Ecology Ottawa Delegates on the new Zoning Bylaw

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Ecology Ottawa gave two delegations at the joint meeting of City Council’s Planning and Housing Committee and Agricultural and Rural Affairs on April 29 as the committees considered a report on Ottawa’s new Zoning Bylaw.

The Zoning Bylaw will have huge implications for ecology in Ottawa, dictating land use, transportation patterns, and the availability of food and habit for our ecosystem cohabitants. It’s particularly important in helping us achieve the 15-minute neighbourhoods that we badly need and that our Official Plan commits to (see in particular Sec. 6.3.3).

Right: An image from staff's report showing "the intended function of alternative setbacks for tree retention."


Our first delegation was on impervious surfaces. We spoke to the need to reduce front-yard car parking, add parkettes, and discourage drive-throughs. Our second delegation encouraged eliminating car-parking minimums. Please find a recording of the first delegation here and the second here. You can also read the text of both below.

The next step in the process? Staff will release a first draft of the Zoning Bylaw on May 31 and begin public consultations. (For some perspective, the final draft is projected to come to Council at the end of 2025. Yes, it’s a long process!) Please stay tuned for more details!


An image from staff's report showing "the lot sizes, built form, and densities (including number of dwelling units) contemplated within the Neighbourhood primary zones and subzones."




First Delegation: Impervious Surfaces

Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. I’m doing so on behalf of Ecology Ottawa. I’ll be addressing impervious surfaces. 

In general, it’s great to see the new Zoning Bylaw seeking to limit impervious surfaces. At a minimum, this will help us manage stormwater. Limiting pavement in particular will reduce the amount of salt that makes it into our watercourses. More permeable surfaces also means more planting opportunities, which means strengthening our ecosystem and even increasing our tree canopy, with all the human and ecological benefits that brings.

Now to specifics—first, front-yard car parking (Sec 604). We were pleased to see the report largely limit front-yard parking to when it replaces a driveway and frees up more space for the front façade. We want to make sure, however, that front-yard parking is limited to such cases—that the creation of front-yard parking be restricted.

Instead, the City should expand its on-street parking program. To support this, I’ve brought photos of three streets near my home in Centretown. You’ll see that the paved surface is about 9 to 11 metres from curb to curb, depending on the street. I took these photos at around 6:45 pm—so after most people have come home from work. These streets are nearly empty, and they’re one-way streets. And Centretown is one of the densest neighbourhoods in the city. My point is, the space for parking is already there. We should use it before we add to the 25% of the city’s urban area that’s already impervious.

Paving front yards is especially misguided because they’re right next to the street, a huge swathe of existing impervious surface; keeping front yards permeable is therefore all the more important. Even better is if we plant front yards. Trees in particular will improve stormwater management and provide shade and shelter for people walking and otherwise spending time outside.

City Council has discussed stormwater management in several contexts recently, and I know the Infrastructure Master Plan is also under review. This Zoning Bylaw is an excellent opportunity to address the challenges these measures confront—but in ways that are inexpensive, ecological, and beneficial to humans.

Next, I'll talk about parks (Sec. 215). The City’s current practice with parks is to make them big. Large parks are great—and particularly important when there are existing natural features, like Hampton Forest or Hog’s Back Falls, or when there’s a sports field or two. But we also need to think about parks within neighbourhoods. 

More neighbourhood parks mean that everyone has greenspace near them, and will help us meet our commitment to 15-minute neighbourhoods. Particularly when planted with native plants and trees, neighbourhood parks also mean wildlife can integrate into and travel through our City; and they can help prevent flooding and cool our communities. 

We’d especially love to see more parkettes. I brought two examples of parkettes from my old neighbourhood in Montreal that occupy one and two lots, respectively. While they don’t look like much in Google Maps, I can tell you they’re very welcome oases for humans and wildlife alike.

Our Official Plan commits to parkettes:

“The City shall seek opportunities for urban plazas and parkettes that, alongside recreational uses, consider cultural development opportunities such as providing space for performance, exhibitions, commemoration and ceremony” (4.4.3(d))

(I’d add to this food and habitat for wildlife.) Parkettes aren’t mentioned in the report before, and we think they should be.

Finally, drive-throughs (Sec. 308). I don’t have time to discuss the details in the report; but I do need to point out how much impervious surface these involve. To lend some perspective, I’m showing an overhead shot of a fairly standard drive-through at Hunt Club and Bank. Next to it, I’ve included a photo of Dundonald Park at the same scale. The park is about double the size of the drive-through, but offers a rich, treed haven for many species of birds and other animals. There’s a playground, tables, gardens, and benches, and we often have festivals. But even from the standpoint of commercial uses, the drive-through is only slightly smaller than the main drag of the Byward Market in the other photo—and we all know how many businesses that houses. I know the Official Plan commits to restricting drive-throughs in several areas; we want to make sure the Zoning Bylaw follows through.

Our city will be better for everyone if we steward well the permeable surface that we have.

Thank you for your time.



Second Delegation: Car Parking Minimums

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you. I’m doing so on behalf of Ecology Ottawa and will address parking minimums.

Transportation is responsible for about 42% of greenhouse gas emissions in Ottawa, with cars being a significant contributor. It is nice that the city is taking steps to reduce carbon emissions, particularly in urban areas, by rethinking transportation and public space. So, Eliminating these parking minimums would be an initial step to promoting public and active transportation in the city. 

Parking lots occupy significant space, and eliminating parking minimums would free up land that could be used for other purposes, such as community gardens, parks, and trees. Parking lots also contribute to the heat island effect, which worsens weather conditions. Paved parking lots tend to absorb and re-emit heat at higher rates than natural environments, which further worsens the urban heat island effect. These surfaces are unable to absorb rainfall, which intensifies the flow of stormwater. In addition to water damage, runoff from parking lots often contains high levels of pollutants. Since there is nothing to absorb and redirect the runoff, it can end up in waterways, causing severe pollution. Parking spaces occupy valuable urban land and decrease resilience to environmental risks.

Besides the environmental and climate benefits, additional trees, community gardens, or creating more and better access to parks all support in making a neighborhood more walkable. Research has found that those living in neighborhoods that are more walkable and have better parks and green space are more satisfied with their lives. (Source)

Improving accessibility through smarter urban planning can enhance community connectivity and reduce dependency on vehicles. Encouraging mixed-use developments and promoting vibrant, walkable neighborhoods can foster a sustainable Ottawa. By focusing on reducing transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, the elimination of minimum parking requirements aligns with Ottawa's efforts to tackle one of its top emission sources, ultimately leading to cleaner air, reduced pollution, and a more climate-resilient city. 

We support the city’s plan to eliminate parking minimums. Let us prioritize people over cars.

Thank you.

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