Re­leas­ing the cre­ativ­ity of Ot­tawa’s home­build­ing in­dus­try

Ottawa Sun - New Homes - - HOMES - JOHN HER­BERT

Ot­tawa has a proud tra­di­tion of in­no­va­tion in home­build­ing as demon­strated at the re­cent GOHBA De­sign Awards Gala. His­tor­i­cally, Tar­tan Homes, Ta­ma­rack Homes, and Ur­ban­dale Homes were the ear­li­est adopters of En­ergy Star which be­came the main­stream build­ing stan­dard. The Kanata Lakes project was the first de­vel­op­ment project to adopt large-scale storm wa­ter man­age­ment ponds. Minto’s Ar­ca­dia com­mu­nity is pi­o­neer­ing ur­ban city de­sign and life­style in our sub­urbs.

The City of Ot­tawa plays a cen­tral role in shap­ing the dy­namism of our home­build­ing in­dus­try. As a city, we need to work to­gether to de­velop poli­cies and pro­grams that will drive in­no­va­tion in Ot­tawa’s home build­ing in­dus­try, not ham­per it. Here are three things that our city can do to help un­leash the vi­tal­ity of Ot­tawa’s home build­ing in­dus­try:

1. Adopt a flex­i­ble ap­proach to de­sign

In 2003, the City of Ot­tawa adopted its in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion pol­icy, driv­ing growth in­side, in­stead of out­side, the Green­belt. Ot­tawa’s home­build­ing in­dus­try adapted to this pol­icy by fo­cussing on high-rise con­dos and in­fill de­vel­op­ment projects.

Un­for­tu­nately, in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion was not ac­com­pa­nied by a com­pre­hen­sive zon­ing by-law that sup­ported the shift to high-rise build­ing and in­fill de­vel­op­ment. The prac­ti­cal re­sult was home­builders op­er­at­ing un­der a set of rules ill-suited to in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion. This led to a rapid in­crease in de­mands for zon­ing vari­ances from home­builders re­spond­ing to the push for in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion.

At the same time, in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion was be­ing chal­lenged by com­mu­nity res­i­dents who were up­set with the pace of change in their estab­lished neigh­bour­hoods. As a con­se­quence, re-zon­ing ap­pli­ca­tions be­came a bat­tle­ground over Ot­tawa’s in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion pol­icy. “Stop over-de­vel­op­ment in our neigh­bour­hood” signs started sprout­ing up all over the city.

The City of Ot­tawa re­vised its Of­fi­cial Plan in 2014 to in­clude a rigid ap­proach to rules gov­ern­ing build­ing heights, de­sign, and den­sity. “The drive to cer­tainty” was the catch­phrase used by sup­port­ers of this ap­proach, but as ex­pected by in­dus­try, it has sti­fled in­no­va­tion in home­build­ing, in­fill de­sign, and is now even be­ing ex­tended to Tall Build­ings through a new regime of de­sign guide­lines be­ing de­vel­oped. Rigid rules means less choice and less in­no­va­tion. Cre­ativ­ity needs flex­i­bil­ity, not rigid­ity.

2. Re­duce red tape

In 2001, the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of Ot­tawa-Car­leton, in­clud­ing Ot­tawa, Cum­ber­land, Os­goode, Rideau, Goul­bourn, West-Car­leton, Ne­pean, Kanata, Glouces­ter, Vanier, and Rock­cliffe Park, were amal­ga­mated to form the City of Ot­tawa.

Prior to 2001, it took two to three years for a home­builder to re­ceive all sub­di­vi­sion ap­provals nec­es­sary to di­vide a large par­cel of land into smaller lots that can then be sold sep­a­rately for new homes. To­day, it takes five to seven years for these same sub­di­vi­sion ap­provals to be pro­vided by the City of Ot­tawa. Prac­ti­cally speak­ing this means that peo­ple aren’t work­ing and that the cost of build­ing new homes in­creases as land sits idle.

Why is it tak­ing so long to get a plan of sub­di­vi­sion ap­proved in Ot­tawa? For starters, there is a lot more pro- vin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal reg­u­la­tion to­day than there was 14 years ago. While these reg­u­la­tions are well in­ten­tioned and de­signed to pro­tect the pub­lic in­ter­est, they are also hav­ing a neg­a­tive im­pact on home­buy­ers in Ot­tawa.

An­other rea­son for the de­lay lays in the elim­i­na­tion of com­pe­ti­tion. Prior to amal­ga­ma­tion, cities com­peted for home­build­ing ac­tiv­ity. They ac­tively sought home­builders and worked with them to cre­ate the con­di­tions for in­no­va­tion. With amal­ga­ma­tion, the newly-formed City of Ot­tawa be­came the only choice for home­builders seek­ing to build in the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Re­gion.

While we are not call­ing for de-amal­ga­ma­tion, it’s help­ful to understand the sit­u­a­tion so that we can work to­gether on a so­lu­tion. The first step in this jour­ney is a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the City, our com­mu­nity as­so­ci­a­tions, and Ot­tawa’s home­build­ing in­dus­try about re­duc­ing red tape.

3. In­crease the sup­ply of land for home­build­ing

The sup­ply of land has a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on hous­ing in Ot­tawa. The short­age of land in the GTA has been the pri­mary rea­son for sky­rock­et­ing hous­ing prices there and will even­tu­ally hit Ot­tawa if nothing is done. Ot­tawa’s pop­u­la­tion is pro­jected to grow by 7,600 to 9,000 peo­ple per year. Pop­u­la­tion growth in­creases the de­mand for hous­ing. The City of Ot­tawa’s pol­icy has been to limit the sup­ply of land for new home­build­ing out­side the Green­belt. When de­mand in­creases and sup­ply does not, prices goes up. The cost of land has had a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the vi­tal­ity of Ot­tawa’s home­build­ing in­dus­try and the choices avail­able to con­sumers. There are fewer and fewer small and medium-sized home­builders work­ing in Ot­tawa as a re­sult of the land short­age. If we want more in­no­va­tion and dy­namism in home­build­ing, we need to in­crease the sup­ply of land avail­able to small and medium-sized home­builders. The City of Ot­tawa is cur­rently launch­ing a study called ‘Be­yond 2036’ which is in­tended to pre­pare the ground for the next Of­fi­cial Plan Re­view. This is the process through which in­dus­try, res­i­dents, and elected of­fi­cials can dis­cuss bring­ing ad­di­tional lands into the ur­ban bound­ary to ad­dress the hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity and cre­ativ­ity chal­lenges now be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced.

How can you help?

Your city coun­cil­lor is elected to bring your views to the de­ci­sion-making ta­ble at City Hall. Next time you see her or him at an event or out on the street talk to them about the need to un­leash the cre­ative en­ergy of Ot­tawa’s home­builders.

Share this story with your so­cial networks and help us get the con­ver­sa­tion started. You can fol­low us on Twit­ter: @GOHBA_Ot­tawa or on Face­book: @Build­ingOt­tawa.



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