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Bur oaks thriving on NW Avenue; so is infill development

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

NW oak 2014

In September 2012, on National Tree Day, the Champlain Oaks and about 70 students from St. George’s Catholic School planted two bur oak saplings on Northwestern Ave.

Today, both trees are thriving, despite a rocky start to life in this location. Just a month after they were planted, the median on NW was dug up to install services for a new double–one of the many infill developments that tower over other buildings along the only boulevard in Champlain Park.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the new housing on NW tends to be massive. When planners and community groups talk about “massing,” here’s what they mean.

in progress

Because the City of Ottawa places no limit on building height in the R2 (doubles) zone, new doubles can tower over nearby homes.

This double is being built at the north end of NW Avenue. I took the photograph from the footpath on NCC land. An elderly couple occupies the bungalow that is being dwarfed by the new structure.

Because Committee of Adjustment regularly agrees to variances that are anything but minor, my concern is that too many infill development have footprints that occupy the entire lot. Who benefits? Those in search of profit. The people who eventually buy new homes like these may find themselves saddled with nothing but expense and chagrin when the large tree in their yard that appears healthy becomes a liability. If it was damaged significantly during construction, it will represent an expense and a loss when it dies four or six or eight years later.

Along the southern part of NW Avenue, this existing double also towers over its neighbours on both sides. Homes with backyards on Carleton Ave. are also affected.

existing double

The reality of large-scale development permeates the neighbourhood.

Planting saplings may be like holding a candle aloft against a raging wind. Even so, the Champlain Oaks project is committed to planting new bur oaks–and other species of native trees common to the neighbourhood–on public land at public events like National Tree Day.

Where room exists on any remaining greenspace of an infill development, we can provide people living in the house with bur oak saplings. This will encourage a move away from the planting of shrubs and small trees. By planting a tree that has the potential to live for 250 or 300 years, new homeowners will be investing in the future of trees  in our urban forest in a way that a shrub cannot. --Debra Huron

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