The draft new Official Plan: The good, the bad and the missing -- Part 3
What is missing in the draft Official Plan released last November? The list is long but here are some highlights, and why they matter.
First and foremost, the draft is missing a monitoring plan. It does not indicate how the City will be held accountable for making progress on or achieving the multitude of goals the Plan sets out. In all of its 264 pages there is just one paragraph dealing with monitoring. Previous Plans were not strong on this topic either, so it is no surprise that we haven't seen a reckoning of what those earlier Plans achieved. Without an accountability framework and metrics for each of its goals, history will again be ignored when this Plan comes up for comprehensive review ten years hence. The politicians will be gone, but the failures and successes will remain undocumented.
Second, Council is simply not allowing enough time for genuine consultation with the public and incorporation of feedback by staff. Had staff had more time, they would undoubtedly have cleared up many of the inconsistencies that now confuse everybody. They could have consulted with the communities that now see their local Plans chopped up without explanation. This hasty process is driven by the Mayor and his supporters who want to have this new OP behind them before the October 2022 election. Whether he runs or not, a botched OP is a dubious legacy.
Such haste is profoundly undemocratic. This OP, if adopted, sets out very radical changes to how the city is developing, using a document that is close to impenetrable to most people.
Third, not enough attention is paid to equity issues. Ottawa cannot become a "liveable mid-sized city" without confronting questions of inclusion and fairness. A section on gender equity and references to affordable housing in the draft OP are a start but lack enabling policies. Many ways in which land use planning can be leveraged to promote a more equitable society remain unexplored. One of the key features of the Plan – leaving the suburbs largely untouched by 'regeneration' efforts needed to accommodate Ottawa’s growing population -- is a profoundly inequitable proposition.
In 2016 the Provincial government gave municipalities the authority to adopt an inclusionary zoning by-law which would enable a requirement for a degree of affordable housing in multi-unit developments. The draft acknowledges that such a by-law is a priority but it does not set out what its objectives and principles would be. The Official Plan would be a good place for that.
The draft has plenty to say about a new zoning by-law but the words most often used in giving direction are "may” permit and “generally” allow. That is not very helpful and leaves the public in the dark about what might be enacted in the coming few years.
Fourth, the city-wide goal of 40% tree canopy is welcome as this target has some scientific basis. But what matters most with tree canopy is to what degree your neighbourhood has it. The data to set neighbourhood targets are available in a canopy study published in 2019 by the City, Gatineau and the NCC. The OP should commit to using these data by saying that the pathway to a 40% overall target will be charted by retaining or planting trees in the neighbourhoods that fall below the threshold.
Fifth, the draft Plan could do a much better job integrating and accelerating the recommendations from the Climate Change Master Plan and Energy Evolution strategy. The most glaring gap is the absence of explicit support for retrofitting the existing building stock which is essential for reducing this city's greenhouse gas emissions.
Bottom line, this is a very "preliminary" draft indeed and much work is needed to bring it into shape and then discuss it with the public in genuine consultation. Much effort should be spent on talking with and listening to communities at the neighbourhood level.
An election is the ultimate form of consultation. The Mayor and his followers are hell-bent on having this new Official Plan behind them before that. This is wrong. Come the October 2022 election, the draft Official Plan, the associated Master Plans and the Zoning By-law should still be in draft form, giving candidates for Council an opportunity to show how they would finalize it.
Erwin Dreesen's Official Plan Analysis series: