The Ontario Municipal Board has made a decision that threatens our future. Fortunately, community members and governments are standing up against it.
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Last December, we were tremendously fortunate to partner with Environmental Defence and the Grand River Environmental Network to host a panel discussion about Smartening Up Growth. The event was a huge success, and more than 80 people packed into the multipurpose room at the Downtown Community Centre in Kitchener to learn more about the costs of sprawl and the benefits of Smart Growth in Waterloo Region.
We’re thrilled to be able to finally share a full-length video of the event:
We were lucky to have the assistance of the great Mike Farwell as our moderator, and our panel was comprised of:
- Aidan Grove-White (Planning Advisor, Environmental Defence)
- Rob Horne (Commissioner of Planning, Housing, and Community Services, Region of Waterloo)
- Kevin Thomason (Vice-President, Grand River Environmental Network)
- Kate Daley (Co-Founder, Smart Growth Waterloo Region)
Our sincere thanks to those who attended, to our participants, and to Seven Shores for their kind donation of refreshments. A special thanks also to Benton Leong for recording this event for your enjoyment.
Please share this post with those who couldn’t make it. You can also check out tweets from the event through our Storify.
by Kate Daley
We knew all along that the Region of Waterloo’s bold defence of its Official Plan would take time. Since the Ontario Municipal Board gutted the visionary and crucial plan in a January 2013 ruling, and the Region decided to fight the ruling, we’ve been glad to see slow and steady progress being made.
First, the Region continues to stand up against the ruling through the courts. The Waterloo Region Record reported in mid-October that the Ontario Municipal Board took a look at its own process leading up to the ruling. Despite the Region’s concerns that private training for Board members provided by the developers’ primary witness during the case led to bias in the Board’s decision-making, the Board ruled in September that it was not biased. As The Record explains, Regional Council was unanimous in its vote to pursue a judicial review.
Ken Seiling spoke to the importance of defending the Official Plan:
“The massive support for regional council opposing the OMB decision … speaks volumes for the desire of people here not to be paving over farmland and preserving our rural lands,” Regional Chair Ken Seiling said.
“I think if that decision’s allowed to stand it would open the door to considerably more development than the region’s ever envisaged.”
The Record story also includes a handy timeline of events in this case; you can read the full story here.
Second, the Region’s efforts aren’t just to clean up the mess left by the OMB in this particular case. The Region is also proposing changes to the system to prevent these kinds of problems, and to support the province’s Growth Plan. As the Kitchener Post explains:
Rob Horne, Region of Waterloo’s commissioner of planning, housing and community services, said the province must make aspects of the plan related to growth targets more concrete, make portions of the growth plan unappealable to the OMB and attend appeal hearings to defend already approved densities in municipalities taken to the OMB.
“What we’d like to see is the province actively attending those OMB hearings to support municipalities and the plan they’ve approved,” said Horne, noting the province has to approve municipal official plans before municipalities can implement them.
Horne’s comments come after the province’s environmental commissioner, Gord Miller, raised concerns about the implementation of the Places to Grow Growth Plan, since most municipalities aren’t meeting their density targets under the plan. The Post story, with more detail, is available here.
In short, despite its slow pace, lots of work continues to protect our community’s future. We’ll keep you updated as this hard and important work progresses.
by Kate Daley
Unfortunately, justice moves slowly in our court system. As the story notes, it has been well over a year since the Region announced that it would seek a judicial review of the Ontario Municipal Board’s ruling against its Official Plan in Divisional Court. Indeed, it has been 16 months since the Province of Ontario took the rare step of joining with the Region to fight a decision of its own tribunal in court.
In today’s story, Regional Chair Ken Seiling notes that the Region is working to try to settle the dispute, but not much movement has been made:
“There have been discussions with some of the parties as to whether there’s ability to settle some of these things, but as of today there are no settlements and we’re still waiting to hear on the issues from the board,” Seiling said.
Further, he notes that
“Anybody’s preference always is if you can achieve a settlement without getting before the courts or another full hearing that would be preferable, but that takes everybody willing to come together,” he said.
For now, we wait for more news on this case. But we don’t have to wait to talk about broader issues of growth, urban sprawl, and liveable communities. Discussions on these topics continue, here and across the province. As the fall approaches and the municipal election gets into full swing, there’s lots to talk about.
by Kate Daley
Last week, The Inside Agenda Blog did a two-part feature on the growth pressures being faced by Caledon, Ontario, northwest of Toronto.
Written by Mark Brosens, both pieces show some of the problems being faced by communities across Ontario as development pressures continue. Yet the series suggests some of the ways that Caledon’s experience is significantly different than Waterloo Region’s experience.
Given close proximity and manageable drives to both Mississauga and Toronto, residents of Caledon are understandably concerned about their development taking the sprawling pattern common to bedroom communities of the GTA. This is particularly the case given that the population has more than doubled since 1981. Much of Caledon’s greenfield spaces cannot be developed due to “the Greenbelt, the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Niagara Escarpment,” which limits greenfield development and protects farmland in Caledon. This means that greenfield development opportunities are limited by provincial rules.
The current mayor of Caledon wants growth to proceed based on “communities of communities,” where, as Brosens says, “all the houses are within a 15-minute walk of community-focused amenities.” But others in Caledon are concerned that this strategy is following in the footsteps of Missisauga, which had a similar plan, and that the result will eventually be growth that is more spread out and, as a result, creates more expensive places to provide municipal services and infrastructure.
Waterloo Region has been looking ahead to such concerns about sprawl. Waterloo isn’t protected by the province’s Greenbelt, but rather sits just on the other side of it from the GTA. Concerns about development “leapfrogging” the Greenbelt and increasing development pressure in Waterloo Region certainly aren’t new. But moving forward, the Region has taken its own steps to protect farmland and environmentally sensitive areas.
Waterloo Region has adapted to its growth pressures through a variety of measures, centred around its Official Plan. Based on smart growth, the Official Plan features a Countryside Line beyond which development will not take place, along with significant intensification in core areas to create denser, more walkable, and more sustainable neighbourhoods.
The central provisions of the Region’s Official Plan were struck down by a ruling of the Ontario Municipal Board in 2013, which threatens both Waterloo Region’s prime farmland and the goals of the province’s Places to Grow Growth Plan.
A reporter in Caledon says that “every municipality in Ontario is struggling and paying lawyers to not achieve” the density targets, set out by the Places to Grow Growth Plan, of 50 people and jobs per hectare for new greenfield developments. That’s not quite right: the Region of Waterloo fought at the Ontario Municipal Board to defend that target in their Official Plan and the Places to Grow Growth Plan, but the OMB ruled that the targets do not need to be met by a specific date. The ruling also forces the Region to open hundreds of additional hectares to greenfield development by 2031, increasing sprawl pressures. Now the Region of Waterloo is fighting that decision in court with the likely unprecedented support of the provincial government, trying to protect its Official Plan. Waterloo Region is one community that is showing leadership and paying lawyers to protect these density requirements for Ontario communities.
So while municipalities across Southern Ontario are facing enormous growth pressures, Waterloo Region is one municipality working hard to plan ahead for the kind of growth we need. While we wait for the divisional court to deal with the Region of Waterloo’s appeal, we’ll be watching communities around Ontario, in the hopes that they will work to become leaders in smart growth, as well.
With the Ontario Election approaching quickly this Thursday, here’s some of what the parties and candidates are saying about smart growth and the Region of Waterloo’s defence of its Official Plan:
- The Waterloo Chronicle asked candidates in the riding of Kitchener-Waterloo: “The Ontario Municipal Board has ruled against the Region of Waterloo Official Plan and provincial planning policy by opening up thousands of acres of land for more development. Do you agree with that decision, and what would you change if you could about the whole decision making process?”
- Paige Demond writes in The Record about the Kitchener-Waterloo riding with some quotations from candidates about the OMB ruling.
- Concerns about our local OMB ruling got some attention in neighbouring Guelph on Monday from many of the candidates, as the Green Party leader paid a visit.
- Many candidates in Waterloo Region responded to our Smart Growth Waterloo Region Election Questionnaire, which asked specifically about the OMB ruling on the Region’s Official Plan, what they would do to protect the OP, and their views on intensification for liveable cities and farmland protection.
- The Tri-Cities Transport Action Group included a question on its questionnaire regarding municipal access to appropriate land use planning tools, and a number of candidates mentioned the OMB ruling in their response.