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Provincial orders fast-tracking development bypass Toronto conservation authority, raising flood risks

Toronto and Region Conservation Authority says minister’s zoning orders are being approved without guidance on flooding risk, or environmental impacts.
March 1, 2022
Noor Javed

Special provincial orders that fast-track development are leaving the Toronto and area conservation authority out of the loop, limiting its ability to assess flood risks and natural hazards for the developments in its jurisdiction.

In a report presented to its board of directors on Friday, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority staff said that 48 minister’s zoning orders, or MZOs, have been requested in its jurisdiction since 2020. Of those, 34 have been approved by the province -- up from 21 since July of last year -- and nine are still waiting approval.

The TRCA said it had not been consulted at all on at least 16 of those projects, meaning those lands have not been fully assessed for the possibility of natural hazards such as flooding, or if developments will encroach on environmentally significant natural features such as wetlands and tributaries.

“MZOs approved on a site-by-site basis ... limit opportunities to effectively protect, avoid and mitigate impacts to natural heritage features, flooding, erosion and to determine the type and location of stormwater controls,” the report said.

MZOs allow the Minister of Municipal Affairs Steve Clark to expedite zoning for development after a request has been made by the local council. The province says MZOs are a way to fast-track affordable housing, infrastructure projects, or long-term-care facilities.

But John MacKenzie, CEO of TRCA, says that without the authority’s input, “not all technical information has been prepared to ensure the downstream issues have been identified and potential impacts have been mitigated.”

He said approvals “granted by the province for major development outside of approved settlement areas without appropriate studies to justify and mitigate growth in these areas can create risk.”

The developments are also being approved without any guidance on how to prevent adverse impacts on adjacent properties or environmentally significant features nearby.

For example, certain MZO requests are proposing development in “flood vulnerable areas.” Yet, there is little thought being put into flood remediation studies, according to the report.

In its report, TRCA lists a number of MZO requests where it was not consulted, such as a housing development in Richmond Hill that sits atop a floodplain, valley lands and wetlands. Or a recent MZO request in Brampton on Dixie Road where TRCA staff said they were not consulted, but the project will require “flood remediation, stormwater management and ecological enhancement.”

Because the Toronto conservation authority is not being told about MZO requests or approvals by municipalities or the province, staff have to monitor sources of information such as council agendas or rely “on other landowners with concerns about co-ordinated development and MZO requests jumping the queue.”

The report says because of the complex and time-sensitive nature of MZOs, staff are forced to divert substantial senior staff time to track and respond to them.

MacKenzie said MZOs also act as disincentives for applicants to co-operate in completing routine studies that would typically be required in an development application.

MacKenzie said the TRCA continues to give its input to the municipalities and different provincial agencies.

Since Doug Ford came into power in 2018, his government has issued nearly 70 MZOs. It approved six MZOs in January, including ones in Toronto, Richmond Hill, Brampton and Innisfil.