Rendered view of the proposed development at 33 Maple Grove Rd. in Kanata. (Via Lara McKendrick Architecture Inc.)
I was glad to see general support from city councillors for a proposed pair of apartment buildings in Kanata, at 33 Maple Grove Rd. Specifically, a zoning by-law amendment that would enable the two, three-storey buildings to go ahead was recently supported at both planning committee and city council. You can read the specifics on ottawa.ca (opens an 800kb PDF).
The project only represents 12 apartment units, but it’s a good step towards bringing quality, higher-density developments to the suburbs outside the greenbelt, at a time when the city is looking to promote that sort of thing.
A new official plan is in the works (and nearly complete) that includes a lot of strong language about increasing density around the city. In fact, it’s one of the first things you read in the draft plan; shifting development in such a way that most of Ottawa’s growth comes from intensification, rather than development of greenfields at the city edges. This general idea is so important, city planners called it “Big Policy Move number 1”.
The rationale is that our city will grow by about 402,000 residents by 2046, and that will require a lot of housing. While there is a robust supply of land at the moment to support it, continuing to build sprawling suburbs as the primary driver of growth is not sustainable in the long term. They are expensive to provide municipal services to and subdivisions demand huge tracts of greenfields to be lost to development. Plus, the city has previously projected in a policy paper called “Ottawa Next: Beyond 2036” that land will become more expensive in the future and that will probably put single-detached homes beyond the price range that most people can afford.
In addition to sustainability, encouraging intensification in established areas will contribute to a better community life for everyone. It is an important component of generating what are called “15-minute neighbourhoods”, which are basically mixed-use neighbourhoods where everything a resident needs can be easily within a 15-minute walk away, such as grocery stores, coffee shops, or even their workplace.
So there is a definite wave of the future when it comes to how our city is developed. Small developments like the one in Kanata are a good way to ease established neighbourhoods into the new paradigm.
One issue that I expect will continue for some time is that, even with good policy language from the city, there will likely still be reluctance from residents to support these developments as they come along. That means they are politically charged. The Maple Grove project received about 240 comments, most of them in opposition, according to the report to planning committee. One reason for opposition is that apartments are still not seen as “fitting” in with suburban communities. That could not be further from the truth. Many of the communities outside the greenbelt, including Kanata, have been around for a long time now. It is appropriate for them to see a more diverse mix of new development now (as has already been happening), and some of this has to occur were land is under-utilized in order to make efficient use of space. The Maple Grove example is very close to Hungerford Gate, a neighbourhood that happens to contain 3-storey apartments. Kanata is no stranger to this kind of thing.
If we’re looking for denser forms of development, you can certainly do worse than low-rise constructions when it comes to suburbs outside the greenbelt. If it were a 5- or 10-storey set of buildings, for example, the conversation about their appropriateness for the area would be quite different.
One possible alternative that can fit well in a number of suburban contexts are the so-called “missing middle” forms of housing. That refers to a broad class of multi-unit housing that are sized in the same ballpark as single-family homes. For examples, check out the graphic below.
Graphic via Opticos Design LLC.
Of course, it’s not too late to provide feedback to the city about the official plan. All the relevant information is posted here, and you can even read some short papers about specific topics that the draft plan discusses here.