The Ontario Municipal Board has made a decision that threatens our future. Fortunately, community members and governments are standing up against it.

Learn more about what’s happening, and take a moment to find out how you can help support the Region’s efforts and protect smart growth in Waterloo Region and in Ontario.

You can also follow our blog, below, for updates and insights.


 

Mark your calendars! Coordinated Land Use Planning Review

The Province of Ontario recently announced its Coordinated Land Use Planning Review. Taking a big-picture view, the Province has decided to include several related policies in the same review, and is including:

The Province has released a discussion document for this stage of the consultations, which can be viewed here.

Most exciting for us, Waterloo Region has been selected as the site of the first regional town hall meeting. The meeting will take place on Wednesday March 25th at Bingeman’s Conference Centre in Kitchener. The open house will start at 6:00 pm, and the meeting will start at 7:00 pm.

If you’re able, please join us at Bingeman’s on the 25th. With Waterloo Region leading the way on smart growth, environmental and farmland protection, and more liveable communities, we need to make sure that local voices are heard in this review. The results of this review will have a huge impact here at home and across the province.

We’ve set up a Facebook page for the event, so let us know you’ll be joining in! We’ll also be tweeting at #LandUseON, so join in the conversation online, too.

And if you can’t make it, you can submit your comments online until May 27th, 2015.

One more note: the Province of Ontario is also holding consultations about its strategy for addressing climate change. A consultation will take place at the Kitchener Public Library on March 19th, and full details are available here.

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Update on negotiations from The Record

Today, the Waterloo Region Record ran a new story about the ongoing negotiations between the Region of Waterloo and a handful of developers, whose appeal of the Regional Official Plan resulted in a 2013 Ontario Municipal Board ruling against the Region’s efforts to rein in urban sprawl. While it’s been public knowledge that such negotiations have been ongoing since early 2013, it is noteworthy that both Regional Chair Ken Seiling and a planner for some of those developers sound hopeful that a negotiated settlement is still possible.

Fortunately, our regional government is doing what it can, and isn’t simply relying on the outcome of negotiations to protect our future. The article reports that the Region is still pursuing a judicial review of that fateful OMB decision, and if a satisfactory settlement isn’t reached, court dates for the appeal are set for January of 2016.

You can read the full article on the Record’s website here.

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Roundup: Housing Affordability and Smart Growth

There was a brief flurry of newspaper pieces early this year raising fears that Ontario’s plans for smart growth will damage the affordability of home ownership. In the Globe and Mail, Tom Curtis suggested that the Greenbelt is threatening social equity by increasing housing prices in the Greater Toronto Area. Locally, The Record’s editorial board expressed the same concern, and encouraged the Region of Waterloo to consider compromising its policies that focus more growth in accessible core areas.

These pieces suggest that housing affordability and smart growth are opposed: that our only chance for equitable and affordable housing is to compromise our farmland, our environment, and our plans for sustainable and affordable growth. Fortunately, informed and articulate voices have been explaining that this isn’t the case.

First, Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s chief planner, wrote a compelling piece in the Globe and Mail, pointing out that housing prices have gone up just as much in areas without greenbelts as in those with them, and that these smart growth policies are the affordable and responsible option for the long term.

More recently, several esteemed experts at the University of Waterloo, York University, and the University of Toronto wrote an extensive piece addressing questions of the housing market and smart growth. They point out that there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of new housing, and that new housing has a very small impact on prices at a given time. High prices are due to demand in accessible and central areas, and they argue that we need to consider the cost of transportation when looking at housing affordability.

We at Smart Growth Waterloo Region also contributed a letter to the editor, arguing that we need to focus on real solutions to protect housing affordability and choice, since sprawl won’t keep housing affordable.

While it’s unfortunate that some are drawing the wrong conclusions about the causes of increasing housing prices, we’re grateful that so many have taken the opportunity to so thoughtfully address these misperceptions about smart growth.

This recent debate has also drawn the attention of some insightful folks in the media. Michael John McGrath at The Agenda Blog has written a strong overview piece about the Greenbelt and housing prices. Hopefully these questions are drawing the attention of more and more members of our communities to the importance of forward-thinking policies on growth.

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VIDEO: Smartening Up Growth Panel

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.

 

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Slow and steady progress to protect our community

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.

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