The Ontario government announced changes for land-use plans in the Greater Golden Horseshoe last month.
This article is brought to you by Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation
Creating complete communities where people can live with easy access to services, jobs, shops, and green space is a complex process. Municipalities need to consider the environment, including land and water, the interests of developers, and the concerns of people who want comfortable places to live. The province of Ontario has four land-use plans that determine whether land around Toronto and across the Greater Golden Horseshoe can be developed or should be protected: The Growth Plan, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, and the Niagara Escarpment Plan. The Golden Horseshoe region is home to more than 25 per cent of Canada’s population and is expected to grow from 9 million residents today to 13.5 million residents by 2041. This expected growth means that we need to think ahead and plan early to create complete communities. Rather than having suburban communities be residential-only, with people trapped in cars commuting to the city and back every day, the Greater Golden Horseshoe can grow and build communities where everyone can live, work, and play. After more than two years of consultation and review, the province announced amendments to four land-use plans May 18.
These plans have to be reviewed every 10 years, which means each review is an opportunity to see what’s working, and to make changes that will create livable communities for years to come. The amendments the province announced last month demonstrate the government’s commitment to progressive changes that will help ensure a sustainable future of smart growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe by protecting green spaces and farmland while limiting sprawl. Some of these amendments were first proposed by an advisory panel led by former Toronto mayor David Crombie in December 2015. On May 18, Bill Mauro, the minister of municipal affairs, stood with Crombie, to announce the amendments to the plans. In the province’s press release on the announcement, Crombie is quoted saying, “These plans provide a framework for future growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. I congratulate the government for the work it has done. These changes will help curb sprawl, encourage the development of more complete communities, support more productive agriculture and put the region on a course to more sustainable growth.”
In a statement May 18, the CEO of the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, Burkhard Mausberg, applauded the province’s amendments, saying, “The changes announced to the Growth Plan to shift the majority of growth to already built-up areas are a welcome change that will create walkable, transit oriented communities and increase housing affordability by introducing meaningful housing choices for all ages and life stages.” The new Growth Plan will come into effect on July 1 and will replace the 2006 version of the plan.
We’ve made a report card for the province on some of the key amendments to the plans to see if they have committed to a truly progressive changes that will allow this region to sustainably grow.
Before the amendments, the 2006 Growth Plan called for 40 per cent of residential development directed to areas that are already built up. The province has increased this to 60 per cent for developments going forward. This change will help limit sprawl and according to polling done by Environmental Defence and the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, almost nine in 10 Ontarians believe that local governments should direct new growth to developed areas.
Density in Greenfield Areas
Greenfield areas are designated lands that aren’t currently urbanized but are designated for urban development. Before the amendments, the goal was 50 residents and jobs per hectare in these areas. Now, the goal is 80 residents and jobs for areas newly designated as greenfield. It makes sense to develop close to existing infrastructure and increased density could mean mid-rise development, which will use up less of our green space and leave more of our agricultural land untouched.
Growing the Greenbelt
The province added 21 urban river valleys and seven coastal wetlands in the Greater Golden Horseshoe to the Greenbelt. The Greenbelt is a visionary piece of legislation that protects our important ecosystems and water from development. The plan is also adding five new parcels of land suggested by the City of Hamilton, the Region of Niagara, and the Town of Halton Hills. The province is planning to add a process, which will include public consultation, to explore protecting vital hydrological features in and around the Greater Golden Horseshoe and potentially adding more land to the Greenbelt to protect our water supply.
Protecting the Greenbelt
The province didn’t agree to the requests of some developers to remove land from the Greenbelt. “We are pleased the government will grow the Greenbelt, not turn it into a Swiss cheese belt by agreeing to the over 700 requests to remove land from its protection,” the press release from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation said May 18. Committing to real protections for green spaces in the Greater Golden Horseshoe will ensure the long term health of the region’s agriculture, ecology, and people.
There has been very little pushback against the amendments and thus far the conversation has been positive. In a statement, Joe Vaccaro, CEO of the Ontario Homebuilders Association, said the new plan would not help people hoping to break into the housing market. “This new growth plan will not alleviate either the housing supply crunch of escalating housing prices, however we believe that new interim targets and the recognition by the province for needed local flexibility will provide a smoother transition,” he was quoted as saying. Some organizations and analysts have raised concerns about the implementation of the plan, including Tim Gray, the executive director of Environmental Defence. In a statement released by the Greenbelt Alliance he was quoted saying, “The success of [the Growth Plan and the Greenbelt Plan] really comes down to implementation. It’s clear that civil society, municipalities and the development industry all have a role to play in designing and delivering complete communities of the future. Strong leadership by the province on monitoring, education and oversight will be critical.”
The province has committed to a bold plan to create sustainable growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe with the Growth Plan—while protecting our natural features and our local food supply through the Greenbelt—ensuring that we are a balanced region with places to live, work, and play.