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Tewin community has been mapped, and affected residents are skeptical

City of Ottawa staff have set out a large area that will form a whole new community

Rural residents who live smack in the middle of what's slated to become Ottawa's next suburb remain perplexed as to why their area was pegged for urban development, and don't see how thousands of new homes can be built on the soil around them.

City staff have now identified the area that will form the suburb to be called Tewin after they met monthly with the Algonquins of Ontario — a treaty-negotiating body that includes Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation — and their partner Taggart Investments.

The map and new urban boundary will form part of the new official plan, which is set to be approved by city council at the end of October.

After a pivotal council vote last winter, city staff were told to select the land for Tewin that measures about 445 hectares from a vast area in the rural southeast end.

Politicians decided to allocate the Algonquins of Ontario about a third of the overall 1,281-hectare urban expansion so it could embark on a vision for a sustainable community, but Quebec-based Algonquin chiefs argued this decision could not be defined as reconciliation, as politicians had believed. City staff also scored the area poorly.

The area, which stretches between Leitrim and Thunder roads and hugs Anderson Road, was found to be most suitable, according to the city's director of long-term planning Don Herweyer.

He told CBC News the area has the fewest environmental constraints, it sits near Highway 417, and could be serviced.

Shifting foundations

Piperville Road crosses the middle of Tewin's proposed area like a belt, and those who live along the country road talk of little else but the plan for up to 45,000 new residents all around them.

Monica and John Brewer were shocked by the "brash" and "sudden" decision to choose their area because they have to travel far for groceries, live amid natural wetlands and on soil that shifts, and just recently got their first bus route.

Monica's family has lived in the area since the 1970s and built homes there, and she says the Leda clay underneath poses problems. Neighbours have spent tens of thousands to repair foundations.

There's going to be ongoing costs that are not going to be covered. ... We know these things are promised and then they're not delivered​.- Monica Brewer, rural resident

"I'd like some pretty fancy engineers to tell me, and convince me ... [how] a five-storey walk-up condo [is] not going to shift?" John added, referring to denser buildings required in a more sustainable new community.

Their neighbours, Kelly and Shannon McInnis, live in a newer home that had 2.4-metre-thick Styrofoam pieces installed along its foundation so the home would not shift.

Studies to come

The Algonquins of Ontario have said a team of experienced engineers confirm the area can be developed despite concerns raised at last winter's council meeting, including questions about soil conditions and earthquake risk.

Finding answers to such big questions requires more than the seven months since February's meeting, Herweyer says, but staff have come up with a long to-do list of detailed studies for council to adopt, which Tewin land owners would pay for.

The cost of taking infrastructure so far out is another big concern.

Officials from Ontario's Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing have said Tewin appeared very far from light-rail transit stations, and recommended the city ensure urban expansion follows provincial planning policies that require infrastructure be cost-effective.

City staff have now drafted a deal to sign with Tewin land owners to ensure "Tewin pays for Tewin" and new homes could cover costs through an extra development charge.

CBC News calculated the city has actually mapped about 800 hectares for Tewin, but Herweyer said that includes areas that aren't developable and only the 445 hectares approved by council will ultimately be built. The exact boundaries of Tewin also still need to be "refined" even after the official plan is approved, Herweyer said.

He also noted city council will have four or five more "touch points" before the land is developed.

"This is establishing the baseline and the principles of Tewin," said Herweyer.

Doubts about future costs

Some Piperville Road residents say they're frustrated neither the city nor their councillor, Catherine Kitts, has informed or consulted them about the big plans for their area.

Kitts, who voted in favour of Tewin, said resident feedback has been mixed, but she was drawn by the idea of building a transit-oriented, 15-minute community with none of the problems of past suburban design.

"We're going to have to make sure the proof is in the pudding, and ask these difficult questions," said Kitts, who wants staff to assure councillors Tewin is viable and taxpayers will be protected.

Some of her constituents don't think the city will be insulated from financial risk.

"We're 60 years old. We're not children. We know these things are promised and then they're not delivered," said Monica Brewer.

"It's like when I get the phone call saying I've won a cruise. I don't believe it," Kelly McInnis agreed.

McInnis called last winter's city council meeting on Tewin a "political grandstand," during which politicians veered from the agreed process for choosing urban boundary parcels. He felt they should have listened to their own staff, who gave the Tewin lands a poor score.

"I have faith that potentially the provincial government, who has to green-light it, will sort of see the forest for the trees," he said.

AUTHOR: Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa.

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