The City of Ottawa Gets a Gold Belt by Shirley Dolan

Shirley Dolan
Shirley Dolan

If you live in rural Ottawa, you may have heard of the recent proposal to create a Gold Belt in rural Ottawa and add it to their Draft Official Plan along with the expansion of the urban boundary. No surprise though if you haven’t heard of it. City staff released a report announcing the new idea barely one week before it was to be discussed at a Special Joint Meeting of the Planning and Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee on January 25, 2021.

Despite the deadline for delegates, wishing to speak at the virtual meeting, closing on Friday, January 22, there were 36 presentations from those who managed to sign up to speak.  The majority of those who mentioned the Gold Belt expressed their disappointment at the lack of time permitted to review the proposal to prepare for comment. At one point during feedback of this nature, Committee Chair Harder explained that the Gold Belt was the same as Rural Countryside which was already included in the Official Plan. Councillor Scott Moffatt reiterated that nothing had changed, no new restrictions were being introduced.

I find this hard to believe. If no new restrictions are being introduced, why do we need a 70-page report that essentially tries to describe the Gold Belt. In the current Official Plan, barely one page is dedicated to Rural Countryside, so how can they be the same thing.

The Special Joint Meeting was essentially a debate between Committee members and developers about why certain parcels of land made it into the urban boundary (and therefore were eligible for development) and those that did not. There were also a few of the usual suspects who, having no right, title or interest in the lands in question, were very supportive of the Gold Belt. Very few rural residents (not developers) spoke at the meeting.  And the meeting was virtual; not an ideal method of communication to rural people who have poor internet services.

The bigger issue is not whether the Gold Belt has merit or not, but the fact that rural residents had little or no warning that this was coming.

The rural councillors newsletters mentioning the Gold Belt were published less than a week before the deadline for commenting:

  • Chair of ARAC Eli El-Chantiry (January 19)
  • Councillor Scott Moffatt (January 22)
  • Councillor George Darouze (January 22 – mention of urban boundary only but not the Gold Belt)
  • Catherine Kitts (January 25 – the day of the Joint Meeting)

Our rural affairs office was silent on the matter.

On January 26, the Joint Committee voted to include the concept of a Gold Belt in the Draft Official Plan. The question on the urban boundary and the Gold Belt goes to full Council on February 10, 2021.

Its time for a public meeting to discuss the Gold Belt with rural residents.