Gone are the days when landowners could build a retirement home on their property for grandpa or a starter home for the kids. Lot creation is subject to a growing web of regulations, with principles articulated in the Planning Act which establishes the policy to guide land use decisions across the province. The objective is to establish a thoughtful approach to land use, establishing a balance between the sometimes competing objectives of sustainable economic development, a healthy natural environment, agricultural land protection, affordable municipal servicing costs and visually appealing communities. It outlines the ground rules for land use, spelling out how decisions are made.
The policy direction is explained more fully in the Provincial Policy Statement issued in April, 2014, establishing the planning mantra “Live Work and Play” promoting self-sufficient communities. Land use directives in this document seek to establish a balance of land uses to support healthy, integrated and viable rural communities, provides direction for decisions regarding infrastructure and establishing a mix of housing options. It incorporates protection for natural features such as wetlands, natural habitats, directives to protect and improve water quality and quantity, mineral and petroleum resources, as well as cultural or landscape resources.
For Cavan Monaghan, the next level of planning legislation is the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GPGGH), updated in 2017. It applies to an area of 32,000 square kilometers and 9 million people, stretching along the shores of Lake Ontario from Niagara to Northumberland and includes Brantford, Orillia, the City of Kawartha Lakes and Peterborough County. The area is also the centre of Canada’s economic activity, generating one quarter of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. The GPGGH goes further in direction, providing among other directives, density targets to support public transit investment. The next level of applicable planning legislation to the township is the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, providing another level of scrutiny to lands in this area.
Moving closer to home, local planning decisions are subject to the Peterborough County Official Plan, which is currently undergoing an extensive update. Official plans are local blueprints for growth, and where approvals for specific land use decisions start. They map out land use designations into residential, employment, agriculture or restricted areas to preserve environmental features. The second phase of the Towerhill/ Highlands of Millbrook development is currently under review at this level, and if approved, will move to the municipality for final approval. Official plans also serve as a communication tool for the public, clearly illustrating approved land uses for specific sites across their area. Many municipalities, including ours, currently have their own Official Plans which are even more specific. Last year, Cavan Monaghan Council decided to join four other municipalities across the County and incorporate the local Official Plan into the County’s document.
Official plans are implemented at the municipal level through Zoning by-laws which are very specific, outlining lot size parameters, building heights, and setbacks and parking requirements. They promote environmentally sensitive growth that encourages efficient use of space and infrastructure while attracting a variety of commercial uses in appropriate locations.
For the last six weeks, planning departments across the province have been scrambling to formulate a response to a series of proposed amendments to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The amendments were the topic of a Special Council meeting in the township last week. Ranging from small wording tweaks to new initiatives, the changes appear to offer more flexibility for municipalities to manage growth, allowing them to accommodate their specific situations rather than applying a “one-size- fits-all” template, a direction which is appreciated by municipal government.
The first request the township will make of the province regarding this legislation is to be excluded from the plan entirely, following the lead of Peterborough County, the City of Kawartha Lakes and Northumberland County. The plan was developed with larger communities in mind, and requires significant studies for minor adjustments that are extensive, expensive and sophisticated and generally viewed as overkill for small, low growth municipalities. Growth in Peterborough County is projected to rise to only 600 people per year between 2031 and 2041. In contrast, places like Durham Region will grow by 22,000 people per year for the same period.
An exemption would also allow local mapping of agriculture and natural heritage systems to remain in place until the completion of a municipal comprehensive review, it would remove density targets and reduce the need for comprehensive reviews, which are conducted at the County level. In her presentation to Council, Director of Planning Karen Ellis explained that the County and municipality have a solid local planning framework in place, making this layer of provincial legislation unwieldy and unnecessary.
Should the request for removal be rejected, Council decided to take advantage of the employment land protection tool available in the growth plan with a request to identify an area as Provincially Significant Employment Zone. At the moment, this designation is only available as far east as Oshawa. It is not intended to cut red tape, but protects employment lands from conversion to other uses. In their discussion, Council decided to identify specific lands around the airport for this designation.
The proposed amendments to the GPGGH are aimed at eliminating barriers that restrict increasing housing supply, discourage investment and job creation and providing municipalities some flexibility to customize their planning decisions to best suit their community.
When looking for changes to the use of your own property, don’t expect a quick answer. The layers of legislation controlling land use are many and deep, and it can take time for local staff to wade through it on your behalf. Hopefully these amendments will simplify the process and allow a bit more discretion at the local level where the consequences of planning decisions are most keenly felt. KG