June 28th’s meeting of the Town & Gown Committee was a boisterous affair as 60 or more Sandy Hill residents, and some from neighbouring communities, came out to hear Vice-President of Action Sandy Hill, Robert Forbes, make a presentation on unlicensed rooming houses. This presentation aimed to demonstrate how the proliferation of this form of development has continued unabated despite the City’s numerous attempts to improve new development in mature neighbourhoods, including three new zoning bylaws, colloquially know as the Conversion Bylaw, Infill1 and Infill2.
More information on the Town & Gown meeting in June, including a copy of Bob Forbes’ presentation, is available at Action Sandy Hill’s website, http://www.ash-acs.ca/ash-unlicensed-rooming-houses/
Residents in attendance at the Town & Gown meeting expressed their personal experiences of the negative impacts this kind of development is having on them and their community and their concern for the wellbeing of the mainly young people living in these uninspected rooming houses. Councillor Fleury and senior City planning staff, who were present at the Town & Gown meeting, noted that the presentation and subsequent discussion helped them to understand the extent and impact of this problem.
Following that meeting Councillor Fleury asked senior planning staff to find a solution. They noted that a review of all R4 zoning in the City, which includes almost all of Sandy Hill, is scheduled to begin in 2017; and, voiced their opinion that that study offers the best opportunity to address the root causes of this type of bad development. Unfortunately, they also noted that it will probably be at least 2 years before the R4 review can be completed and recommendations implemented, so an interim solution is needed.
The first result is a new site plan control bylaw, adopted by Council on August 31st, which designates Sandy Hill as a Special Site Plan Control Area. This implements new requirements in Sandy Hill for site plan control, which is the process by which urban planners at the City are able to influence land development. At the moment many of these unlicensed rooming houses are being built without any review by planning staff – they simply apply for a building permit.
Normally site plan control only applies to residential properties with 4 units or more and a unit may contain unlimited bedrooms. This new by-law applies to all new residential development in Sandy Hill, but will be limited to a review of the design and elevations, the location and layout of on-site parking, landscaping, grading and drainage, and waste management.
For more information on the new rules for Sandy Hill, please visit the City’s website, http://ottawa.ca/en/development-application-review-process-0/site-plan-control
These new site plan control requirements for Sandy Hill should be recognized as a step forward. They will not stop the development of unlicensed rooming houses but they should help to improve any new ones that are still on the drawing board. In particular city planners will now be able to assess whether or not there is adequate and appropriate garbage storage; whether or not the landscaping is satisfactory; how the grading and drainage have been dealt with, including ensuring that it doesn’t adversely affect neighbours; and, the overall appearance of the building, including the exterior materials.
At its recent retreat, the Board of Directors of Action Sandy Hill identified dealing with the proliferation of unlicensed rooming houses as a top priority to help preserve the diversity and character of our heritage neighbourhood. We will continue working with the City on the much-needed R4 zoning review as well as the new Heritage Conservation District Plans. ASH is also working with ACORN and other partners to lobby the city for a rental property registry. And, as always, we will need your continued support and involvement if we are to have any hope of reversing recent trends.
President, Action Sandy Hill