In 2013, we started Smart Growth Waterloo Region to support the Region of Waterloo’s Official Plan and its smart growth policies against a disastrous decision of the Ontario Municipal Board.
After years of fighting to protect our plans to build more liveable urban areas and protect our farmland and environmentally sensitive areas, the Region of Waterloo was able to reach a deal with developers to protect smart growth, and a new Regional Official Plan is now in place.
We know that community support has been a crucial part of this victory for Waterloo Region. In the coming months, we will be asking members of our community to join us as we plan for what comes next, and the part that Smart Growth Waterloo Region should play in it.
Please take a moment to sign up for our very occasional email updates, so you won’t miss any crucial meetings or other opportunities to shape the upcoming changes to our organisation.
On October 5, the provincial government announced what communities across Ontario have been waiting for: a comprehensive review of the Ontario Municipal Board.
Over the last several years, our community learned firsthand about the problems with the Ontario Municipal Board. A dangerous 2013 ruling from the OMB against the Region of Waterloo’s official plan and the province’s Growth Plan forced the Region to appeal to divisional court. While the Region managed to negotiate a settlement that protected our community’s smart growth goals, no municipality should have its plans for smart growth threatened in this way. The Region’s OMB case made it clear to people across Waterloo Region that the OMB needs reform.
Fortunately, many of the province’s proposed changes seek to address the kinds of problems we’ve seen in Waterloo Region. The province has released a public consultation document that outlines problems they’ve identified, what they’ve done to date, and changes they’re considering. These include changes to improve public participation, support local decision-making, make things more predictable, and have fewer decisions go to the OMB.
It’s crucial that the province get these changes right. There are two main things that you can do to help:
- Attend a townhall meeting. The province has scheduled 12 townhall meetings as part of their review. The nearest is taking place in Guelph on November 1st, but of course you can attend whichever meeting works best for you. They’re asking attendees to RSVP.
- Submit your comments. Once you’ve taken a look at the proposals, you can submit your comments to the review by email at OMBReview@ontario.ca, or using the review’s online comment form. The deadline for comments is December 19, 2016.
Don’t miss this crucial opportunity to help make sure that the OMB is finally fixed for all Ontarians.
It’s time for Waterloo Region to be included in the Greenbelt. And we need your help to make it happen.
The provincial government is considering expanding the Greenbelt beyond the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area. Right now, they’re asking for comments on where it should go, as part of their land use planning review.
We need to make sure that Waterloo Region isn’t left out of the Greenbelt again. When the Greenbelt was originally created, the Region of Waterloo asked several times to be included. But our community has not received the protections that other communities got from the Greenbelt.
In response, our local leaders stepped up to fill in the gaps. They created the Protected Countryside, which is intended to permanently protect a large band of agricultural lands and environmental features to the south, west, and north of our major urban areas (marked with green dots):
Combined with the other policies of the Region’s 2015 Official Plan, the Protected Countryside is designed to ensure that we can build more liveable urban communities while protecting and supporting agriculture and our environment.
These local protections are important, impressive, and strong. But they are not yet as strong as they need to be. Under provincial planning rules, municipal governments are not allowed to make permanent plans. Any future regional government could make a rash change that threatens the lands that our community has decided to permanently protect.
Our local plans aren’t permanent, but the Greenbelt is. Overlaying the Greenbelt on our Protected Countryside would provide a second layer of protection. Because of our existing local protections, inclusion in the Greenbelt wouldn’t change things on the ground for landowners. But it would make sure that our local protections are permanent, just like they were intended to be.
Looking beyond our borders, we find more good reasons to extend the Greenbelt to Waterloo Region. While our local protections are strong, they are only within the boundaries of Waterloo Region. But our key environmental features don’t stop at municipal borders, and their protection shouldn’t, either.
Fortunately, people from all over the Greater Golden Horseshoe are calling for Greenbelt expansion. There’s a proposal supported by grassroots groups across the province that would expand the Greenbelt to protect the sensitive water resources on which Ontarians rely. They’re calling it the Bluebelt. Given that we’re one of the largest communities in Canada to rely primarily on groundwater, we’re especially dependent on the features identified in the proposed Bluebelt:
This map of their proposed Bluebelt extends beyond our local Protected Countryside to include all of our moraines. But it shows just how large our moraines are, and that they extend well beyond municipal boundaries. To truly protect our local resources, we need our local protections to be integrated with protections for our neighbouring municipalities, some of which have not had the same local leadership that our community has had.
We need your help.
Use our handy contact form, and take 30 seconds right now to email our local MPPs and regional councillors, and tell them that you want the Greenbelt in Waterloo Region. Give them the support they need to make sure we don’t get left out of the Greenbelt this time.
On May 10, the provincial government announced proposed changes to land use planning rules in Ontario.
There’s been a lot of excitement about some of these changes, and some of them should help other communities to follow the Region of Waterloo’s example in promoting intensification and higher densities for more livable urban areas, and coordinating land use planning with transit planning.
Unfortunately, the province did not announce plans to expand the Greenbelt into Waterloo Region. The Region asked to be included in the Greenbelt several times while it was being created. Several years later, our municipal governments have worked hard to create our own local protections, including a Protected Countryside, to preserve our sensitive environmental and agricultural resources. Our local protections mean the Greenbelt wouldn’t change anything on the ground for landowners. But Greenbelt designation would add an extra layer of protection, and integrate our local protections with those in other municipalities, since environmental features don’t stop at the border.
So this month’s announcement fell short for us here in Waterloo Region. It seems that, while the province is helping other communities meet Waterloo’s standards, their announcement doesn’t bring the protections other communities have from the Greenbelt to Waterloo Region.
But this fight’s far from over.
We Need Your Help!
There are three things you can do right now to help make sure upcoming changes protect our agricultural and environmental resources and promote livable cities:
- Mark your calendar. The provincial government is hosting a series of open houses all across the province on these changes, and the first one is right here in Waterloo Region! Join us on Tuesday May 31st from 5:00 to 8:00 pm at the Preston Auditorium at 1458 Hamilton Street.
- Submit your comments. The province is asking for feedback on its proposed changes. They’ve specifically asked for suggestions on places outside the GTHA where the Greenbelt should be expanded. Tell them that after more than a decade of exclusion, we need the Greenbelt in Waterloo Region. All the provincial documents and the official feedback form are online, so getting involved is easy. You have until September 30th to submit your comments.
- Make sure you’re on our email list. We don’t send emails very often, but when we do, it’s because important things are happening about smart growth in the province and in the region. You can sign up quickly and easily right here. And of course, unsubscribing is just as easy.
Learn More About Proposed Changes
There’s lots to learn about the proposed changes. The official documentation from the province is all online, but that’s not all.
You can read our news release on the announcement here.
We’ve been quite pleased that a number of our local news organizations understand how important Greenbelt expansion in the area is, and have provided some solid coverage in the last two weeks:
- CBC posted a story about our continued exclusion from the Greenbelt, and why expansion is important. They also ran a follow-up story with statements from local builders with an interest in urban expansion, who seem open to discussions about the Greenbelt, though perhaps not overly eager to ensure province-level safeguards for our existing local protections.
- Recent coverage from the Waterloo Chronicle/Kitchener Post, based on an interview with our own Kevin Thomason.
You can also check out other responses to the announcement from other groups and writers:
On Monday, a provincial advisory panel led by David Crombie released a report with 87 recommendations. This report is an important step in the provincial government’s review of the 4 major plans governing land use in the Greater Golden Horseshoe:
- the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe
- the Greenbelt Plan
- the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan
- the Niagara Escarpment Plan
Many of the recommendations deal with issues on which Waterloo Region has been leading the way, such as:
- building complete, liveable communities that have “a diverse mix of land uses and housing types, a range of employment opportunities, high-quality public open space, a variety of transportation choices, and easy access to stores and services”
- protecting prime agricultural lands and the broader agricultural system upon which they rely;
- protecting our water sources through policies to preserve our moraines and groundwater recharge areas; and
- preventing urban sprawl by limiting the expansion of urban areas based on strict criteria.
The plan also puts a particular focus on climate change, and how land use rules can help us to limit and reduce emissions, and prepare ourselves for the effects of a changing climate.
There are lots of details from the province available online, including:
- the advisory panel’s full 180-page report;
- a summary of comments received from the first phase of consultations (including a session in Waterloo Region); and
- an executive summary that’s helpfully quite a bit shorter than 180 pages, and a good overview.
You can see our news release from Smart Growth Waterloo Region here. Support for many of the recommendations of the report is rolling in from all over the province, including:
- Environmental Defence
- Ontario Nature, EcoSpark, and Earthroots
- Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation
- Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation
- Martin Regg Cohn of the Toronto Star
Fortunately, the provincial government seems open to the recommendations and their goals. The next thing we need is specific plans to put this great vision into practice. The second stage of the review is expected in early 2016, along with another round of consultations with communities. We know our communities in Waterloo Region will be eager to support this vision and its implementation. Stay tuned, and we’ll look forward to updating you on the next round of consultations once they’ve been announced.
Bill 73 was the result of a review conducted by the province over the last few years of its land use planning and appeal and development charge systems, which involved significant community consultation.
Some of the changes made by the bill are especially important to us here in Waterloo Region, including:
- eliminating the ability of individuals and corporations to appeal a community’s entire official plan, after it has been approved by local municipalities and the province (which happened to our Regional Official Plan)
- expanding the list of “provincial interests” that the Ontario Municipal Board must have regard to, so that it includes “promotion of built form that is well-designed, encourages a sense of place and provides for public spaces that are of high quality, safe, accessible, attractive and vibrant“
- requiring any appellants to explain exactly why a decision is “inconsistent with provincial policy statements, provincial plans or upper-tier official plans” if they wish to appeal on those grounds, or the OMB may dismiss the appeal without a hearing
Other aspects of the bill include changes to allow municipalities to collect development charges that more closely reflect the costs of providing services like transit to new developments, and stronger requirements for municipalities to account for how they spend development charges and consult with their communities on major planning documents.
We’re very encouraged by many of these changes that resulted from the government review, which will help communities like ours to build stronger neighbourhoods and protect valuable farmland and sensitive natural areas from urban sprawl.
Currently, the provincial government is conducting another review, this time of four major plans that govern land use in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, and a review of the OMB itself has been promised after the current review concludes. We look forward to these more recent reviews, and to more positive changes like Bill 73 being proposed and made by the government in the months to come.