Community Character and Building Heights – Thoughts on the Official Plan’s Design Policies

Ottawa’s 2013 Official Plan update, adopted by City Council on November 26, 2013, includes a detailed set of design policies for development in our residential neighbourhoods and along our main streets. These design policies are poised to have a significant impact on how we grow and revitalize. Here is an overview of what’s happening and what it will mean for home owners and homebuilders.

The Official Plan design policies seek to ensure the design compatibility of new homes and buildings with the character of existing development in those communities. The Official Plan design policies also establish maximum building heights in communities across the city, unless a council-approved community plan sets different building heights.

Meeting these policies may be difficult to achieve in practice and will limit the ability of homebuilders to innovate and to revitalize Ottawa’s mature communities.

Revitalizing Communities

When it comes to building a new home in an existing community, you will need to demonstrate that the proposed design conforms to the established character of the existing homes on your street. If your design is not consistent with the community’s character, you will not be able to get a building permit.

Mature communities such as Vanier and Hintonburg are being revitalized by the building of semi-detached homes, duplexes and triplexes in place of single homes. While this type of development is consistent with the City’s intensification policy, it may run counter to the design policies. In a community of single family homes, each with a single driveway, a semi-detached home will conflict with the character of the existing homes. A semi-detached home requires two driveways.

Fostering Innovation

The design policies will introduce maximum buildings heights that can only be exceeded through a council-approved community design plan. With the new height limit policy, the following buildings may not have been built in Ottawa:

  • Westboro Station (Richmond road and Golden Ave.)
  • The Element (GCTC Building on Wellington Avenue)
  • The Cavanaugh (Domicile on Beechwood)
  • The Lansdowne Park high rise buildings (Minto)

There’s great home and building design happening in Ottawa right now – from award winning communities (Minto’s Ampersand, Tamarack’s and Tartan’s Findlay Creek) to exciting infill projects such as Surface’s Canvas project in Old Ottawa South. Lansdowne Live will be the next great destination for Canadians visiting the nation’s capital.

Ottawa’s homebuilders are concerned with design policies that restrict our ability to build innovative, sustainable homes and communities. Revitalizing mature communities requires the flexibility to innovate in response to new technologies and trends and the demands of homebuyers.

We are not alone in signaling our concern about the design policies in the Official Plan. Many community associations share our concerns. While we understand the rationale for design policies, their rigidity is uncalled for at a time when there is so much great home design and innovation happening in Ottawa.

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