* Update: this issue came before City Council and we made gains on a number of fronts! Read all about them here.
The City of Ottawa is soliciting feedback on proposed updates to the Use and Care of Roads By-law 2003-498 to permit residents to plant in the right-of-way (ROW) in front of their homes. (The ROW is the portion of the land between the edge of a roadway and a building that belongs to the City. The proportion of this span that's ROW varies from property to property. Check out ROWs for any property in Ottawa in GeoOttawa!) Our partners For Our Kids Ottawa have been advocating for changes to the bylaw for some time, but the issue came into particular prominence when Andrew Fyfe was ordered by Ottawa Bylaw to remove the plants he had planted in the verge in front of his home.
Under current legislation, residents are prohibited from planting anything but turf grass in the ROW . This is a huge missed opportunity:
- Turf grass is at best problematic ecologically
- We’re in a biodiversity crisis, with unprecedented species decline
- ROWs planted with native species would strengthen the local ecosystem, not to mention providing economic benefits to local plant vendors
We think the intent of these updates are headed in the right direction: the City seems to want to encourage stewardship of ROWs via planting. At the same time, there are a number of ways in which the proposed changes could be improved, which we’ve listed below. We encourage you to contact the City to urge these improvements. Specifically, you can
- write to the City’s By-law Review Specialist assigned to this file, Chris Warren
- Contact your councillor
- Contact members of the Transportation Committee, particularly Chair Tierney and Vice Chair Kitts, who will be considering the matter on June 22
- Make a delegation at this meeting of the Transportation Committee (contact the Committee clerk to request a place)
If you do write to the City, please consider CCing us so we can report on how many people have contacted the City. Also note that the deadline for feedback is May 31. (Yes, this is tight! Consider adding to your feedback that more consultation time should have been given.)
Here are our main concerns:
Rethink the 1-metre setback: fortunately, the City walked back its proposal that the span 1 metre from the curb may not be planted; now, planting is only prohibited within 1 metre when there’s no curb. We think the prohibition should remain on spill-over onto the roadway, as is currently the case (sec. 3(2)) rather than a prohibition on planting. At the very least, the limit within this span should be on height rather than on planting outright.
- Permit raised beds in the ROW: numerous residents have already erected raised beds in the ROW, whether to retain soil or simply to landscape (see photo). The City’s stated concern is with snow-removal operations; as such, the prohibition should, if anything, be on any potential obstacles within a certain distance from the curb or snow removal routes.
- Allow planting consumables: food is increasingly expensive, and food security is increasingly under threat, yet the proposed changes in fact make it more difficult to grow food. The City cites concerns of contamination; if this is the case, the bylaw should state that growing consumables is at individuals’ risk.
- Rethink the height restrictions: we think the current height limit of 0.75 metre is too restrictive. The City’s stated concern is visibility—presumably from exiting a driveway via a car. Most cars are easily double this height, however.
- Improve prohibitions on invasive species: invasive species increasingly threaten Ottawa’s ecosystem. While the proposed changes prohibit the planting of invasive species, they refer to the Ontario Invasive Species Act and the Ontario Weed Control Act, which are out of date. We believe that the bylaw should also prohibit the 30 additional terrestrial plants that the Auditor General recommended for regulation under the Act (see PDF report).
In addition to these specific points about the changes, a few general points:
- While we appreciate the opportunities for feedback available to us, we feel the consultation period for these changes was too short to both educate people and encourage thoughtful feedback; we also would have appreciated a public presentation of the changes with opportunities for feedback
- We urge education in conjunction with these changes, whether on the topic of planting native species instead of invasives or transmitting the intricacies of the changes so that as many people as possible may take advantage of opportunities to green our city