Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he fully supports allowing the Algonquins of Ontario to develop a community in Ottawa's rural south-east, calling it an "innovative" step toward reconciliation with First Nations.
In an unexpected move Tuesday, a joint committee of councillors voted to allocate 445 hectares of the city's planned urban expansion to the project, even though the area, near Amazon's massive distribution centre, is nowhere near existing city infrastructure or transit.
"I think if we're serious about reconciliation, we have to take our words ... and put those words into action," Watson said Wednesday after chairing a council meeting during which he recognized being on unceded Algonquin territory while an Algonquin elder offered a blessing.
"One of the ways we can do that is to allow the First Nations to develop a community, by their people, to create some economic opportunity," he said.
The Algonquins of Ontario, an umbrella group that's negotiating a vast land claim and includes one federally recognized First Nation, the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, have been working in recent months with developers Taggart on a future community of 45,000 residents they call Tewin.
The city's planning and engineering staff had said the project needed far more study over the coming years because of its clay-heavy soil and distance from city infrastructure including pipes, roads and transit.
After months spent scoring dozens of rural properties on such criteria, staff recommended against including the land within the area available for development.
'Very solid' proposal
Watson argued that planners and politicians often have "differences of opinion" when it comes to determining which lands should be urbanized, noting such determinations are "not an exact science."
"I know we have a point and a rating system, but I think at times you have to be flexible to recognize that when a proposal like this comes forward and it's the first of its kind, that we should take it seriously and look at its merits," he said.
Some companies that won't get to develop land as a result of Tuesday's decision called the move unprecedented.
In a joint statement, Claridge, Minto, EQ Homes, and Uniform Developments claimed politics had taken over the agreed-upon scoring process, because a parcel that had scored poorly is getting the green light while other, higher-scoring parcels did not.
Watson said he's aware some developers are unhappy, but continued to praise the proposal.
"I think this is a very good proposal, very solid," he said of the Algonquins of Ontario vision.
With Watson's support, the revised urban expansion plan will likely get the approval of city council on Feb.10.