Meetings are occurring at the lower tiers of government across the province to have approved Official Plans in place by July 2022 that reflect plans for long term population and employment growth to the year 2051. These plans must conform to new growth targets published by the province last summer.
The amended policy is an extension of the previous Liberal government plan which was designed to preserve natural areas and push jobs and homes to areas with existing infrastructure. The philosophy behind it was to create complete communities where residents could “live work and play”. Revised planning policies in the last few years from the current government continue this theme and go even further. The 2020 Growth Plan establishes intensity targets across the GTA which are designed to preserve land by limiting where development can occur by concentrating it in areas where it already exists, to making more efficient use of land, public services, infrastructure requirements and transit use.
The 2020 Growth plan amendment was the third piece of legislation from the province pushing this agenda since 2017. Part of the impetus for this most recent change is to alleviate pressure in the housing market by creating more, and more diverse, housing options. The intensification targets in this plan require municipalities to make land available to accommodate population and employment growth forecasts over a 30 years.
The document that governs land use at the municipal and county level is called the Official Plan (OP). It includes specific locations where housing, industry, retail and institutions may be established, what infrastructure such as roads, water, parks and schools will be required, and when and in what order parts of the community will grow.
Peterborough County had begun a much-needed overhaul of their OP in 2017. Despite a requirement to update these documents every 10 years, the current County OP dates from 1994. In the interests of efficiency, all eight municipalities and both First Nations have opted to join the County in this process rather than proceed with their own OP which in any case must conform to the County document.
A single governing OP document is not only more efficient, it also ensures land use policies are consistent across the County. Customization at the municipal level can be articulated to a certain degree through municipal Zoning by-laws.
Last month, Council received a Growth Management and Master Servicing Study presentation by Watson and Associates prepared to help the municipalities identify their preferred growth strategy to address intensification targets.
The OP development process is very fluid at the moment. The original intensification target of 40% for the County has dropped significantly and now sits at 15%. For Cavan Monaghan, the original 1880 new residential unit allocation for the Millbrook Settlement area has now dropped to 10.
There is also a sense of urgency on this file. In 2010, a new OP was sidelined when it was not approved prior to the municipal election later that year. The revised plan was significantly different than the original, redirecting growth to Millbrook from Fraserville.
One of the key documents required to move forward is a Land Needs Analysis which defines how existing lands can accommodate the growth allocation. The County submitted its draft plan ten months ago, but a bottleneck in the approval process has stalled a response. With all municipalities required to meet the July 2020 deadline, this delay is worrisome.
Regardless of the growth allocation, there are practical restrictions to what can happen, no matter what politicians at any level would like to see.
The upper limit for development in the Millbrook area is dictated by local water resources. According to the consultant’s report, Baxter Creek cannot support wastewater effluent to accommodate the projected growth beyond 2041, and the Millbrook groundwater supply is also near its limit. New technology could eliminate that concern, or growth could move to other parts of the township to achieve more aggressive targets.
The other constraint to growth is the market. We are in a hot real estate cycle, and the demand for smaller and more diverse housing alternatives is growing, but the pressure is higher in other areas closer to the GTA.
Complete communities require employment options, which have been difficult to attract. The current OP has growth phased in, with new residential development approvals occurring in tandem with employment development. Executive Director of Planning and Development advised Council that there is interest and inquiries for employment applications, with many pre-consulting initiatives in the works, but these files take longer to complete and COVID put a damper on this type of application.
Public consultation is part of the OP process, but opportunities to provide input have not been scheduled. Given the clear allocation of growth targets from the province, the tight time frame of the approval process and late stage in the process, it seems hard to image public comments will have much impact on the final plan.
Once the new OP is in place, planning applications should flow more quickly through the approval process because there will be few, if any, OP amendments. Applications should conform to the new growth strategy, which will be clearly articulated. For better or worse. KG