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Planning Summit: Mayor Jim Watson’s Remarks

Planning Summit: Mayor Jim Watson’s Remarks

Check Against Delivery

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Good morning,

It’s my pleasure to welcome you here this morning to our Planning Summit.

Today is the first step in the right direction.

Here in this room we have a diverse group of people: community and business leaders, developers, government stakeholders and everyday residents who want to be part of the solution.

And I say ‘solution’ because we need to be frank: Planning in Ottawa   needs to be fixed – on many levels.

We need to look over the horizon and determine our long-term vision for this capital.

Where are we going to be as a city in 10, 20 or 30 years?

What kind of communities are we building for our kids and our grandkids?

Nobody believes that after this meeting today things will change like flicking a light switch.

It will take time.

It will take hard work.

It will take a commitment to sitting down and discussing, debating and – yes – compromising too.

But in the end we will be in a much better position than if we continued to clash and butt heads.

To move forward we need clarity.

We need to better understand the ‘other side’- and that’s exactly why we are here today.

When I look around, I’m inspired.

I’m inspired because I see people from across the spectrum; people who don’t always “get along” sitting down around the same table, wanting to take the first step.

Because that’s exactly what this is: A first step.

A first step towards a better understanding of the rules and regulations that govern planning.

A first step to opening the lines of communication between residents and developers.

A first step to share our visions for the capital and how we see growth and planning managed over the short and long term.

So to help kick-off the dialogue and discussion, let me take a few moments to share with you my thoughts:

Let me begin by saying I think we’re in a unique and opportune situation.

I say that because not only are we willing to sit down here today and start the process of better planning, we’re at a moment where our three key planning documents are being completely refreshed:

These are:

– The Official Plan;

– The Transportation Master Plan; and,

– The Infrastructure Master Plan.

And, we will also be conducting a review of our Development Charges by-law.

These documents will define how the City will grow, how and where people will live, how people will get around, and how the City will perform financially and environmentally in the coming decades.

I would like to characterize the Official Plan, Transportation Master Plan and Infrastructure Master Plan as defining the built form that essentially provides the frame of the City of tomorrow.

They will be taking us from “a big little city” to “a little big city”:

A City with excellent employment opportunities for our children, a City that has taken its stewardship responsibilities seriously, and a City where its residents treasure the natural environment that contributes to their quality of life.

Whether it be the pristine water flowing in the Ottawa River or the thousands of trees planted today that will provide the health benefits of shade, cleaner air and natural habitats to enjoy.

I see a city where people can choose to live and work in their neighbourhood.

A place to call home where excellent transit, cycling and walking facilities provide opportunities to incorporate healthy active mobility choices into our daily routines.

I envision a city where our residents can access excellent services from their government at a touch of a button, a city that looks after its most vulnerable, and most importantly, a city that has only built what it can afford to build and maintain over its lifecycle to ensure future residents can afford to live here.

As such, and from a planning perspective, we should want to build a more liveable and sustainable City of Ottawa that sees more compact and complete development across the urban, suburban and rural areas to create true Smart Growth neighbourhoods.

This development needs to be mixed-use in order to allow people to live, work, and play in all their neighbourhoods.

One area of particular focus needs to be ensuring that development applications are not completely out of character with the neighbourhoods.

Our Official Plan and Zoning Bylaws have to mean something.

And we can’t have developers buying properties for inflated prices and then come to City Hall looking for massive up-zoning to recoup costs.

All across the City, we need to create places where people can bike to work, walk to corner stores, enjoy a range of recreation, and live all aspects of their lives without the need to drive everywhere.

We also need a City where, when people do need to travel longer distances, transit is a comfortable, efficient, and a viable option, not just for commuters, but for everybody at different times of day.

Ottawa is already a great place to live, but if we aim for these goals, we will solidify our place on the world stage as a leader when it comes to active, progressive, creative and sustainable City planning.

To achieve this, efforts should be focused on the following 6 Keys to Building a Liveable City are critical:

– We need to contain urban expansion;

– We need to get serious about the business of promoting Transit Oriented Development;

– We need to focus on our suburbs, challenging our assumptions about how they should be built and looking for opportunities to retrofit existing suburban and outer core areas in order to create complete neighbourhoods;

– Similarly, we need to do what is necessary to create complete rural villages; and

– We need to pursue planning initiatives that contribute to a stronger economic engine for Ottawa;

– And finally, we need greater predictability and certainty when it comes to development in our City. There are just too many surprises that upset local neighbourhoods when zoning changes.

If we focus on these 6 key areas during the reviews of our Official Plan, Transportation Master Plan, Infrastructure Master Plan, and the Development Charges By-law we will achieve a more Liveable City.

We will also deliver a greater amount of certainty to all of our stakeholders.

On that note, I’m pleased to make a number of small announcements that I believe will support our commitment to delivering greater certainty in the planning process.

Councillor Hume will provide more detail in a few minutes .but, in short form:

First, there will be a special focus in our Official Plan review on “Tall Buildings” and we will be looking at not only where they belong, but also type of “built form” is preferable.

I know this is a planning element that is of great interest to Councillor Hume and I am sure he will want to hear your initial thoughts as today progresses.

There are also some actions that we can take even while the review of all these official plans is underway.

So a second item I want to tell you about today is that Chair Hume and the Planning Committee and Staff will be initiating rapid reviews of a select number of Community Design Plans and Secondary Plans, which will be completed within one year.

Councillor Hume will have more information on what he has in mind

Third, we will be revamping our website at Ottawa.ca/planning to make it easier to find your zoning, to contact a planner or to look up development application status.

Finally, the City will be creating a zoning “SWAT Team” that will work with neighbourhoods and developers on specific concerns as a result of a development application or to consult on questions and concerns before one has been put forward.

This team will work to head of problems before they snowball into major confrontations.

We owe it to the citizens of the City of Ottawa to build a more liveable city:

– It’s the right thing to do economically;

– It’s the right things to do environmentally; and

– It’s the right thing to do to guarantee a high-quality of life for our citizens today – and for generations to come.

Today is just a starting point.

And I hope some of what I’ve outlined here resonates with you and helps kick off the discussion.

And when the discussion today is over, and we all go home, I want you to know that the real work is just beginning.

Like you, our staff here are engaged.

We will be following up to council and our colleagues with ideas taken from these tables.

But most importantly, we will have all made the first step towards better planning together.

I hope there is more dialogue.

More discussion.

More debate.

Because that’s what we need to strike the right balance.

People from across the Country come to Ottawa and are overwhelmed by the beauty of our city.

It is human nature to take your own backyard for granted.

So let me leave you with this thought:

The people at your table – the community leader, the developer, the planner, the business operator: You all want the same thing.

A safe, liveable and vibrant community.

You all want a place to raise your kids, a place to work, a place to retire.

We all want the same result.

The question we all have to answer is: how do we get there together?

Thank you.