News / Ottawa

Greening up the 'burbs: Ottawa hoping for more trees in new developments

The city has announced new guidelines that ease some restrictions that date back to 2005.

Suburban streets without any trees were an unintended consequence of a 2005 policy that strictly limited what types could be planted and where.

City of Ottawa

Suburban streets without any trees were an unintended consequence of a 2005 policy that strictly limited what types could be planted and where.

The city has put in place new guidelines for planting trees in new suburb developments that sit on top of sensitive marine clay soils. 

The guidelines will ease slightly restrictions that date back to the 2005 Clay Soils Policy, which mandated that city-planted trees required a setback from the house that was equal to the height of the tree. That policy, however, led to many new subdivisions being built with only four types of small trees: Amur Maple, Serviceberry, Crab Apple, and Japanese Lilac trees. Some streets were even built with no trees at all. 

“When we started building some of these new subdivisions after the new guidelines came into effect,” said Rob Pierce of the Greater Ottawa Home Builder’s Association. “We were shocked, as the developers, that we were able to build so few trees. […] Over the past 10 years, we’ve tried a couple times to work on these guidelines, with no success.”

Planner Peter Giles said that the update is based on the latest science regarding planting trees on marine clay soils.

The new guidelines don’t totally repeal the 2005 rules, but they do make it easier for the city—who are responsible for trees at the very front of the lot, nearest to the sidewalk—to plant bigger trees which provide a better canopy. 

Some conditions still need to be met: the clay has to be below a certain threshold of plasticity, and there still needs to be at least 4.5 metres between the foundation of a home and the tree. 

Practically, the biggest difference will come in the type of trees that can be planted in new subdivisions. Developers will now be able to plant more medium size trees, like Ginko or Honey Locust trees, that provide a more fulsome canopy, provide more shade, and simply look better. 

“When you think of the older neighbourhoods in Ottawa, in Centretown, you see the majestic trees that touch in the middle of the street,” said Alain Miguelez, program manager of community planning. “They give you that look of stateliness. We’re going to get much closer to that in the ‘burbs.”

“I hated the vision that we had. Just imagine if the biggest thing you get is a crab apple, if you get anything at all,” said Coun. Jan Harder, speaking about the decision to put in place stringent guidelines in 2005.

For subdivisions which have already been built with few trees, no immediate relief is coming. The city is, however, looking at a program that would help correct that problem on tree-deficient streets, but planner Peter Giles said that it would not be in place until the next term of council.

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