At City Council on Sept. 23, I intend to vote against the R4 Phase 2 report. It is important for the City to see through the Official Plan and changes to the residential zones within the greenbelt in a coordinated way. Further, the current report does not address the missing middle (diversity of rental units) and affordability issues that began the R4 study in the first place.
I think it is fair to say it has been a long and winding road for Ward 12 to get to this point – one where we now come head-on with the changes from the City’s proposed Residential Fourth Density phase 2 zoning regulations amendments.
The City’s Planning Committee approved a zoning amendment on Sept. 10 to encourage new eight-to-12-unit low-rise apartments in established inner-urban neighbourhoods like Centretown, Sandy Hill, Vanier, Overbrook, Hintonburg and Westboro.
The amendment aims to increase family-sized apartment supply in urban, established neighbourhoods.
The changes include reducing lot sizes, increasing the four-unit cap per building, and revising green space and amenity space requirements.
City Council will review and debate the report on Sept. 23.
The intent is to offer the missing middle opportunity – mixing higher density multi-family residences next to family homes.
It is not the planning staff’s intent that is of concern.
It is how this intent impacts the Ward.
As you know, I will be the first to say there is a housing and homelessness emergency in this City. And that I believe the answer includes offering a key to a home for everyone who needs one.
Building more affordable units is a big part of the solution.
But where, as I said, I have pause, is that this zoning does not necessarily address this.
The argument that if you build it, they will come is a bit weak.
These projections offer a solution maybe 20 years from now – but right now, specifically in Sandy Hill – the issue is not whether there are units available but rather a question as to whether they are affordable for a family.
In some parts of the neighbourhood, it is nearly impossible to rent a unit without paying by the room. Something you could argue that makes some sense with a community nestled next to a university but does not necessarily offer desirability for young professionals or families.
And for this same reason, this is why it has been so important for me and the Sandy Hill community to advocate for a hold when it comes to introducing these changes.
Throughout the countless meetings and discussions I’ve had with staff on this report, my goal was to ensure the needs of a community (that is, at the very least 85 per cent R4, like Sandy Hill, is) do not negatively impact the neighbourhood’s built character or the current or future residents.
That is why I put forward two motions at Planning Committee – one was to require garbage storage remain indoors and not allow rooftop amenity space in our community.
I am pleased to say the Planning Committee passed my motion unanimously.
The other motion was to maintain and prosper from the four-unit cap’s success on low-rise apartments in Sandy Hill specifically.
The unique pressures this community faces because of its proximity to the University of Ottawa
The cap on the maximum of bedrooms for each unit now set at four, was created in 2018 through Residential Fourth Density’s phase 1, with the intent to stop bunkhouses in the community – it is too early to call it a complete success, but it is also too early to drop it an increase.
Known as the Junior R4 zone, the small zone in the heart of Sandy Hill only allows developments of up to 4 units. In this report, staff are proposing to double that to 8 units. I can honestly say those efforts, of maintaining bedrooms cap per unit and four unit limit for Junior R4 zone were meaningful. It helped ensure diversity of unit sizes, as the remaining portions of Sandy Hill neighbourhood offer R4 senior zones – which allow for greater number of unit sizes. Unfortunately, my motion to maintain the R4 Junior zone within our community did not pass.
In addition to the two motions – another huge part in protecting Sandy Hill’s interests included ensuring that heritage characteristics, and how they are defined were acknowledged and explored.
To this point, I have directed staff to examine the boundaries of the Sandy Hill Cultural Heritage Character Area and the seven Heritage Conservation Districts to determine whether the boundaries are appropriately protecting the heritage character of the area.
I have specifically asked the study to include consideration of built heritage from all periods of development in Sandy Hill.
As anyone knows, I will be the first to proudly state I represent three very different communities – with their own needs, concerns and attributes.
This is what I love – that each neighbourhood is unique. And to that point, I felt it was essential to address Vanier’s individual needs concerning R4differently.
Yes, many of the community’s concerns raised at the committee are the same – landscaping, fenestration, parking, density – but I felt it was unique to Vanier.
But what does that mean?
Anyone who takes the time to walk through this community will instantly see a mix of French flair, heritage homes rich in Ottawa history, 70s era bungalows and everything else in between.
That is why I felt it was necessary to direct staff to help define this – to look at Vanier’s aspects and determine what is unique, essential and worthy, so when it comes to design and future development applications, this is not lost.
When it comes to city-wide policies – it can be hard to fight for something that can seem so small compared to the City as a whole. As a City the R4zone will play an important role to ensure intensification goals can be met. As part of the Official Plan review many communities will see their residential zone change to help with population increases, which will include expanding the R4 zone to most communities within the greenbelt area.
But that is not why we are councillors.
Yes, we represent the City. But first and foremost, we represent our communities. And regardless of the uphill battle, which this has been, I felt the need to push and advocate for Sandy Hill, Lowertown and Vanier – to ensure that our voices are heard at the end of the day.
That is why I am here in this office.