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Municipal input on coordinated review - Clarity needed

May 27, 2015
By Edward LaRusic

Municipalities across the Greater Golden Horseshoe are asking the province to improve clarity among its different land use planning policies that impact the region and the viability of the agricultural industry.

With public consultation on the Greenbelt Act, Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act and Niagara Escarpment Plan wrapping up Thursday, municipalities are getting their formal comments submitted.

While municipalities have suggested a diverse range of recommendations, some consistent issues have been raised, such as a lack of clarity among the relationship and hierarchy of plans and a need to adapt to current agricultural industry conditions.

Several municipalities have called on the province to combine the Greenbelt Act, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act and Niagara Escarpment Plan to reduce conflicts between the three plans.

Halton Area Planning Partnership, comprising the region and Oakville, Burlington, Oakville, Milton and Halton Hills, recommends the three plans be harmonized and when warranted, consolidated with other provincial plans that address land use planning, including the Big Move. Brampton suggests the Big Move review be completed prior to the final stage of the coordinated review to better integrate these plans.

Durham Region suggests the province create an information brochure that identifies the hierarchy of different planning policies and the roles of the various levels of government in each. It has also asks that definitions, designations, policies, technical guides and overarching policy objectives in the plans be aligned.

One area of confusion is the Growth Plan’s density targets. Municipalities are unclear as to when density requirements should be met-whether it’s by 2031 or when full build-out has been achieved.

Several municipalities raise concerns about conflicts between natural heritage preservation and agricultural practices and asked the province to introduce policies that identify a clear order of priority to balance these goals.

There are concerns about the impact the plans have had on the agriculture sector. Municipalities would like to see the plans amended to reflect the agricultural definitions and permitted uses allowed under the 2014 Provincial Policy Statement.

Some municipalities suggest the plans have not done enough to protect agriculture and feel updated policies should allow broader agricultural supportive uses. Submissions indicated that under the current agricultural restrictions farmers are unable to respond to changes in the industry as necessary.

Durham Region suggests the plans should allow for larger stand-alone agriculturally supportive uses in prime agricultural areas where there is a strong demand and clear economic benefit.

King’s submission says the province needs to “provide municipalities the opportunity to better balance environmental protection with the importance of agricultural viability.” Its submission says expanding permitted uses in the rural area would allow for the development of the rural economy.

Several municipalities also ask the province allow for more flexibility in the protected countryside to allow municipalities to permit expanded cultural, recreational and tourism uses and necessary community facilities.

Municipalities also call on the province to consider challenges associated with climate change.

Brampton asks that the plans more strongly address planning for resilient communities and suggests municipalities be required to complete risk assessments and resilience plans.

To address future environmental concerns there are calls for the province to update its watershed policies in the Oak Ridges Moraine and to require municipalities to update tree preservation by-laws.

A number of municipalities suggest the province needs to introduce new funding models and financial tools to encourage investment in new and aging infrastructure.

One of several municipalities asking for a review of planning tools and funding mechanisms to better support intensification Mississauga’s report says “the planning and financial regime that exists works well in obtaining community infrastructure in greenfield situations, but not for intensification within developed areas.”

Municipalities also ask the province to review what planning policies are appealable to the Ontario Municipal Board. Caledon asks the province to restrict the right of appeal on conformity exercises, while Mississauga wants appeals limited to official plan policies that conform to Growth Plan policies.

Overall municipalities are supportive of the four plans, though several indicated the province should use the review as an opportunity to review and refine.

These comments come from submissions responding to the first phase of the review. The province’s advisory panel, led by former Toronto mayor David Crombie, is expected to deliver a report with recommendations on how to amend and improve the four plans by September 1, 2015.

The timeline for the second phase of the review, which will include further consultation on proposed amendments, has not been released. Several municipalities have asked that the second phase be longer to allow for a more in-depth consultation process.