Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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First look at Westboro infill study

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For many years, infill housing has been a key discussion in Kitchissippi. The demolition of older homes to make room for new dwellings at a more intense scale is changing how our neighbourhoods look and feel, adding pressure to street parking, removing trees from the urban canopy, and made stormwater management more challenging. It is adding new residents and neighbours. The construction of it frequently results in conflict on hitherto quiet streets.

Virtually all infill requires variances from existing zoning, and bi-weekly Committee of Adjustment hearings are a flashpoint week in and week out.

In 2018, I worked with the City and residents to freeze triplexes within a part of Westboro in which those were a very different style of building from that which already exists. While triplexes are permitted in much of our ward, the builder was proposing to subdivide lots in order to build more triplexes than the zoning allows. The freeze – technically an interim control by-law – paused large triplexes until the appropriateness of those could be studied. Surely, I and neighbours asked, the zoning in place was never intended to allow multiple triplexes on lots where single detached homes had been built?

Interim control by-laws are temporary, and the provincial rules allowing those require a study of the issue. When the clock on those runs out, Council can either choose to do nothing or change the zoning to reflect its intent.

With respect to the Westboro triplex freeze, the clock has run out.

Now, after two years of study, staff will be recommending to Council that it change the zoning for the area to reflect current planning thinking that reflect a city that has changed since the initial zoning was put in place (much of it in the 60s), that is facing twin climate and housing emergencies, that is seeking to mitigate urban sprawl through intensification, and that is committed through provincial policy and its own Official Plan to supporting light rail and building 15-minute neighbourhoods.

The full proposal is online here (or by clicking the .pdf below), and we are hosting an open house on October 29 to solicit feedback and answer questions with details of that here.

The staff recommendations go well beyond simply addressing whether triplexes are appropriate. They describe an approach to infill that is reflective of the larger directions in which Council is moving. If approved, they would reduce the number of variances being sought by setting out clear rules for things like minimum lot widths, add new density in select locations, and build on efforts underway for several years to address tree loss and loss of greenspace.

I am generally supportive of the direction in which this is going. It is a continuation of the increasingly nuanced direction in which Council is moving to accommodate intensification that began with the Infill I and II rules during the last term of Council, and that were further advanced in a substantive revision of those rules just a few weeks ago. The new rules would introduce firmer landscaping requirements, more protection for trees and landscaping, and introduce more design elements to encourage, for example, peaked roofs.

It is also in the vein of new R4 zoning rules about which I have recently written (here). In that analysis, I noted that it was important not to focus all of Ottawa’s intensification on a few neighbourhoods closest to downtown. If intensification is to be our policy – and it should be – that has to be a part of every neighbourhood. In general, the proposed new rules would allow denser housing forms on major streets and at corner lots, creating a hierarchy of development that sees significant new density on the edges of the community, moving to intensification primarily through existing infill patterns in the interior.

In fact, much of the comment I have to make on the Westboro Infill Study in general can be lifted from my comment on the R4 zoning study, and I hope folks will take the time to read that. Intensification is the key strategy to address both housing affordability and the climate crisis.

While I appreciate the general thrust of the proposed rules, though, I also have concerns. In general, the proposed new rules would allow denser housing forms on major streets and at corner lots, creating a hierarchy of development that sees significant new density on the edges of the community, moving to intensification primarily through existing infill patterns in the interior (albeit with new rules to try to better integrate those into the community).

Which streets and corners are slated for greater density, though, is virtually certain to be a flashpoint. The inclusion of Dovercourt as a major street, for example, is problematic. I like an approach that sees edges in communities where transition can begin. Dovercourt is an interior street and upzoning it to a senior R4 will lead, I worry, to variances being granted in the vicinity that run counter to the plan’s intent. I am also unsettled by the plan to make the south side of Byron a senior R4. Residents know that I am committed to maintaining Byron as the boundary past which mid-rises don’t leap. Will re-zoning to an R4 lead to that? I don’t know.

There are details to be debated, for sure.

While these zoning changes are only proposed today for the area of Westboro that was subject to the triplex freeze, my assumption is that we’ll see elements of this applied to other R3 zones throughout the mature neighbourhoods. Anyone with an interest in how our neighbourhoods will develop in the coming years will want to be cognizant of these proposed changes. Some will be specific to this area, but other concepts such as the categorization of different streets are likely to be carried over into the comprehensive zoning by-law review that should follow approval of the new Official Plan.

While that Official Plan is not yet approved by Council (or the Province), there are elements of it such as approaches to intensification that have been fairly clear in Council’s mind for months, if not years. We have approved a growth management strategy for the city that sees a majority (by the thinnest margin) of new housing built as intensification rather than greenfield. We cannot and should not count on absorbing most of Ottawa’s growth in the coming decades into towers built on the periphery of transit stations. We also need that growth to occur in the kind of 15-minute neighbourhoods that are represented by this study area, in walkable neighbourhoods close to transit. Council’s commitment has been to ensure that the impacts from making that possible will be shared across different neighbourhoods. The changes proposed for Westboro today will become, I’m sure, a first template for changes across our mature neighbourhoods in the months and years to come.

Feedback on the Westboro infill study can be sent to the lead planner on the file, Robert Sandercott (, and I would ask residents to please consider copying me on that as well.

Posted October 23, 2020