This Wednesday, city council will make its most important decision this term—whether to expand the urban boundary and by how much. As a refresher, the urban boundary is a line drawn on the outer rural and suburban areas which sets limits on development lands which are serviced by infrastructure like sewers, roads, water and public transit. Essentially, it sets the limit for sprawl.
If we vote for the largest expansion in modern Ottawa history (as the Planning Committee and the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee (ARAC) recently recommended), it will mean more sprawl, more pollution and a more expensive city.
To read more on my thoughts on this, you can read my most recent column on urban boundary expansion here.
(Ottawa-5/25/2020) Residents of Ottawa have expressed clearly their concern that expanding the land available to developers for housing will put new pressure on the delivery of City services, and increase greenhouse gasses, taxes and traffic congestion.
In a poll conducted by EKOS Research Associates, 52% of residents say they oppose an expansion of the urban boundary compared to 31% who support it. The poll was commissioned by Councillors Catherine McKenney, Shawn Menard and Jeff Leiper.
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The urban boundary decision is the most consequential choice that council will make this term, and it’s an opportunity for Ottawa to fight urban sprawl. Expanding the boundary—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 suburban and urban 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 can not afford to keep going down this path.
We've been hearing from residents about how essential it is to have public green space to relax, exercise and enjoy locally while following physical distancing requirements. This issue is particularly pressing for those without green space on their properties. There's been some discussion and movement internally on Ottawa's policy of closing parks to walk-through, and today we sent this letter to the Province and City manager calling for the re-opening of green spaces in parks (not equipment or sports amenities). The letter is co-signed by six other Councillors, and we are confident that changes are on the way. See the full text of the letter below:
Bank Street Survey
Since the start of the pandemic, our office has been looking for ways the city can assist residents during this difficult times. (We have put together a list of support programs here.)
We have also been working with the staff to provide residents with more space to maintain physical distancing when accessing essential services—an initiative supported by the Ottawa Board of Health and city council. So far, we have provided more space by opening up the curb lanes on the Bank Street Canal Bridge for active transportation (walking, biking and rolling).
We are now moving towards opening a three-block stretch along Bank Street to allow for pedestrian distancing on narrow sidewalks and near the most accessed essential services. The southbound curb lane (on the west side of the street) would be pedestrian space from Glebe Avenue to Third Avenue to provide greater access to Shoppers Drug Mart, Home Hardware, McKeen’s Metro and the Glebe Apothecary.
Bus stop access for buses and transit riders would be maintained and moved slightly.
What do you think? Do you support it? Are you against it? We have set up a survey on our website to get your views.
This has been a difficult time for everyone in our city. We understand that the realities of the pandemic and the responses from all three levels of government have an impact not just on residents, but particularly on businesses, and we understand that our local small businesses will disproportionately feel the brunt of the economic impact compared to large national and multi-national corporations.
At the city, we’ve been working on some ways to help local businesses. We have been supporting a buy-local campaign, and in our Capital Ward Bulletin we have been providing residents with lists of businesses they can access online and in the community for services and goods. At city council, we passed a motion providing commercial property tax relief. We’ve also released a simple guide for employees who may have been let go from businesses to help assist average residents with federal, provincial and municipal funding: www.shawnmenard.ca/covid_19_resources
We know that many businesses will not be able to manage these ongoing expenses while they are getting reduced or no revenue. We want to see our businesses make it through the pandemic.
The pandemic also poses a significant public health challenge for our neighbours. Residents are being asked to refrain from going out, but they will still need to go outside at times. They will need to shop at the stores that remain open in order to access necessities, and they need to be able to move around outside for the sake of their physical and mental health. While outside, they need to be able to practice physical distancing in order to reduce transmission.
Last week, the Ottawa Board of Health re-iterated the need for residents to be outside and maintain physical distancing, expressing its formal support for providing extra space for pedestrians and active transportation, including for accessing essential services. This should help reduce the incidences of people walking in the street to distance, posing another safety risk.
Recently in Capital Ward we acted to change the outside curb lanes for active transportation over the Bank Street Bridge. The lanes have been converted to pedestrian and bicycle lanes. With car traffic down by over 60%, this measure will have no impact on traffic flow in the Glebe or Old Ottawa South. Since its implementation, we have heard overwhelmingly positive feedback from residents—and we have witnessed the tremendous benefit this has provided, making it easier for people to keep distance while crossing the bridge to shop at our local stores.
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Ottawa Board of Health Support for Active Transportation
This week, I worked with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches and the Ottawa Board of Health Chair Councillor Keith Egli to pass a motion in which the Board of Health expressed its formal support for measures to increase pedestrian space and active transportation. This recognizes the large reduction in traffic and parking that has occurred and can better help people practice physical distancing. We have already seen the success of opening space on the Bank Street Canal Bridge and along Queen Elizabeth Drive (more on that below).
It has been difficult to get support from senior levels of city hall on these measures, but hopefully with the support of the Board of Health, we will be able to open more sections of our streets to active transportation.
City Council and Ottawa Board of Health ask the Province to Allow Community Gardens
City Council unanimously passed a motion on April 22 to ask the province to lift the current restrictions on community gardens and allow them as essential services under proper physical distancing measures. The motion was introduced by Councillor Brockington and seconded by Councillor Egli, and rules of procedure were suspended to allow it as a walk-on item given time sensitivity around the spring growing season. A similar motion passed unanimously at the Board of Health meeting on April 20th, moved by Councillor Egli. Our office has heard extensively from residents on this issue, and sent a letter to the province on April 9th, so it’s good to see consolidated pressure coming together on this issue. For updates, check justfood.ca, who have been instrumental in calling for local food security measures in the midst of the pandemic.
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Please find the Capital Ward update below. If you need anything during this time, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office.
Space on the Bank Street Canal Bridge for Physical Distancing
We have heard from hundreds of residents that they need more room in our community to be able to practice physical distancing.
After much work, the city has agreed to re-purpose the two outer curb lanes for active transportation. This will give more space for people to practice physical distancing as they walk, roll and bike. The project will be paid for out of my office’s budget for Temporary Traffic Calming (TTC) measures.
Obviously, this is a difficult time for everyone in Ottawa. As much as possible, people should be staying at home. But when they do need to go out, this is a key street with many essential services.
There have been long-standing safety issues over the bridge, as the sidewalks are relatively narrow with high pedestrian traffic. There is fast, close-passing traffic, and bicyclists have difficulty biking in traffic lanes over the steep incline of the bridge.
With COVID-19 and the reduction in traffic, residents’ desire to practice physical distancing, and the fact that many residents were walking in the street to give each other space, it made even more sense to act.
This is a first step in the process of creating physical distancing space in our ward.
This measure should be in place within the week. In the meantime, we are taking any comments you may have on this issue and physical distancing, in general.
We would like to thank the community advocates who have sought this change for many years, and who have really pushed to have this happen, now.
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I hope you are taking care during these very difficult times.
Alliance to End Homelessness
The Alliance to End Homelessness has penned an open letter to the Mayor and City Council to urge the purchase of hotels for both immediate COVID-19 response for people who are homeless and also the possibility of adding to the permanent supportive and affordable housing stock in the future.
We fully support this initiative. We must do more to help our community members who are homeless, especially in this time. If you would like to help, please consider writing to the mayor and your Member of Parliament. We will be following up on this in the near future.
Community gardens should be an essential service
Our office has sent a letter to the province calling for community gardens be identified as an essential community food service and be exempt from the recent closure of recreational spaces. Community gardens provide an essential function by supplementing residents’ diets, increasing access to more culturally appropriate food, making grocery dollars go further, and increasing local resiliency.
Our office has been in touch with Ottawa Public Health, who have indicated that if the Province were to allow the opening of gardens later this spring, they would be prepared to provide guidance for their use to minimize COVID-19 risk.
Marking Holy Days During the Pandemic
With the arrival of Easter, Passover and Ramadan, we understand that we are in a time of deep spiritual importance for many residents. While we recognize the value of communal worship, during this pandemic, we must ask all residents to observe their holy days while maintaining proper physical and social distancing practices—gatherings should be held to a limit of five people (or however many live in your household). We know this will put an added strain on many, and we appreciate everyone’s cooperation and sacrifice to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
With the spread of COVID-19, it is clear that many people will need financial help, as they experience temporary or permanent job loss, or reductions in their income. All three orders of government—municipal, provincial and federal—and community groups have established programs to ease the financial hardships of people struggling during this difficult time.
Because it can be difficult to keep track of all the various support programs, we have launched a webpage to act as a clearinghouse of these programs, listing the various support options, along with link for how to access them. In addition, their links to in-kind methods of support.
We will keep this webpage updated as more programs and information become available. This is just one way we are trying to help residents during the pandemic.
Download this press release here [PDF].
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