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.