Waterloo Region and the Caledon Growth Story

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.