(Above: Aerial photo of Fairwinds, by @TwitchxB)
On Tuesday, the City of Ottawa’s Planning Committee will receive the latest update on a project called “Building Better and Smarter Suburbs”. If it’s accepted, the plan will play a role (for better or for worse) in shaping the way Stittsville and other suburbs develops in the coming years.
The 80-page report covers a variety of planning issues such as parking, transit, and zoning, as well as things like snow clearing and tree canopies. It’s intended to recognize that suburbs are evolving, and sometimes require planning rules that are different from more central neighbourhoods.
Many of the recommendations in the report are part of the longer-term planning process, but there are several “quick win” initiatives targeted to be in place by the end of 2015
1. TRAFFIC CALMING: During last fall’s election, Shad Qadri said that traffic, mainly speeding and traffic flow, was the number one issue he heard from residents. We’ve heard the same thing from readers: speeding cars down West Ridge or Fringewood, or drivers using Liard Street as a short cut from Stittsville Main to Fernbank. The new plan calls for traffic calming measures to be included as part of the initial road construction, rather than further down the road (pardon the pun.)
2. PARKING: Dense urban neighbourhoods create several problems for parking. (Parking was the number one category of bylaw complaints in 2014 in Stittsville.) Driveways tend to be shorter so they fit fewer cars. There’s less room between driveways for street parking. That’s a challenge when you have friends over to visit or if you have more than one vehicle. On the flip side, on-street parking, while often unpopular with residents, can be a good way to slow down traffic. The new plan includes several ways to improve the situation, including making it easier to get an all-day parking permit (as opposed to the current three hour limit). It also calls for a revision to the zoning by-law to make sure there’s enough room in every driveway for at least one car, and require a minimum parking area inside garages.
The plan calls for homebuyers to receive an info package “to provide awareness and clarity of expectations regarding parking, transit, and pedestrian and cycling facilities.” For example, folks buying in Arcadia will get a heads up that there won’t be a sidewalk to Canadian Tire Centre for another decade or so.
3. OC TRANSPO: The report says that OC Transpo should be involved earlier in the design of new plans of subdivision, recommending that transit staff take part in pre-consultation meetings on new subdivisions so that they can incorporate best practices for things like route design and bus stop locations. It’s disconcerting that this isn’t already standard practice.
4. TREES: The report calls for “better analysis of marine clay soils in order to bring flexibility to tree planting restrictions.” Roughly translated, that means finding places to plant taller trees to create a natural canopy along suburban roads. There’s also a longer term goal to retain existing healthy trees in new subdivisions. That’s good. It’s frustrating to see long-established natural areas bulldozed for new developments.
5. STORMWATER MANAGEMENT: It’s part of a larger objective to reduce the space taken up by stand-alone stormwater management infrastructure, for example the large human-made ponds of water common near new subdivisions. The quick win is to “incorporate dry ponds into park design”. The devil will be in the details on this one. The report suggests it’s to handle emergency stormwater needs, but it’s unclear on what counts as an emergency. Is it for a century storm like the one we saw in July 2009 or a more frequent event? The report notes a lack of consensus on this initiative from stakeholders who were consulted on the plan, as well as concerns about liability.
The overall goals of the plan are hard to argue with: more efficient land use, better pedestrian and road infrastructure, more attractive streetscapes, and a financially sustainable approach to suburban development. The quick wins are a good start, but there’s a broad scope of issues that still need to be worked out over the next three years through working groups and other consultations. Stay tuned.