Ottawa’s Planning and Housing Committee found itself caught in a battle between the province’s ongoing housing crisis and concerns about food research at the Central Experimental Farm during its meeting Sept. 20. Housing won the day.
At issue was the approval of a zoning by-law amendment at 1081 Carling Ave. The amendment included a proposal for the construction of two high-rise residential buildings on the property.
The proposal was strongly opposed by many groups, including the Civic Hospital Neighbourhood Association and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, a branch of the federal government that also runs the Experimental Farm.
Agriculture Canada scientists warned that the towers would cast shadows over large areas of the nearby farm land, potentially affecting the crops and harvest schedules.
“There is a direct link between the research that we do every day and the food that we feed our nation with,” said Stefanie Beck, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada, during the meeting. She added that the farm’s research contributed to food affordability and security, “ensuring that safe, healthy food is accessible to all Canadians.”
Beck was joined by Malcolm Morrison, a research scientist for Agriculture Canada, who said that the shaded area could pose a significant threat to the crops in the area, even if it pushes harvest back by only a few days.
“When you’re going from the end of September harvest until the middle of October harvest, October is notoriously wet,” Morrison said. “Pretty soon we’re into November harvest, and then our crop is essentially ruined.”
A shadow analysis was included in the development proposal.
In a presentation to the committee, representatives on behalf of developer Taggart Realty Management told the committee that the towers would still allow for a significantly large area of the farm on which scientific research could be maintained.
The current proposed heights of the towers are 16 and 27 storeys, respectively, which is lower than the original proposal, which called for towers of 22 and 28 storeys.
Morrison told the committee that the optimal height for the towers would be between 12 and 14 storeys maximum when urged to provide a number.
In response, River Ward Counc. Riley Brockington proposed a motion to cap the height of both towers at 14 storeys but the motion was rejected.
The Central Experimental Farm lies within Brockington’s Ward.
In the end, the proposal was approved 9-3, which marked the second time it was approved by the committee. Agriculture Canada did not attend the previous meeting on Aug. 16.
On Aug. 23, City Council passed a motion to return the proposal to the Planning and Housing Committee after it was found that “proper notification of the [Aug. 16] meeting was not carried out.”
Kitchissipi Ward Counc. Jeff Leiper — chair of the Planning and Housing Committee — said the committee was left with little choice but to approve the application.
“The mandate that’s given to us by the province under the Planning Act is to approve developments according to the policies and the plans guiding developments in Ontario,” he said.
The decision reflects the pressure on cities to approve housing developments amid an ongoing housing crisis. City staff had also supported the proposal, noting among other things that high-rise buildings are permitted along “Mainstreet Corridors,” such as Carling Avenue.
In the staff report, Leiper was quoted as saying that while he didn’t like the development, Ontario municipalities do not have the final say on land use planning. “I am absolutely confident that if Council refuses this development that the developer will take it to the Ontario Land Tribunal,” he said, which would likely approve the plan anyway.
After the amendment was carried, Leiper stressed the importance of input from Agriculture Canada as the city continues to address the ongoing housing crisis.
“I believe that the farm’s research activities can evolve,” he said. “We’ll take a look at how we can facilitate that with zoning that both meets the city’s need to address the twin housing and environment crises with their need to address the research needs that Agriculture Canada has.”
The Experimental Farm has been crucial to farming research in Canada, particularly in crop production. It is also a designated National Historic site, having been in operation since 1886.
In a report released by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce in July, the OCC found that “housing has reached a crisis point in Ontario,” as housing and rental prices continue to rise. To combat this, the Government of Ontario has said it is committed to building 1.5 million new homes by 2031.