City of Ottawa seeking development charges bylaw extension as it grapples with housing affordability challenges

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Ottawa Construction News staff writer

Ottawa’s mayor Mark Sutcliffe says the city is seeking a year’s extension in its development charges bylaw to allow for proper integration into the Transportation Master Plan and Infrastructure Master Plan.

Speaking to a breakfast meeting of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA) on Jan. 11, Sutcliffe says affordable housing is in Ottawa – like other cities – becoming a major issue.

“We must keep housing affordable,” he said. “But we must also ensure that we have the resources to build the infrastructure and services to support the residents of these new neighbourhoods that we are offering.”

In response to a question at the end his presentation, asking if development charges could be lowered for affordable housing projects, Sutcliffe said “we’re looking at how we can incentive affordable housing.  And there are ways that we can do that. I don’t have all the details on that – we’re working on it.”

He said the city is also “doing everything we can to improve timelines for development approvals.”

“We are hiring more planning staff. We’re trying to reduce the application period because every day we save by streamlining the process represents savings for you that you can pass on to your customers.”

He says the city has been successful in keeping its budget and costs under control, and so will only need a 2.5 per cent tax increase this year, compared to more than 10 per cent in Toronto.

However, the city, like others, has unresolved challenges. “We have a growing homeless problem, and a very, very dramatic opioid crisis.”

As well, “we have a rapidly expanding number of people who are seeking asylum in our city and have no where to live. And that’s putting pressure on our shelter system and creating many challenges.”

As well, as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are working from home now, that has reduced transit ridership to 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, and that’s “creating significant financial pressures for the city.”

As well, downtown office vacancies are rising. “We may be seeing the greatest change we’ve ever seen in to the downtown core,” Sutcliffe said.

While the depopulation of office workers may be a “big threat,” the mayor also said “I do see that as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“If we’re not going to have as many people working in downtown Ottawa, then maybe we can have a lot more people living in downtown. Maybe we can have a lot ore space used for attractions and events.”

“If the Ottawa Senators are looking for a new site for their arena, LeBreton Flats is a great option,” he said. But I think we should also consider a site right downtown. Maybe it won’t work. But I think it’s worth a shot.”

Sutcliffe said the city is growing rapidly, with a population increase of 40 or 50 per cent in the next 25 years, increasing from just over 1 million people to 1.5 million.

In another presentation, Joanne Read, The Ottawa Hospital’s executive vice-president and chief planning and development officer, described construction progress on the hospital’s $2.5 billion Civic Campus at the Experimental Farm site.

Work is under-way now on the project’s first phase – a new parking garage near Carling and Preston Avenues. The reason the parking area is going first is that the hospital realizes it needs to accommodate thousands of construction workers, when the main building project gets underway in 2025. That structure should be completed in about four or five years, she said.

She said more than $2 billion will be injected into the community during construction. The building will have more than 641 private rooms, with a capacity to increase the hospital to more than 1,100 beds. The hospital will be designed with physical accessibility in mind, as well as solid transit access.

In addition to the patient care area, “we signed a really important agreement with Hydro Ottawa on an innovative new central utility plant to provide advanced sustainable energy generation,” Read said.

As well, the hospital will accommodate enhanced research initiatives with a new Neuroscience Research Centre.

She said the hospital has raised $310 million of its $500 million from the community for its capital campaign, and is working with community and industry leaders to raise the remaining $190 million.

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