Ottawa's Planned Gold Belt Expansion: Who Does it Exclude?

Opinion by Chanel Best.

Two construction cranes on a building.

Concerns about Ottawa’s urban boundary began with the decision to amalgamate the former cities of Nepean, Kanata, Gloucester and eight others with Ottawa, in 2001 [1]. At the time city council framed the adoption of a larger boundary as a way to contain Ottawa’s future urban sprawl, the inability to contain growth in a city. Since then, Ottawa’s city council has reasserted the desire for further expansion, proved by a 2009 debate on expansion and a controversial decision in 2012 [2] that added an additional 1,104 hectares to the urban boundary [3]. A recent vote by the city of Ottawa has re-sparked concern among residents and local environmental advocacy groups, such as Ecology Ottawa who have condemned the new (Official plan) [4]. In May of 2020, the Ottawa city council passed a motion to further expand the existing urban boundary to add between 1350-1650 hectares between 2021-2046 [5]. Following this decision, in January of 2021, the council presented recommendations for the new urban boundary that proposes the creation of a new 53,000 hectare “Gold Belt” for the region [6]. The new (Official Plan) aims to create separation between communities such as Orleans, Barrhaven from new developments and assist in preserving the unique identities of the City’s villages and ensure they are not overtaken by future urban developments. expansions. Leapfrogging of the Gold Belt for new urban land would be prohibited in official policy. However existing land designations already protect rural villages and agricultural properties [7]. Other aspects of the plan include building 200,000 new homes, 80,000 of these are planned to be suburban, a necessary policy to accommodate for a projected population growth of an increase of over 400,000 inhabitants by 2046 [8]. The city claims one of purposes of creating a gold belt is the goal of containing urban sprawl until 2100 [9]. However, the track record on urban expansion raises questions, can Ottawa city council be trusted not to make further expansions? And who benefits from expansion?


The Gold Belt recommendation is magnifying conversations about the best approach towards urban sprawl and the uneven effects associated with it. Firstly, there are other urban development options that prevent sprawl, such as intensification the process of compacting existing urban residential spaces to fit more housing. The concept of building upwards rather than outwards is supported by residents. A survey done of 525 residents found that 52% of respondents opposed the new urban boundary and preferred using the existing urban space to meet the needs of future population growth [10]. One of many apprehensions with further boundary expansion is related to the public transit with concerns of the cost to expand the existing transit system an additional 40km and fears of the stress it would put on current transit infrastructure, if funds are not distributed adequately between now and 2046.


Secondly, the gold belt policy proposed by the city of Ottawa is exclusionary in its nature, some owners of land that the gold belt is designed to protect are unhappy with the decision because their properties would become off-limits to developers eroding their resale value. In riverside south a representative from Urbandale corporation claimed that preventing owners of agricultural land from developing their land would leave fewer residents to support the future O-Train Trillium Line [11]. Meanwhile north of Kanata, landowners are upset and do not feel as though they should be excluded from consideration for being too close to the noise of the Department of National Defence's Connaught Range [12]. When asked by CBC news, Cedarhill Golf & Country Club owner Noel Perera said he had plans to redevelop his golf course north of Barrhaven which is losing value and has asked the committees to consider bringing his land inside the line [13]. Contrary to these opinions some landowners are pleased with council’s decision, such as the owners of Falcon Ridge Golf Club, city staff have placed their property near the future Bowesville O-Train Station inside the urban boundary [14]. Neither the vote or initial recommendations included a direct consultation process with rural landowners, they were not given the opportunity to offer input and now face direct impacts from the decision.


Finally, it is vital to consider indigenous claims to the land, while the Algonquins of Ontario (AOO) were the first to consult with city council about their role in new urban developments within the boundary expansion. The organization has been working with developers and city council to create a new sustainable small community with an approximate population of 45,000 named “Tewin” [15]. The hope is that the community is developed with the guidance of Algonquin values and acknowledge the responsibility to ecology. The AOO have made the commitment to pay for infrastructure costs, such as water and wastewater services to the site. Other indigenous groups are concerned with the city using the gold belt proposal as a claim to reconciliation. The Chiefs of Algonquin First Nation they claim that the gold belt proposal “isn't reconciliation, and say they were never consulted on the project” [16]. In fact, other federally recognized Algonquin groups do not recognize AOO as a legitimate entity because it is a corporate body that contains a large percentage of non-status contributors created by the Ontario government, to interfere in land claims [17]. Although the plan includes legitimate efforts to recognize Algonquin claims to the land, there is questionable motives by city council regarding their urban development process, as the Tewin project is currently on hold until 2026.


The decision on Ottawa’s urban boundary by city council will have lasting impacts on the lives of close to one and a half million inhabitants by the middle of the century. The future of urban sprawl in Ottawa requires more consideration and public inquiry; while it is important to connect suburban areas to the urban core, the new official plan is a policy that favours outward expansion and will create uneven development. The current proposal appears hasty to those directly affected by the changes. The winners of the gold belt policy include city council, and some rural landowners, while other landowners specifically those with agricultural land and indigenous groups feel like they have lost a land battle. Addressing urban sprawl requires more work than lines drawn on a map, between now and 2046 the gaps in the gold belt policy need to be addressed to find an equitable solution that meets the needs of the community without compromising Indigenous rights to the land.

Citations:

  1. Berk, H., Haworth, J. and De Flaviis Vivas, S. “Ottawa groups fight plan to expand urban boundary,” 2020. Capital Current. https://capitalcurrent.ca/ottawa-groups-fight-plan-to-expand-urban-boundary/

  2. Berk, H., Haworth, J. and De Flaviis Vivas, S. 2020

  3. For reference 1000 hectares is equivalent to approximately 10km/sq. Kleanthous, B. How Big is a Hectare? The Calculator Site. 2019. https://www.thecalculatorsite.com/articles/units/how-big-is-a-hectare.php

  4. Barnes, R. For Immediate Release: City’s proposed ‘Gold Belt,’ 2021. https://ecologyottawa.ca/2021/01/16/for-immediate-release-citys-proposed-gold-belt-is-a-mirage/

  5. The poll of 525 residents was commissioned by Councillors Catherine McKenney, Shawn Menard and Jeff Leiper and conducted by EKOS Research. Pringle, J. “52 per cent of Ottawa Residents Opposed Urban Boundary Expansion: Poll,” 2020. CTV News. https://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/52-per-cent-of-ottawa-residents-opposed- urban-boundary-expansion-poll-1.4953849

  6. The gold belt, which staff say is a placeholder name and may change in the Official Plan, the city describes the Gold belt similarly to Toronto’s greenbelt. the gold belt proposal was just a manner of applying new terminology, city staff acknowledges that the gold belt is a placeholder name the gold belt proposal was just a manner of applying new terminology. Raymond, T. “City Proposes New ‘Gold Belt’ to Limit Urban Sprawl,” 2021 CTV News. https://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/city-proposes-new-gold-belt-to-limit-urban-sprawl- 1.5269851

  7. Planning Committee and the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. Jan 25, 2021. Special Joint Committee meeting (minutes). https://app05.ottawa.ca/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspxmeetid=8179&doctype=agenda&itemid=410119

  8. City of Ottawa. Official New Plan, Nov 20, 2020. https://engage.ottawa.ca/8204/widgets/36458/documents/45216

  9. Raymond, T. 2021.

  10. Pringle, J. 2020.

  11. Porter, K. (2021). Rural Landowners Ask City for Right to Develop Properties. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/urban-boundary-p2art-two-committees-delegations-1.5886595

  12. Porter, K. 2021.

  13. Porter, K. 2021

  14. Porter, K. 2021

  15. AOO represents 10 communities in land-claim negotiations with the federal and Ontario governments. Only one of the AOO communities, Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation, is federally recognized. The federal government officially recognizes 10 Algonquin First Nations, nine in Quebec and Pikwakanagan in Ontario. Chiefs say they have never seen the Ottawa River as a border, but simply a travelling route. Porter, K. (2021). Algonquin chiefs denounce urban expansion as 'wreck-onciliation’. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/algonquin-chiefs-tewin-reconciliation-urban-boundary-1.5899382

  16. Porter, K. 2021.

  17. Porter, K. 2021.