Author Archives: Kate Daley

Exciting Spring for Smart Growth

It’s been a busy spring for smart growth in Ontario. In the next few weeks, we’ll share some more detailed thoughts about everything that’s been happening and where the province is headed next. For now, we wanted to let you know about two of the major sets of changes that have happened over the last few months:

1) Ontario Municipal Board Reform: In May, the province announced enormous changes to the land use planning appeal process in Ontario. The most substantial change is that the province is replacing the Ontario Municipal Board with a new Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, which will be limited to deciding whether a municipal council has followed local and provincial planning policies. Changes also include new support for members of the public to participate in appeals, and procedural changes to streamline the appeal process.

The provincial review was in response to significant concerns from municipalities and community members about the operation of the Ontario Municipal Board, including from Waterloo Region. A bill implementing the proposed changes is currently working its way through the Ontario legislature.

For a look back at the Ontario Municipal Board, see the recent book by Peter Howden, former OMB vice chair and Superior Court justice, entitled The Ontario Municipal Board: From Impact to Subsistence 1971-2016.

2) Changes to the Greenbelt Plan and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe: The province has also been conducting a Co-ordinated Land Use Planning Review, which examined the Greenbelt Plan, the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Niagara Escarpment Plan, and the Oak Ridges Moraine Plan.

The government released the updated versions of the plans on May 18th, and regulations enacting changes to the Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan went into effect on July 1. And if you’re excited about all the technical details, you can see Part 1 and Part 2 of a webinar of the province’s technical briefing from June.

Over the coming months, we’ll be talking more about what these changes mean, and how all of it is playing out.

Last chance: tell the province you support smart growth

As many of you know, the province has been conducting a land use planning review. The deadline for comments as part of this phase of the review is October 31st. We’ve created a handy web form so you can send your comments to the review and to the relevant ministers.

We’ve been thrilled by the interest in the review that we’ve seen here in Waterloo Region. Many of you have taken time to attend local consultations, to submit comments to the review about the importance of the province’s smart growth plans, or to let local officials know you support Greenbelt expansion here in Waterloo Region.

We were also happy to see such a great turnout at our Snack and Smart Growth event in Kitchener in September. Many of you came out to talk about the review, meet others who are interested in smart growth, and eat delicious pies and cookies.

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If you haven’t submitted comments yet, now is the time to make your voice heard. Whether you want to send a quick note in support of smart growth or get into the details, you’ll be helping to protect and strengthen these important provincial plans that defend our agriculture, our environment, and our urban centres. Please send your comments by October 31.

You can learn more about the government’s proposed changes in their summary document, or dig into the details of what’s proposed for the Growth Plan or the Greenbelt.

You can also read responses that have been submitted by us and by local municipalities:

Finally: comprehensive review of the Ontario Municipal Board

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Help support Greenbelt expansion in Waterloo Region

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):

Map 7

Map 7 of the Region of Waterloo’s 2015 Official Plan, showing the Protected Countryside. From http://www.regionofwaterloo.ca/en/regionalGovernment/resources/Consolidated_ROP_2015/Map_7-_The_Countryside.pdf

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:

Proposed Bluebelt in Waterloo Region

The proposed “Bluebelt” as envisioned for the Grand River watershed. From http://www.growourgreenbelt.ca/bluebelt_resources

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.

 

We need the Greenbelt, and we need your help!

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:

News Release: Community Members Encouraged by Land Use Policy Changes, Disappointed to be Left Out of the Greenbelt Again

For Immediate Release

COMMUNITY MEMBERS ENCOURAGED BY LAND USE POLICY CHANGES, DISAPPOINTED TO BE LEFT OUT OF THE GREENBELT AGAIN

Waterloo Region, Ontario – Local community members are encouraged by the province’s proposed changes to provincial land use policies, but much more will need to be done to ensure Waterloo Region is included in the crucial protections of the Greenbelt.

Proposed changes announced by the government Tuesday afternoon address a number of the problems faced by the Region of Waterloo in its successful fight to defend its smart growth-based official plan over the last several years. These changes include standard provincial rules to determine whether agricultural and rural lands should be converted to urban uses.

“A number of these changes should help other Ontario communities adopt smart growth requirements the Region of Waterloo fought hard to protect in its battle with the OMB,” said Kate Daley, co-founder of Smart Growth Waterloo Region and Waterloo resident. “But we were hoping for a strong and immediate commitment to expanding the Greenbelt in Waterloo Region. That didn’t happen today.”

Waterloo Region is a prime area for Greenbelt expansion. Ontario’s Greenbelt, established in 2005, currently protects 1.8 million acres of land in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the area that surrounds the western end of Lake Ontario.

“After being left out of the original Greenbelt, despite multiple requests to be included, our communities and local governments spent the last decade creating and defending our own local Protected Countryside,” said Kevin Thomason, group co-founder and rural Wilmot resident. “So the work has already been done here. Because of our local protections, Greenbelt designation wouldn’t change anything on the ground for landowners, but it would add an important extra layer of protection for our sensitive natural and agricultural resources.”

The Province of Ontario’s Co-ordinated Land Use Planning Review, with a mandate to examine the four plans that govern land use in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, began last year with record public participation. Smart Growth Waterloo Region encourages community members to submit comments on the proposed changes, which cover a wide range of issues like infrastructure, agriculture, and climate change. Comments will be accepted by the provincial government until the end of September, and a series of open houses across the province will begin in Cambridge on May 31st.

Smart Growth Waterloo Region (www.smartgrowthwaterloo.ca) is a grassroots group started in 2013 by community members to raise awareness and support for local and provincial smart growth policies.

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Media Contact:

Kevin Thomason
Phone: 519-888-0519
Mobile Phone: 519-240-1648
E-mail: media@smartgrowthwaterloo.ca

Advisory panel report is good news for smart growth

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:

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:

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:

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.