Ottawa city council will soon consider an unusual $300,000 voluntary offer from a developer to support affordable housing and traffic calming measures in Capital Ward.

If approved, the city would enter into a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MOU) with the developer, Katasa, which would then contribute $100,000 towards traffic calming and $200,000 towards affordable housing in the downtown ward. The deal was negotiated by Capital Coun. Shawn Menard. Katasa Group has multiple projects in his ward including a 22-storey tower at Bronson and Carling avenues.

Menard first brought the deal to council’s planning and housing committee in November and encountered widespread confusion over whether such an agreement is allowed under the code of conduct for city councillors.

While councillors supported the idea at planning committee recently, Orléans South-Navan Coun. Catherine Kitts wondered whether rules are being consistently applied by the integrity commissioner, who provides oversight of council and other board members on issues of ethics and lobbying.

Kitts said that she was denied a proposal to have a developer pay for two speed boards in her ward by the integrity commissioner in 2021 because of what were deemed development interests.

“I appreciate that the integrity commissioner has looked at both situations,” Kitts said. “But I feel like there’s some inconsistency here on the advice being applied and that concerns me.”

The city’s Planning and Housing Committee meeting approved the contribution by Katasa at its most recent meeting on Jan. 17. [Photo © Sophie Panton]

Other councillors sought clarification on how to refer to the proposed contribution, as staff warned that it should not be considered a ‘community benefit.’

Under section 37 of the provincial planning act, developers on some projects can be required to contribute four per cent of a project’s cost as a community benefit. If the proposed contribution was defined this way, Katasa could potentially deduct the $300,000 from a future community benefit requirement.

“There has been and will continue to be an effort to ensure that this does not come within section 37 of the planning act with respect to community benefits agreements,” said a city staff member during the meeting.

Councillors Ariel Troster (Somerset) and Marty Carr (Alta Vista) sought further clarity on the differences and suggested resolutions and further discussions on the guidelines for councillors surrounding these proposals in future.

“I do think we need some clarity … just to avoid any developer influence from our point of view as well as well as to make sure that we’re having a consistent approach to every councillor and every development, with consultation from the development industry,” Carr said.

Troster agreed.

“I think what we’re all asking here for is an interpretation of what we can do, when,” said Troster. “Because I actually do think in many cases there are developers who are happy to contribute more and they don’t know what they are allowed to do here either.”

Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney suggested the city investigate what others are doing.

“We should look to other similar sized municipalities to see how they deal with (such contributions),” said Tierney. “No one wants to get into trouble as a councillor, so let’s make sure we set ourselves up for success.”

Meanwhile, River Ward Coun. Riley Brockington told the committee that he hoped to see more arrangements like the MOU in the future, citing the need for investment in city services.

“I applaud colleagues who have come into agreements like what we have before us because the needs are infinite (and) our own budgets are finite,” he said. “And if we can achieve investments like what we have before us that’s a win.

“So if people are unsure whether or not they may be crossing the line about, you know, questionable influence on the outcome of a vote then the advice is go see the Integrity commissioner that’s always your best bet if you’re unsure of whether certain activities are permitted or not.”

Katasa Group is a Gatineau based development company that has been approved for a number of projects in Ottawa including a nine storey apartment building in Chinatown and the purchase of two office buildings on Slater Street with a plan to turn them into residential units.