---Gatineau council adopts new Urban Plan amid contentious debate
Despite discontentment from certain elected officials, Gatineau’s municipal council has adopted the city’s proposed Land Use and Development Plan Bylaw. Intended to align with the city’s Schema d’aménagement et de développement révisé (SADR) - which has been in the works since 2015 – the new Land Use and Development Plan Bylaw will serve as a framework to guide local infrastructural development for the next 30 years.
Notably, the SADR focuses on densifying areas delimited in the city’s projected urban structure and near public transportation arteries, including parts of Old Aylmer, Deschênes and Parc Champlain, and along boulevard des Allumettières, and on enhancing the protection of natural spaces.
Voting against the plan’s zoning regulations set to impact Aylmer, Lucerne district councillor Gilles Chagnon explained that accelerating growth due to abundant residential development shouldn’t be the priority for the sector. While in favour of local development, he shares residents’ concerns regarding the sector’s level of infrastructure and services not being ready for its expected population growth in the coming years.
While Aylmer’s population has grown considerably in the last couple of decades, it expects to explode to 86,000 residents by 2031 – 21,000 more than in 2016 – making it the fastest growing area in the city, Chagnon said. “We’re five years too fast for Aylmer,” Chagnon said.
He added that that the sector’s roadway and public transit infrastructure hasn’t noticeably evolved, causing considerable circulation issues. Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin emphasized the importance of densification for Gatineau’s future, noting that the opposite would take the city back many years. He argued that population growth across the city requires more density in certain areas, noting that if it doesn’t happen in Aylmer it will happen somewhere else.
Also voting against the plan, Aylmer district councillor Audrey Bureau believes it still provides some positive elements, notably in terms of environmental protection. However, she also thinks the city should update Aylmer’s basic infrastructures before prioritizing growth in the sector.
Supported by Chagnon, she proposed four modifications to the plan to reduce height limits in the district, aiming to harmonize floor-limits in Old Aylmer - noting that the city is adopting a particular urbanism project (PPU) for the area. The Mayor saluted Bureau’s proposal to consider the new PPU for Old Aylmer to monitor building heights, stating that the city isn’t rushing to make significant changes to such a historically sensitive part of the city.
Expecting the process to take around a year and a half, Bureau emphasized the need to diligently question building heights, zoning regulations and issues, with constant public input. Chagnon proposed five modifications to the plan, including reducing the number of floors for new buildings on chemin d’Aylmer to five, instead of nine – which council approved.
Considering how many years the plan has been in the works, Plateau councillor Maude Marquis-Bissonnette and President of the Commission sur le développement du territoire, l’habitation et l’environnement (CDTHE) thanked the city, residents and local organizations and entrepreneurs for contributing to the discussion for the better half of the last decade.
Noting that the process involved numerous public consultations, especially in recent months and despite challenges imposed by the pandemic, she said the framework involves matching regulations with the city’s vision of future infrastructural development – which required compromise in all areas. “We can’t say yes to everything,” Marquis-Bissonnette said. “I can understand that some people aren’t satisfied with the results,” she added. “Obviously, it’s not perfect. But I think we need to recognize that we’re taking an enormous step forward.” She added that the plan features some adjustments aimed at protecting the environment, notably by preserving at least 95 per cent of the city’s wetlands, and limiting tree cutting and development in green corridors.
In terms of environmental protection, she said the new plan shows exemplary practices compared to North American standards. Regarding new site planning and architectural integration plans (PIIA) for major projects, Marquis-Bissonnette said the city responded to residents’ concerns during consultations – notably by implementing specific criteria to develop grid-like street-patterns, eco-neighbourhoods, and to improve connectivity with natural and architectural spaces.
Despite being challenged by the pandemic, Deschênes district councillor Mike Duggan said the plan was a huge success. Understanding why his Aylmer co-councillors voted against the plan, Duggan noted that Aylmer and Lucerne are the westernmost districts in the city – thus necessitating more reliable transportation infrastructure. “If you look at a map you can see why,” Duggan said. “The transportation infrastructure affects them more … The further west you go, the harder it is to get to the center in the morning.”
He added that the Société de Transport de l’Outaouais’ (STO) tramway project is still years away and that the sector’s issues won’t be solved without a direct solution. “It’s going to take a while for that sort of infrastructure to get built,” Duggan said. “The STO could start running buses tomorrow on Allumettières and really that would help a lot.”
Duggan proposed to limit the height of isolated residential buildings of a maximum of 24 units along boulevard des Allumettières and chemin Vanier to four floors, instead of three. He added that reductions in projected density in Old Aylmer has been compensated with augmentations in the Deschênes district along boulevard des Allumettières. Lac-Beauchamp district councillor Jean-François Leblanc said he wasn’t impressed with the city’s consultation process, dubbing it a one-way street. Marquis-Bissonnette strongly disagreed with Leblanc’s comments regarding the consultation process.
She noted that the city hosted an event for east-end residents in June that had 95 participants, events in Gatineau and Buckingham-Masson Angers in March that saw 79 and 24 participants respectively, and two online ones in April and June that involved 340 and 146 participants respectively.
Adding that the city’s webpage on urban planning and zoning regulations saw more than 14,000 visits between February and June, she said local developers and urbanists were also consulted throughout the process. She added that related documents were published on the city’s website in early March, and that the city gave residents many opportunities to provide input.
One last consultation
Stating that it won’t be the last time that Gatineau sees its Zoning Bylaw changed, Bélanger clarified that the plan’s formal process is complete. In virtue of the provincial law on development and urbanism, the next step involves a final written consultation for residents.
Taking place virtually from October 25 to November 10, the population is invited to submit comments regarding the revised Urban Plan to reglements-ville@Gatineau.ca or by mail. Updated documents regarding the new Urban Plan and zoning regulations are available on the city’s website. Presented to the Comité consultatif d’urbanisme (CCU) on August 31, it was noted that the plan received a favourable recommendation from the CDTHE. The final version of the plan should be adopted during the Municipal council meeting on November 17.