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City Planning and COVID-19: How GTA Municipalities Are Engaging the Public Digitally
May 11, 2020
Marc Mitanis

COVID-19 has affected every facet of public life, and municipal governments are adapting by changing the way they provide services. The normally busy City Planning divisions of municipalities within the Greater Toronto Area have suspended or limited their services, but many have made the move online to continue engagement with the public. E-consultations and virtual meetings have replaced traditional, physical public engagement sessions, providing the same pertinent information in a new and unique forum.

The City of Toronto is conducting limited reviews of planning applications received on or before March 16, and prioritizing the review of applications that have been given Council approval and are proceeding through final technical clearances. The Planning Division has set up a working group to expand its e-consultation capabilities to keep residents informed about planning issues in their community. The first virtual meeting of the Design Review Panel took place on May 5th. The meeting was recorded and shared on request.

A full online information session hosted by Mayor John Tory and Councillor Gary Crawford will be held on May 13th on the updated development concept for the Housing Now site at 705 Warden Avenue. Interested participants are invited to review the project materials before the meeting and either join online or by phone. This follows the first-ever virtual City Council meeting, which was held on April 30.

Online application functionality for building permits and site plan applications remain active in the City of Mississauga, where development applications are submitted via the ePlans portal. Applicants seeking rezoning and Official Plan Amendments are asked to contact the Planning Services Centre. The City is hosting virtual City Council meetings every Wednesday, with select committees also continuing digitally. The Planning and Development Committee will be meeting on June 1st, although agenda items requiring public participation will be deferred until further notice.

In Brampton, applications are being uploaded digitally through a dedicated FTP site. Council meetings are being streamed online, but Committee meetings have been cancelled until further notice. The City of Markham is similarly streaming Council and Committee meetings, although Committee of Adjustment meetings have been cancelled in the interim. Planning and permit applications are still being accepted through Markham's ePlan portal.

In Vaughan, live-streamed Council meetings are continuing to move business forward, and Committee of Adjustment activities will resume virtually on May 28th. The City held its first virtual Growth Management Committee and Design Review Panel meetings on April 30th. Staff are also exploring other options for online public engagement approaches during the pandemic. The City is continuing to receive and process development applications via electronic submissions. The City of Vaughan also launched a new online permit portal on May 6th, allowing citizens and building industry professionals to apply, track and pay for permits online.

The City of Richmond Hill is live streaming Council meetings and has scheduled a public meeting for May 20th seeking input on a number of development applications. City offices are closed to the public until May 31st, but staff continue to review applications and accept planning and building permit applications through courier.

Further afield, the City of Burlington conducted its monthly meeting of the Urban Design Panel virtually, with Council meetings being conducted online and Committee sessions set to resume this month. The Town of Milton is accepting and processing electronic submissions of development applications while Council and Committee meetings are hosted virtually.

The Town of Newmarket continues to accept and review development applications through digital files and remote access to municipal servers, despite a suspension of Council and Committee meetings until August. Although government offices are closed, the Town of Aurora continues to receive and process new development applications, and Council and Committee meetings are being live streamed. Since May 4th, the Town of Oakville has accepted development applications and building permits online, and Council meetings are being hosted digitally.