A funny thing happened at a recent Council meeting. A developer’s rezoning application — supported at the previous Planning Committee meeting by all but one dissenting councillor — became a target for councillors who seemed to want to demonstrate that they won’t simply rubber-stamp any development proposal that comes before them. That this agenda item garnered a surprising eight votes against it (but still 16 in favour) should not be a surprise. But it was.
How did the state of planning/development in Ottawa reach this point? A reasonable person might expect a pretty standard level of scrutiny for any application for rezoning or for additional “variances” (height, reduced setbacks from lot lines, removal of significant trees, addition or removal of on-site parking and more). First by City staff, then the councillor’s office, a local community association and maybe at a public meeting. Finally, if required, it might be reviewed by Planning Committee and Council or, in certain circumstances, the Committee of Adjustment.
The same reasonable person might expect City staff, ultimately supported by Planning Committee/Council, to inform developers that their requests will only be granted in exceptional circumstances. This should be true whether it’s a large company seeking rezoning or a resident who wants a variance to build an addition.
One might expect changes to only be approved if a strong case can be made that neighbourhood character will be maintained (e.g. height, on-site parking, front porches), that compensatory measures will be taken (e.g. planting of replacement trees of a similar type), and that the project is compatible with the Official Plan and/or a Community Design Plan.
To some degree, this is happening. And yet it appears to most reasonable people that the norm is to approve almost anything developers ask for. In the rare instance where an application is rejected, the ultimate indignity is to then see the Ontario Municipal Board side with the developer.