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Lots of room for more people to live near Ottawa's transit centres, Ryerson report says

Apartments near Hurdman Station. (Photo/Devyn Barrie)

Land around Ottawa’s major transit hubs has a lot of room for more residential density, according to an analysis by researchers at Ryerson University Centre for Urban Research & Land Development.

The housing industry-funded policy report, released last week, examined 200 major transit centres in Ontario and comes with the declaration: “Transit Nodes in Ontario Have Untapped Development Potential.”

It recommends that municipalities rezone areas around transit stations to encourage denser housing. The industry groups that funded the report, the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) and Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA), used it to call on the province to force new rules on municipalities. (You can read the full study PDF here.)

While they argue in Toronto, it seems like Ottawa’s already working on the issue. Benjamin Gianni, associate professor of Carleton University’s urbanism program, said the city’s been prioritizing intensification around transit for some time.

“The City of Ottawa has been very proactive about up-zoning and creating intensification plans for all of the Phase 1 stops of the LRT, Tunney’s through Blair,” Gianni said in an email.

The city’s Official Plan is peppered with minimum density requirements for different areas around the city, particularly near transit stations. Its projections through 2036 bet there will be a shift in demand from low-density, single-detached housing to higher density forms like apartments, the city says on its website. That shift is already being observed, the city added.

The Ryerson study looked at land along the Transitway and the Trillium Line, as well as the pending Confederation Line plus planned LRT extensions. Using nearby census tracts nominally within 800 meters of the lines, researchers examined the current residential density of these areas. Then, they compared that to what the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) says is the density benchmark for successful transit-oriented developments. Then they compared what’s there to the amount of available space to calculate how many additional dwellings could theoretically be built.

Graphic/Devyn Barrie. Source: Ryerson University Centre for Urban Research & Land Development

According to the study, the Transitway fell the shortest on current density. It has 149 dwellings per square kilometer, compared to the current iteration of the Confederation Line which has 722. For all the lines, there is plenty of room to grow in order to hit CMHC’s density benchmark.

The study also says re-zoning would encourage more development around these areas. It said the number of new units built per square kilometer around the Confederation Line doubled since 2014, when the city changed zoning around the area to allow a broader variety of development. The study didn’t cite specific numbers.

Based on examples of re-zoning causing a spike in development in several other cities, researchers said up to 25 new units per square kilometer could be encouraged by re-zoning. Assuming that, over 6,500 new units could be built near transit in Ottawa, the researchers calculated. (Although they didn’t say over how many years.)

Gianni said the question is not so much whether there’s room for more development, but rather if there will be a market demand for new units. As a project, his class did plans for the area along Coventry Road, which is adjacent to two Confederation Line stations. That area has been re-zoned to accommodate about 13,500 units (about 27,000 people).

“The problem is that the market is not there to take advantage of this,” he said. “Twenty-seven thousand people living and working at this location alone would take a long time to absorb,” he said.

Most high-density developments involve condos, which takes about a year to absorb 500 units.


Devyn Barrie

Devyn Barrie is the editor and owner of OttawaStart.com. He holds a journalism diploma from Algonquin College, where he currently studies pre-technology.