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 fall of 2015, 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. Enjoy your summer, celebrate your success, and we’ll look forward to seeing you in the fall.
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.
A broad coalition of environmental groups recently recommended the protection of a large “Bluebelt,” which would add 1.5 million acres of land that are crucial for water protection to the Ontario Greenbelt.
The Province of Ontario is currently undertaking a coordinated review of provincial land use planning policies. This review focuses on the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and the Greenbelt. The Province particularly asked for input on where the Greenbelt should be expanded. We expect the release of recommendations from the Advisory Panel, chaired by former Toronto Mayor David Crombie, in the next several weeks.
There is enormous support for expansion of the Greenbelt across the province. A report from the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance outlines each of these sensitive water systems and the people and industries that rely on them, as well as the community support for such expansion in each area. (You can see and zoom on on the full map.)
Here in Waterloo Region, we’ve been talking about our growing water needs for decades. We’re lucky to have and rely on high quality groundwater for the most of our water supply to support our growing region. We know that water is a precious resource in our part of the province, and that human activities can threaten our aquifers.
Community members and the Region of Waterloo have been working hard to protect our groundwater with a broad range of local programs affecting everything from use of road salt to the land use planning for the entire region. Because of our local protections, expanding the Greenbelt to cover our Protected Countryside wouldn’t change things on the ground for landowners. But it would add an extra layer of crucial protection for our most important resources, and would ensure that our local resources are part of a network of protection that would extend beyond the boundaries of Waterloo Region.
The Region of Waterloo asked to be included in the original Greenbelt at various stages of the process, but the Province did not include our sensitive moraines in the Greenbelt at that time (see page 226). This is the opportunity to correct that omission. We look forward to release of the recommendations from the Advisory Panel, and to the next round of consultations where members of our community will be able to tell the Province that now is the time to fully include our community’s vital resources into provincial plans.
After 6 years and a lot of drama, we have a new Official Plan for Waterloo Region.
On Thursday, June 18th, the Ontario Municipal Board approved a deal between the Region of Waterloo and developers who were using the OMB to fight provincial and local requirements for smart growth.
A handful of developers had fought the Region’s Official Plan, which had proposed 85 hectares of greenfield land be converted to urban development by 2031, to accommodate projected population growth while protecting farmland and build more liveable urban areas. The developers wanted 1,053 hectares to be converted, and the OMB had sided with the developers.
To its great credit, our regional government fought the decision in court, with strong support from the province and from our community. Against the backdrop of this court challenge, the Region was able to negotiate a deal that protects the key features of our official plan.
The deal approved by the OMB differs very slightly from that originally announced on May 26th. According to The Waterloo Region Record, the minor changes were due to negotiations with a developer who had not been involved in the original case but who made a last-minute motion in front of the OMB to be included. As a result, The Record notes, “Two hectares of land near the corner of Fischer-Hallman and Huron Roads have been brought into the plan for development as part of those negotiations.”
For more information on the deal reached in May, you can see our post.
As the Region of Waterloo’s news release states, the following are the key features of the Official Plan that is now in effect, and with which local-tier Official Plans must comply:
• Countryside line: A new countryside line will establish a long-term development boundary.
• Groundwater and broader environmental protection: Protected Countryside and Regional Recharge areas will further protect groundwater sources and other environmental features.
• New employment lands: The East Side lands prime industrial strategic reserve designation will be completed for lands in north Cambridge, creating new opportunities for business relocation or to attract new business.
• Transit: Public transit policies will be more fully integrated with development policies, especially in the ION corridor.
• Economic vitality: Policies to support the economy have been enhanced.
• Rural prosperity: Rural assets, including prime agricultural lands and rural communities, will continue to be protected and supported.
• Restrictions on aggregate extraction: Protection of significant woodlands from aggregate extraction, and restrictions on aggregate extraction in environmentally sensitive areas.
In addition, as part of the settlement, the Region’s land budget methodology will be used by the applicable settling parties in the future to calculate the amount of agricultural land that can be converted to urban development.
We must offer all of you our congratulations on this great success. We know that support from the community has made a huge difference in achieving this important result for smart growth.
While the fight over the Region’s most recent Official Plan is over, there is still lots to do to protect smart growth here in Waterloo Region and across the province. This fall, we at Smart Growth Waterloo Region will be reaching out to community members to help us determine the work that our organisation should be doing next, and how we can best accomplish it.
If you’re not already on our mailing list, please take a moment to sign up, so you won’t miss any crucial meetings or opportunities to be involved with Smart Growth Waterloo Region as we move on to the next big challenges.
In the mean time, enjoy your summer, and this victory.