One day after it appeared the Algonquins of Ontario would be left out entirely from the City of Ottawa's plans to expand its urban areas, city councillors voted to allot 445 hectares to the group.
The move would effectively launch a whole new outlying community of 45,000 near the Amazon warehouse, which the Algonquin and their developer partner, Taggart Group of Companies, call "Tewin."
City staff had determined the parcel was far away and scored so poorly it shouldn't even be considered for bringing inside the urban boundary. Staff had produced a map that would grow the city by way of small parcels at the fringes of existing suburbs and services.
After Tuesday's vote, however, the Algonquins of Ontario are now poised to shepherd more than a third of the total 1,281 hectares city council intends to add for future development.
Time for Tewin
Councillors on the planning and agricultural affairs committees were attracted to the idea of creating an entirely new, sustainable community from scratch — an area twice the size of Blackburn Hamlet, to start.
Even more important, they said, was to show their commitment to reconciliation with the Algonquin.
The Algonquins of Ontario have bought up parcels in that area southwest of Boundary Road and Highway 417 at fair market value from the Ontario government as they've been given right of first refusal. The process is separate from their longtime land claim negotiations, which are nearly completed.
In a presentation to councillors Monday, the Algonquins of Ontario said it needed 500 hectares to build a sustainable community of homes that aligned with Algonquin values and included a significant natural area. The Algonquins of Ontario said it waited long enough.
By Tuesday, councillors tabled motions and a dramatic shift began to bring Tewin inside the urban boundary.
Coun. Eli El-Chantiry won the vote to take 175 hectares of land that had scored well in the South March area, and redirected them to Tewin.
Coun. Tim Tierney, meanwhile, convinced colleagues to allocate 270 hectares to Tewin now, instead of doing more study for five years.
Developers decry politics over process
Several councillors expressed concerns about the site, and Catherine McKenney didn't see how councillors had the information they needed to make such a big decision.
Staff had advised marine clay soil conditions might prevent building anything higher than four storeys, which could make construction at Tewin costly and could prevent dense neighbourhoods the city wants.
Tewin received a score of zero for servicing because no water pipes are nearby.
Developers in the South March area were dismayed to have their lands suddenly set aside.
"It is incredibly surprising that in an unprecedented move that politics has taken over a prescribed scoring process and months of work by city staff and included a parcel of land with a zero score on servicing," said Claridge Homes, eQ Homes, Uniform Developments, Multivesco and Minto in a statement.
"The joint committee has taken a step backwards in their supposed step into the future with a new official plan."
No one from the Algonquins of Ontario was available to comment immediately after the decision.
Riverside South farmland to be urbanized
In a separate decision, city councillors also approved letting in a large farm parcel near Riverside South, despite having voted last May to not allow future development on any agricultural land.
The area's councillor, Carol Anne Meehan, succeeded in swapping a piece of land further south for the Urbandale property north of Rideau River Road.
Not developing that Urbandale property would leave a big field between two new O-Train stations where the city wants people living close to transit, she argued.
Coun. Scott Moffatt countered that transit should not trump agriculture, and nothing in the area had changed since council gave its word last spring to protect farmland.
The urban boundary report, with its many major changes, rises to city council on Feb. 10 for a final decision.