Much-anticipated Crombie report delivers 87 recommendations, urges Province to invest in transit and high-density housing.
Ontario most focus its growth towards the creation of complete communities within the 800,000 hectares of
greenbelt in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, according to a special report presented to Queen’s Park.
Led by former Toronto mayor David Crombie, the panel convened by Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne urged her government to accommodate the 4.5 million more people expected to move to southern Ontario by 2041 by investing in transit and high-density housing. Sprawl from suburban housing developments would be curbed, transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions reduced and prime agricultural farmland protected, they argued.
The Greater Golden Horseshoe as a regional area for planning and development is an immense geographic space, Crombie told reporters at Queen’s Park. Two thirds of Ontario’s 13 million people reside in the area that generates 70 per cent of the province’s gross domestic product. The anticipated creation of 1.8 million jobs by 2041 makes getting this right critical.
Crombie is on a panel of six experts from farm organizations to municipalities, which began their 10-year review of the Greenbelt Act in February 2015. Since the Greenbelt Act is closely tied to plans for the Niagara Escarpment and Oak Ridges Moraine, in addition to the Growth Plan (and almost 20 other pieces of complementary legislation), Crombie’s panel was asked to review all four plans and make suggestions for improvement and reducing overlap.
After 10 months of meetings, 17 town halls that attracted 3,000 plus participants and over 19,000 submissions from municipalities, industry, non-profits and others, the Crombie report was finally released.
The report includes 87 recommendations that all panel members agreed to. These recommendations are wrapped around eight themes that the government was encouraged to use when plotting out future strategic directions.
- Growing the greenbelt
- Building complete communities
- Curtailing urban sprawl
- Supporting agriculture
- Natural heritage protection
- Climate change mitigation
“All of these themes, of course, are arbitrarily divided because they’re all connected,” Crombie stressed. “One rule that should never be forgotten is that they stand not in isolation. Everything is connected to everything else. It’s the law of life.”
Highlights of the recommendations include a plan to expand the Greenbelt; that all new development within existing urban areas work toward creating complete communities; reduce the pace of urban expansion; limit the conversion and fragmentation of farmland; require upper and single-tier municipalities to incorporate climate change mitigation and adaptation policies into their official plans; and boost intensification targets for housing.
“From Mr. Crombie’s perspective, intensification is not a dirty word. It is acknowledgment that we cannot create more land,” said Burkhard Mausberg, CEO of Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation. With millions expected to move to the area by 2041, the panel’s recommendations recognize a collective need for more livable communities, achieved when growth is aligned with better infrastructure and transit planning.
Achieving Consensus Amid ‘Major Conflicts’
Lest anyone think intensification or other conceivably contentious recommendations were watered down in an attempt to reach consensus, that’s not the case. Crombie stressed that finding common ground between disparate interests didn’t stop the panel from getting to the truth as they saw it. “There are major conflicts possible between land use for land developers who build residential, for example, and farmers and naturalists,” Crombie said. “They all have a different order of view of what ought to happen to the terrain.”
But people will buy into the idea of complete communities—transit dominated, high-density towns and cities with mixed-use residential and commercial properties near farmland—if governments and developers create them in a coordinated way. “You have to see these things as a whole,” Crombie said. And while there may not be consensus, “there is an attempt from people to do the best they can with what they see in front of them.”
Many diverse groups were pleased with Crombie’s recommendations. “The panel’s call for greater urban densities that limit sprawl and enable better transit is a clear, smart solution,” said Tim Gray, Executive Director of Environmental Defence on behalf of the 117-member Ontario Greenbelt Alliance. The stage is now set for Ontario “to clarify to communities that land cannot be removed from the Greenbelt to ensure sprawl is slowed and stopped.”
The Ontario Home Builders’ Association wanted to make sure the future Growth Plan would “connect all the dots” to ensure a good quality of life for new and existing residents of the Greater Golden Horseshoe, said OHBA head Joe Vaccaro. “We need to have a workable plan in place to make sure new communities are built where infrastructure and zoning can accommodate them.”
In particular, the Home Builders’ want the province to boost transit investment while addressing barriers to intensification that exist in outdated zoning maps, community improvement plans and permit systems.
Crombie ‘Hopeful’ Report Won’t Collect Dust
Crombie is hopeful the review will do more than collect dust at Queen’s Park. He pointed to the government’s ongoing engagement throughout the review process as evidence that Wynne will take the matter seriously. Besides—too many community and stakeholder groups want these changes to happen to allow the Liberals to sit on their hands, Crombie said.
Ted McMeekin agreed. The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing told Crombie “you’ve given us a lot to think about.” The Minister also told reporters the government will consult with municipalities and stakeholders in the months ahead before submitting a final suite of policy recommendations to the Premier, likely in Spring 2016.
“I’m confident that most of what’s in the report will be implemented,” McMeekin said. “This report will guide us strongly as we move forward aggressively.”
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