Why You Can’t Get a Severance

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Photo Karen Graham Thanks to provincial growth policies, new developments like the Highlands of Millbrook offer lot widths of only 35’ to 52’ which looks out of scale in the rural countryside and make lots in older development projects look extremely generous.

Municipal leaders hosting regular town hall meetings in the community frequently face questions from residents seeking severances.  They are rarely satisfied with the answers they receive.  Severing a lot from a family farm used to be a common retirement planning tool, providing funds or a smaller home for the farmer whose family moved in to the larger original farm home.  This strategy is no longer available anywhere in the province on prime agricultural land.

Explanations for why this kind of land use is no longer possible often make reference to the Township’s Official Plan, approved in 2015, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.  Underneath that planning document is a web of other plans issued by Peterborough County and the province, all controlling the nature and location of specific land use across the province.

The newest addition to these land use documents is the recently released 2017 Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe issued by the provincial government, which comes into effect on July 1st, replacing a similar plan issued in 2006.  It is part of a series of plans to control land use in the province, which include the Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan. The key objectives of these pieces of legislation are to promote the development of what the government calls “complete communities”, to curb sprawl, protect the natural environment, support economic development, and ensure that land to accommodate forecasted population and employment growth will be available when needed.

A complete community is one that offers many options for living, working, learning, shopping and playing, ostensibly to reduce or eliminate commutes.  They are centred around a variety of transportation options designed to reduce traffic gridlock, offer a wide variety of housing options to suit residents of all ages, and include revitalized downtown core areas which provide convenient access to a mix of local jobs, local and public services. The plan is also designed to curb urban sprawl and protect agricultural land and green space, focussing growth around transit hubs and areas that have already been developed in order to hold the line on building in protected greenbelt areas and environmentally sensitive ones like the Oak Ridges Moraine.

The plan goes so far as to recommend population density targets for specific areas.  For example, it mandates that cities like Peterborough grow to accommodate a minimum of 150 residents and jobs per hectare and those targets increase in larger centres near light rail or rapid bus transit.  For Cavan Monaghan, the current density target is 35 people/jobs per hectare, a target that will be reviewed as part of the new County Official Plan.  This is why new subdivisions are developed with extremely narrow lot sizes even when land is abundant- developers are responding to the density targets, which coincidentally are in their economic interest.

Unsurprisingly, the new growth plan is applauded by environmental groups while others including the Ontario Home Builders’ Association, have expressed concern that these policies restrict new housing growth.  They suggest these land use restrictions are contributing to sky-rocketing house prices in and around the GTA, and they are probably right in the short run.

One of the drivers behind these growth plans is the growing pressure stemming from aging infrastructure, which is an issue facing all levels of government.  A quick look at the cost of road maintenance in the township tells the tale: a presentation to Council in December by engineering firm Wills suggested the township should budget $10.4 million for critical repairs for the 239 km of township roads over the next five years.  That’s a hefty bill for a township with an annual operating budget of roughly $6 million. While residents often suggest that a severance represents a new tax revenue stream for the township, Deputy Mayor Fallis is quick to point out that residential development is rarely a net revenue-generator.

So the next time you ask what seems like a simple question about severing a lot or building an extension to your home, don’t shoot the messenger when it feels like you aren’t getting a quick, straightforward answer.  There are many factors influencing these decisions.  Local official plans must conform to upper layer growth plans, and severances are subject to municipal and county approvals, and decisions can be challenged at the provincial level if they do not follow the provincial growth policy.

To learn more about the Growth Plan, visit www.Ontario.ca/greatergoldenhorseshoeplans.  There is also a copy available for review at the Township Office. KG

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