The “Eyesore” Problem in Ottawa Housing Discourse

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One day before the September 6 Planning and Housing Committee meeting (recording here), Councillor Ariel Troster (Somerset Ward) posted on X (formerly Twitter) discussing the demographic trends at these meetings. “The people who come to city committees to speak against new housing development are overwhelmingly older and own their homes. The people who speak in support are generally younger. And they rent.” This message aptly predicted several public delegations at the meeting the very next day, in a discussion of different zoning amendments for the creation of dense, residential high-rise buildings.

One of the first items discussed was a proposed development at 3430 Carling Avenue of two six-storey apartment buildings with 126 residential units (discussion begins here). This item had two public delegations, both from older gentlemen opposed to the building’s height. The first public delegation described the development as an “eyesore” several times, for both being too tall and too close to the road. He worried this would set a precedent in the area of this kind of densification. Councillor Kavanagh (Bay) responded to this by affirming that this will be precedent setting, as intensification is planned for this area as per the Official plan, and development that has not occurred before is going to happen. 

Delegates used the word “eyesore” more than once when describing these dense high-rise buildings, yet it’s unconscionable to prioritize aesthetic concerns over our neighbors’ needs for basic housing. As we attempt to respond to a housing and homelessness crisis, as well as a climate crisis, trying to stop anything precedent setting is leagues away from where we need to be. As Councillor Troster said in a response to her tweet quoted earlier, “Our understanding of what’s ‘progressive’ has shifted. It’s no longer acceptable to oppose a high rise just because it’s tall.” 

Later in the meeting, there was a moment of deja vu when discussing a proposed development at 1200 Maritime Way to convert a vacant lot in Kanata town center into two high-rise buildings of 28 and 30 stories, with 614 residential dwellings, commercial space and underground parking (discussion begins here). The only public delegate was an older gentleman who described himself as  a resident of the community, and was not in support of this development. He declared this development as “totally out of whack with what’s there” and claimed that it would open the door “to building more of these monstrosities” in the area. Again, this was a plea to continue the status quo in our city, despite the new and growing challenges we face. He asked council to provide him one reason the building would need to be this tall, ignoring the harsh reality of the housing crisis where so many of our neighbors are struggling to find housing, working full-time from shelters or pushed to the streets. 

Councillor Curry (Kanata North) had a poignant response to this gentleman: “The overall theme I’ve tried to say to residents, and I’ll say to you, if not here, then where? Where do you put 30-storey buildings? Well, this is an ideal location; it’s different than what’s already there, but it is an ideal location.” Allowing NIMBYism and status quo thinking to dominate public delegations at Planning and Housing meetings is doing a disservice to the future of our city. Progressive voices need to be heard and make sure Council knows we support evidence-based solutions to respond to current realities. If we want to see the big, bold changes this city desperately needs, we all need to be educated on the impact city planning has on others and keep ourselves focused on improvements that help everyone.

Laura Daly volunteers with Council Watch.

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