This week's meeting of City Council will stand out as the moment when several significant decisions were made that will deeply affect the character and quality of life of Capital Ward and, just as importantly, Ottawa as a whole.
Two issues have dominated my first term in office: (1) the pressures of urban infill development, including the challenge of preserving neighbourhood character while encouraging greater population density; and (2) the desire to "reclaim" our streets, particularly our arterial and traditional main streets, for all users by creating safer and more attractive places for walking, cycling and transit use, but not at the exclusion of driving.
On July 17, Council debated and passed a number of motions related to development and transportation, including making the Laurier Segregated Bike Lane a permanent fixture. But the two I wish to describe in more detail in this pre-vacation newsletter relate to the renewal of Main Street in Old Ottawa East, and the homes along Colonel By Drive in Old Ottawa South. Both initiatives have significance to the ward and the City as a whole.
Main Street Renewal Plan
Main Street is due to be completely rebuilt between 2014 and 2016. This presented a rare opportunity to reevaluate how the street functions currently, and what changes might be made to address issues such as excessive speeding, noise, vibrations, narrow sidewalks, a challenging retail business environment, and poor cycling conditions.
After extensive local community involvement in an ongoing working group over the past six months, a Preferred Option emerged to redesign Main Street as a "Complete Street" that would allocate more space to walking and cycling, and less to vehicle traffic. The more than 250 people who attended public open houses, wrote or called my office overwhelmingly endorsed this approach.
I believe whole-heartedly that transforming this arterial road into a Complete Street will bring many economic, social and environmental benefits to residents on or near Main Street. But I equally believe that the redesigned street will prove attractive and inspiring to the much larger Ottawa community. While the reduction in travel lanes from two to one (plus turning lanes at key intersections) over much of the street could create some minor delays for peak-hour drivers, I expect the street to perform its many roles better than it does now. The new design responds to a growing desire across North America for more walkable neighbourhoods and for streets to become vibrant spaces as opposed to just roads for through traffic.
The quest for more complete streets is not something exclusively demanded by and for residents in the urban core. Every ward and community has streets that could benefit from becoming more complete, and everyone using those streets — whether or not they live in the neighbourhood — stands to gain in the long run. Viewing this issue as a clash of visions between downtown and the suburban and rural parts of the city would be a failure of imagination and a failure to read the direction we must take as a complete city. I consequently worked very hard over the last four weeks to explain to my Council colleagues what was being proposed for Main Street, and why it would be beneficial to so many while having a modest impact on a smaller number of driving commuters. This not as a war on cars or drivers, but a campaign for more liveable neighbourhoods.
As the 18-6 vote at Council shows, most of my colleagues agreed. Even those who opposed the proposal indicated some understanding of why this would be good for the immediate area. Apart from the actual physical changes resulting from a complete Main Street, I believe the most important outcome from the whole process is a spirit of solidarity among councillors. Some media reports presented the debate as another manifestation of an ongoing feud between inner and outer parts of the city. But, of the 18 who voted in favour of the project, 12 represent rural and suburban wards. So the victory was a result of councillors from across Ottawa coming together in support of a positive and progressive vision. I call that a victory for the City!
Support for the project came as much from business and institutional interests as from local residents. Despite some concerns about parking, traffic flow and possible new limits on development potential, the businesses of Old Ottawa East and the landowners and institutions such as St. Paul University participated in and ultimately supported the consensus vision for Main Street. To specifically address the concerns of the Oblate Fathers and Sisters of the Sacred Heart and their representatives, I worked with Transportation Committee chair Keith Egli and the City's legal staff to ensure that redevelopment rights would not be adversely affected by the new Main Street design and its lower peak-hour capacity.
This road reconstruction project is expected to drive redevelopment in the area surrounding Main Street in accordance with the Old Ottawa East Community Design Plan, which calls for the creation of a vibrant neighbourhood with shops and other commercial venues lining Main Street, and for 1,000 residential units and commercial space on the Oblate lands. To support the plan, Council passed a motion stating it will not move to curb development potential on these lands in response to possible transportation constraints caused by the Complete Street design.
I wish to thank these organizations for working with us to find a solution that works for everyone.
I have been swamped with messages of thanks and congratulations from within the ward and Old Ottawa East in particular, but also from many other parts of the City. Here is one that says it all:
The plan is so amazing and forward-thinking that I can hardly believe it was ever proposed, let alone passed.
I've lived in Old Ottawa East for eight years now and love the community, and I think we now have the opportunity to become a showcase for the entire city, if not the entire country. Amazing! Now, if we can just get the Clegg St footbridge approved and built, this place will be humming! And I'll be cutting my car trips in half, in all likelihood.
All the kind words coming my way should be directed as well to everyone who played a role in this success story, most notably the Old Ottawa East Community Association, the members of the dedicated working group, City staff and the consultants from Delcan.
Much work remains to be done on detailed design, followed by two disruptive but inevitable years of construction, but let's save that for after our summer vacations.
Colonel By Drive Zoning Study
I will use fewer words to describe this next small but important victory. Many Council members have been working with the Planning Department and the chair of the Planning Committee to find ways to halt the destruction of community character without blocking all redevelopment, infill and even renovation of existing properties.
At the heart of the matter is a desire to protect the basic character of particular areas or streets. This requires a way to actually define that character in concrete and prescriptive enough terms so we can establish design guidelines, tighten up zoning or settle on appropriate tools to realize that goal.
Over the last months, my assistants and I have worked closely with City staff on the Zoning Consistency Team, as well as consultants, in a new process that came to be known as a Focused Zoning Study, piloted at the request of local residents on a section of Colonel By Drive between Bronson Avenue and Bank Street in Old Ottawa South.
As with the Main Street process, we informed and involved affected residents and property owners as much as possible through public meetings, a working group and multiple articles in OSCAR and this newsletter. The resulting report, supported by almost all affected parties, was approved by Planning Committee and subsequently carried unanimously by Council.
In broad strokes, the report recommends:
- Reducing the building height limit from 11 metres to 9 metres;
- Implementing a limit on rear-yard development as follows: "On lots deeper than 40 metres, in addition to the minimum rear yard setback, no new building or addition to an existing building shall extend into the rear yard by more than 20% of the average rear built line of the two abutting properties, or in the case of a corner lot, of the abutting property"; and
- Implementing a Heritage Overlay applicable to the subject properties.
These changes represent an obvious victory for the many property owners along Colonel By Drive who wish to see the neighbourhood character better defined and preserved. But, more importantly, this process serves as a model for other streets and areas whose residents feel there is something definably unique about where they live, and who wish to prevent it from being degraded by incompatible types of infill or redevelopment.