Corp Comm Connects

New cemetery strategy urged for York Region growth pressure

March 16, 2016
Geordie Gordon

On paper, York Region has the necessary land capacity to meet its cemetery needs to 2041.

However, given non-resident demand for land, the geographical distribution of potential burial sites and the lengthy time horizon required for planning, the region needs to implement a comprehensive approach to plan for cemeteries, according to a needs analysis study. The report, conducted by a consultant for the region, was presented to the committee of the whole on March 10.

York Region policy and environment manager Sandra Malcic told NRU that the impetus for the needs analysis study arose when staff analyzed appeals to the York Region Official Plan, 2010. A policy that permits cemetery uses in rural areas of the Greenbelt Plan is the only remaining region-wide appeal of the official plan.

“Staff felt that the needs analysis could provide some information that was pretty integral to resolving that appeal, and to avoid potential future appeals,” she said.

According to a staff report, cemetery industry representatives as well as those appealing the official plan policy have expressed concern that York Region will require additional cemetery lands. Malcic said the current policy only allows the construction of cemeteries on rural lands, restricting the ability to plan for and develop sites in the region.

“Industry representatives have indicated to staff that the region is in need of additional cemetery uses, and that the existing policy context makes it difficult to either site or expand a cemetery,” Malcic said.

The needs analysis, conducted for the region by LEES + Associates, is intended to clarify what is the actual need for cemetery land and to provide guidance for a future policy framework governing the development of cemetery lands.

According to the analysis, York Region has enough land to meet its burial needs to 2041, with 59 active cemeteries and 719 acres of total capacity. An estimated 214 acres of the total capacity would be used by 2041, based on a projection of 232,000 deaths over the next 25 years and the number of those expected to be interred.

However, at stakeholder consultation meetings, the consultants heard that several factors could influence the availability of cemetery land, such as demand from other regions, the planning horizon of 2041 contemplated by the regional official plan and the geographic distribution of cemeteries in the region.

Malcic said cemetery planning requires a planning time horizon beyond 2041, as acknowledged by the study. However, the region interprets the Provincial Policy Statement as barring the region from making lands available beyond 2041. Cemetery planning may need to be carried out with a time horizon of 100 years or more, according to the needs analysis. 

“We will definitely work with the province as we develop... detailed policies to go into the [Regional Official Plan]...but right now we see it see it still as a bit of a conflict that we can’t really get around with current provincial policy,” Malcic said.

York Region is considering the recommendations made in the needs analysis report as part of an update to the Official Plan. Malcic said that staff hope to get direction from council at its meeting on March 24 on using the study to guide the development of official plan policy.