation. We fully support the detailed Official Plan submission made by Mr. Ken McRae and his call for having Section 3.2.5 removed from the proposed OP amendment and to recognize those 20 PSWs that the OMNR has not yet removed the PSW designation from due to site alteration, as “significant wetland” in the amended OP.

(*) There are many studies; here are several: BC Sprawl Report: Economic Viability and Liveable Communities, Smart Growth BC, 2004; Getting the Facts: Driven to Action, David Suzuki Foundation, 2003; Sprawl Hurts Us All: a guide to the cost of sprawl development and how to create liveable communities in Ontario, Sierra Club of Canada, 2003.