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Great news for Ottawans: at their June 28, 2023 meeting, Ottawa City Council approved most planting in the right of way (ROW). (For some background on this issue, see here.) These changes will bring significant ecological benefits: they’ll increase biodiversity, provide animals habitat and food, absorb water, cool communities, add shade, and support local plant vendors.
Update as of September 7: the City published its own page summarizing these regulations.
Because there are still certain restrictions on planting, we’re going to break things down for you.
First of all, you don’t need a permit to plant in the ROW. Know also that, because the ROW is City property, they reserve the right to access it—including if that means digging where you’ve planted. The City or its contractors won't be required to restore what they need to remove, so plant at your own risk!
Here’s a list of what and how you’re allowed to plant in your ROW:
Height: plants may be up to 1 metre in height everywhere except for the cases under “setbacks” below.
- Location: you can only cultivate within the ROW that abuts your own property. If you want to cultivate a neighbour’s ROW, you need the written consent of the owner of the property that abuts it.
Setbacks: you can plant right up to the edge of the roadway and sidewalk, whether or not there’s a curb; but there are a few areas you can't plant:
- existing trees: within a 1-metre radius (see Figure 1)
- other ROW furniture (hydro poles, guy wires, signs, etc.): within 1 metre (see Figure 2)
- catch basins and manholes: within a 1.5-metre radius
- hydrants and hydro transformers: within a 1.5-metre radius, and you need a 3-metre corridor to the hydrant from the roadway (see Figure 3)
- OC Transpo stops: it's complicated; see Figure 4
- Species: City staff have said they'll provide a list of prohibited plants that they’ll also update annually. This list will include species identified by the Invasive Species Act and the Weed Control Act, in addition to the Auditor General’s Management of Invasive Species report.
There are a couple other things currently under review.
First, producing food. While staff also originally proposed prohibiting food production, we and our allies fought against this: food security is increasingly a challenge in Ottawa, and one that disproportionately affects equity-seeking groups. (We assume that the intended meaning is food for human consumption, but this is of course a hazy concept!) Councillor Devine issued a direction to staff to investigate this possibility and report back in Q2 of 2024—hopefully in time for the growing season.
Second, planter boxes: while staff originally proposed prohibiting these, we also pushed back on this. Planter boxes would be a great way to increase water absorption and soil retention and to avoid contaminated soil. Councillor Brockington issued a direction to staff to investigate this possibility further and report back in Q2 of 2024.
In the meantime, it’s not completely clear whether the bylaw updates will expressly prohibit these or simply remain silent on them. We'll keep our eye out for the bylaw itself and issue updates as they're available.
Also to note was that staff was also directed to review the Trees in Trust program, with a focus on increasing the diversity of fruit trees available.
The City also promised that they’d publish a website—also updated annually—to keep Ottawans current on what is and isn’t permitted in ROWs.
Overall, these changes represent substantial progress on the stewardship of City property. Thanks to everyone who sent emails, signed petitions, attended meetings, and made their voices heard: the changes here are a clear example of the impact this sort of advocacy can have.
Also, it was a pleasure for us to collaborate with our wonderful partners like For Our Kids, Just Food, and CAFES Ottawa, as well as several supportive councillors, including Councillors Riley Brockington, Sean Devine, Laura Dudas, Laine Johnson, Theresa Kavanagh, Rawlson King, Catherine Kitts, and Shawn Menard.
Please stay tuned—through our social media (@ecologyottawa) or our newsletter—for more updates as we await the revised by-law and staff reports.