Ottawa Planners Out of Touch with Rural Affairs
I was a supporter of amalgamating 11 Ottawa-area municipalities and townships plus a regional government into one organization back in the day when Ontario decided to forge new mega-municipalities across the province. It made sense many of us thought–get rid of overlapping bureaucracies and take advantage of efficiencies.
Municipal bureaucrat head count, we were told (sold), would decrease from 12,500 FTEs (full time equivalents) to 8,500 saving taxpayers $400 million per year and decisions would speed up. It didn’t work out that way–head count ballooned to 16,500 and a huge, remote bureaucracy made the City of Ottawa one of the least desirable places in North America to do development work in. New Englanders pity the development community here.
Maybe the worst outcome is that city hall-based planners seek to homogenize the community believing that every citizen should live in a highrise downtown condo above a pub. Ottawa once was home to diversity–you could live en francais in Vanier or Orleans or Cumberland, you could live a rural lifestyle in West Carleton or Rideau townships, you could live in an urban condition in Ottawa, you could live in debt-free Nepean or high tech Kanata or…
Don’t believe me? What did Ottawa planners do after amalgamation? They slapped a moratorium on rural lot development that looks likely to last at least until the Ottawa Senators win their next Stanley Cup (their last one was 1927). Urban planners (now that’s an oxymoron–the greatest settlements are ones that developed organically with the least amount of interference by bureaucrats) wouldn’t know how to find, say, Fitzroy Harbour, even if you gave them a compass and a map and a month to do it.
Today, I appeared in front of Ottawa’s Committee of Adjustment (COA) on behalf of elder clients of mine who need to sell their rural property so they can afford to move into town to be closer to health services. Their 70-acre property is too large for most buyers so they asked me to sell just their home and 10 acres, leaving the retained portion in their hands, perhaps to form part of their future estate.
To demonstrate how out of touch Ottawa urban planners are with rural affairs, one of the conditions they sought to impose on the severance was that my clients drill a new casement well on the vacant retained lands at a cost of anywhere from $3,500 to $5,000 to prove water supply despite the fact that there are at least 50 such wells within a few kilometers that all provide abundant supply. They also meet potability tests and ODWO (Ontario Drinking Water Objectives) standards.
This is a bad idea because–
1. there is no way for my clients to know where to put such a well on 60 acres;
2. if someone eventually builds on the retained lands, the likelihood that the well is in the right location is remote;
3. so the well will be capped, maybe for an eternity;
4. a capped well looks like a challenge to teenagers; they wrench the caps off and throw cherry bombs down the well/makes a cool geyser;
5. an uncapped well is a danger to tiny children (once they fall in, getting them out requires a superhuman effort–they either die or are horribly injured);
6. it is also a danger to animal and bird life as well as the underground aquifer, which can become polluted by whatever is dumped down there or falls in;
7. I worked with the MWDA (Metropolitan Waste Disposal Authority) in Sydney Australia when liquid waste disposal was mob-dominated–huge tankers would drain their waste cargoes into gullies, watercourses, the Pacific, anywhere but in controlled liquid waste depots to save big money on tipping fees; a well is a convenient place for illicit dumping, trust me about that;
8. eventually, someone will just have to go back in and concrete the thing shut forever.
I have done hundreds of rural wells and the only ones that work are the ones done at the time of development. The ones done in advance like this are inevitably useless. I know because I’ve concreted a few myself.
“In the environmental world we don’t like to leave wells just sitting there as they are easily forgotten about at some stage or another regardless of MOE well log requirements and they create unwanted, unneeded pathways into aquifers. In the context of contaminated sites, it is preferred that existing wells be abandoned according to regulations, when not in use."
-Tracy Dannell, CIMA project manager for the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) done in support of severance application
Anyway, as we were presenting our side to the Committee of Adjustment, we were getting nods from its members, who are all volunteer citizens doing their duty (a 4-year commitment) on the land division committee. These people know rural development and know what a bad idea it is. Apparently, city planners do not know that.
The COA decided unanimously in favor of our clients’ position–whomsoever owns the retained lands will one day have to drill and prove a well before any building permit is issued, a sensible condition that the Committee imposed on the property.
It would be nice to go back a decade and reverse amalgamation but, failing that, how about the City of Ottawa hires one or two planners that know something about rural life where more than 100,000 of our citizens actually prefer to be.
Bruce M Firestone is a real state broker for Century 21 Explorer Realty Inc and a coach. Please contact him at 613.422.6757 x 250 or bruce.firestone @ century21.ca
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