Many of us have memories about tracts of land encountered over the years. They looked natural, bucolic, perhaps even dreamy – largely because they were undeveloped.
Numerous city boundaries are examples of once-upon-a-time urban/rural landscape divides, where, subsequently, developments have caused diffusion of transition points; the ripple impact keeps expanding, so as to permanently blur any clear sense of dividing lines.
Canada’s largest city, Toronto, manifests this destiny. When I lived there in the late 1970s, Steeles Avenue pretty much marked its northern boundary. It was streets and sprawl up to this point, nature in charge beyond. It’s now hard to imagine this ever having been the case, when one sees how much urban growth has pushed empty spaces many kilometers beyond Steeles.
Ottawa is a smaller city, but it has also come to the land use party. Growth in the suburbs is one side of it. But there are also times where areas within city boundaries can come up for rezoning; when approved, heretofore pastoral sections transform into nests of pavement, vehicles, and condensed human activity.
Sometimes the nature of a proposed development collides with a logical evaluation of its impact on an existing situation.
Such is the case with a project in the works in the south end of the city, near Ottawa international airport. Moreover, it’s a foreseeable impact, wherein vehicle traffic overload is the main concern for not only local inhabitants, but also many commuters who flood the major nearby interchange on a regular basis.
Green space bordering the northwest corner of this intersection has been low elevation, vacant, vegetation filled land since the 1970s. A recent application filed would see the pastoral setting vanish in favour of ‘new permitted uses’, promoted to include a hotel, luxury car dealerships, additional retail, and a school, in addition to a previously zoned retirement complex. It’s noteworthy that project proponents are pushing for auto-based retail: this is a city advocating reduction of the use of cars; it’s an area not served in any meaningful way by public transit. Even compromises for reducing the mix to include less traffic-based enterprises have not been seriously debated.
These new venues would have to be accessed through only one entry/exit, less than three hundred metres from the major intersection, already identified as a ‘high collision’ location. How traffic flows would be impaired, and what controls would try to keep entry area safe, is left for conjecture – although the implications of added danger are clear.
The black cherry on top is that traffic is already easily plugged up during the day.
What doesn’t help is that neither of the proponents’ main responses is helpful: one, residents consider public transit, bicycling, etc. to ease congestion, notwithstanding the lack of transit for the near future; two, learn to live with the bulging congestion which will affect both the immediate main roads and nearby residential streets, the latter due to more drivers using them as by-pass routes.
Sometimes, just because city bureaucracy opens a door, it doesn’t mean developers should have free reign to run on through it with expensive, noisy, burdensome adult toys.
If the developers seem to have the upper hand in dealing with the city government in circumstances like this, perhaps there are a few strategies to help level the playing field:
- File counter-zoning proposals which are more environment friendly, thereby getting support of those most likely to help delay resolution
- Stage in person protests at developers’ own sites, so they can get a taste of the medicine they are hoping to dispense to commuters
- Enter proponents’ site renderings in an arts contest, so their poor results will make them feel less confident
- Compliment advocates on their communications’ skills, then set them back by questioning every single statement they make
- Submit studies to the city planning department recommending they study overlooked studies about making recommendations
The next time someone asks, “What kind of a development is this?”, hopefully it will concern a plot change.