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This week, city council will make the most consequential decision of this term. Unfortunately, we are poised to make the wrong decision. Last week, the joint Planning and Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee voted to expand the city’s urban boundary by the largest amount in modern Ottawa history—about 3000 football fields.
The urban boundary sets the limit for development within the City of Ottawa that is serviced with infrastructure like sewage pipes, water, recreation facilities and public transit. Essentially, it sets the limit for sprawl.
This proposed expansion—which is the decision staff are recommending as the “balanced” option—will result in the loss of precious green space and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Also, it will put even more upward pressure on property taxes for years to come just to maintain current levels of city services.
Developers are spinning this approach as “smart growth” because the profits will be theirs, while the costs will be on us. There is significant benefit for them in pushing this line. Meanwhile, it is the residents in the existing suburban and urban areas of Ottawa who will feel the financial burden of building new roads, sewers, schools and recreation infrastructure, rather than using existing resources in our built-up areas. Our city cannot afford to keep going down this path.
It doesn’t matter that most residents who spoke to the joint committee or wrote to city council were opposed to an expansion of boundary. It doesn’t matter that most Ottawans, when polled by EKOS, indicated that they opposed expansion, by a majority or significant plurality in every region of the city. It doesn’t matter that it will be a monumental financial and environmental burden. Powerful private interests want urban expansion and it looks like they’ll get what they want, unless city council finds the courage to stand up and say no.
The decision on the urban boundary will affect every aspect of city life for decades to come. It will have ramifications on transit, the environment, city services, your taxes and the budget. This is a decision between creating a city that benefits everyone or creating a city that serves developers and their bank accounts.
Only six councillors are committed to voting NO to urban boundary expansion on Wednesday. Let the other members of Council know that voting for expansion is a mistake.