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Vaughan sends its decisions on 30 employment land conversion requests to region

The process is 'overwhelming:' councillors
May 27, 2020
Dina Al-Shibeeb

As Ontario pushes to protect employment land to guarantee future investment and growth in the province, Vaughan councillors cast their vote on May 20 on 30 requests on whether to convert parcels of land into residential and mixed use in a process dubbed as “overwhelming.”

Before voting during the virtual council meeting, Vaughan councillors had to see staff recommendations and their analysis per each request to facilitate a more informed decision. But then again, all of these requests were received from York Region and needed to go back to it for final processing.

Out of the 71 requests received by York Region, it’s Vaughan who took the lion’s share at 30. This isn’t surprising given that Vaughan has the most manufacturing jobs in York Region in 2019.

“Out of the 30 conversion requests evaluated, staff identified three requests that do not require an employment conversion,” City of Vaughan stated in an overall summary of the council’s final decision. “Of the remaining 27 requests evaluated, staff recommended support for five requests and did not recommend support for 22 requests.”

After the meeting, Ward 1 Coun. Marilyn Iafrate told York Region Media that, “There was a lot of pressure because we (Vaughan) have the largest inventory of employment land so it only makes sense to have the largest number of requests.”

“It was overwhelming,” Iafrate added. The councillor, who didn’t approve one request asking to convert an employment land into residential “right up to the 400 series highway,” is also puzzled over “why they made us go through this process” if York Region is “the ultimate authority anyways.”

“We spent a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of everybody's efforts, even the development community going back and forth,” she said, adding how there was “no fees paid by anyone.”

Vaughan’s staff had reviewed each request “one by one,” she said.

“They (developers) should be paying for it because planning is supposed to pay for itself, not the taxpayers. And then, you know, my issue was, we have residents asking for studies, reports and reviews by staff, and often we say, well, we can't do that because it's not part of the process.

And, you know, where's the money going to come from? We found the ability to do it for the development community.”

However, according to the City of Vaughan, “Conversion requests are considered during Municipal Comprehensive Reviews (MCRs), which occur every five to 10 years ... Some have been requested in previous MCRs, while many have been received since the latest MCR process began.”

Also, there are a number of steps currently taking place to decide the fate of many parcels of land everywhere in Ontario.

Regional lands are being assessed with the new provincial methodology to finally have a comprehensive analysis of the supply of residential and employment lands, the anticipated 2042 population and job forecasts, and most importantly the region’s growth plan will now require municipalities to designate employment plants through MCR, hence Vaughan’s involvement.

During the meeting, Ward 4 Coun. Sandra Yeung Racco said it’s “premature” to decide since there is a “land supply land forecast” coming from the province.

However, Racco, who represents north Concord/Thornhill in Vaughan, had to make some decisions.

She approved three requests since they are “along a major transit corridor, the Viva Transit and situated just east of the VMC subway and west of the proposed Concord GO station.”

“The requests that I was in support of, (though I) can’t speak for my colleagues, are ones that I felt would make sense as major transit infrastructures have been invested along those areas or is being considered for new transit infrastructure investments,” Racco told York Region Media.

When asking Racco about what’s the most sought after land conversion, she explained that’s “a hard question to answer because if you ask each of the landowners that submitted their requests, they will say that theirs is the most sought after land.”

“Frankly in my opinion, any of the requests that are fronting onto major transit infrastructures within prime locations and that will help improve the area and add to the required employment numbers should be considered,” she added. “But then I’m not a planner nor an engineer. I base my opinions on my knowledge on the layout of the lands within my ward.”