Last week’s compulsory Public Information meeting regarding the Official Plan and By-law amendments required to accommodate the next phase of the Highlands subdivision drew only a handful of attendees.
This continues the relatively recent trend of apparent apathy towards big issues in the township. Traditionally there has been robust participation in these kind of sessions where public input is sought. What gives?
A letter from former Deputy Mayor John Fallis to Council providing his extensive feedback suggests that the virtual format of meetings, dictated by public health regulations, does not meet the community’s need to be involved. Even though attendees can avoid the personal spotlight when asking questions with a few keyboard strokes at these Zoom meetings, the virtual format is not welcoming to everyone.
In person meetings allow neighbours to discuss their views amongst themselves, which either alleviates or exacerbates their concerns regarding the project in question. Most of us have rarely seen our neighbours over the last year, let alone talked to them about issues beyond COVID and its effect on our lives. Rational conversations about the impact of development are low on the priority list for most residents at the moment.
Some residents are choosing alternative methods of communication to share their concerns. The township confirms it has received feedback from ___ residents through email, telephone calls and letters.
Who decides where growth happens? The process is explained in detail in the 2004/5 report from the Ontario Environmental Commissioner which analysed limits to growth. According to the report, the Provincial Policy Statement requires planning authorities “to maintain the ability to accommodate residential growth of a minimum of 10 years, and land with servicing capacity sufficient to provide at least a 3 year supply of residential units… In addition, sufficient land shall be made available to accommodate an appropriate range and mix of employment opportunities, housing and other land uses to meet project needs for a time horizon of up to 20 years.”
According to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MAH), this growth capacity is based on population projections established by upper-tier- ie County- levels of government based on provincial population modelling. The Ministry of Finance (MOF) produces 30-year population projections after every national consensus. The MOF states unequivocally that these projections do not represent targets or even desired population outcomes, but are simply extrapolations of past trends in migration, birth rates and mortality patterns. However these projections are being treated as targets, because by predicting growth in certain regions, municipalities are forced to plan for it rather than do the work to identify locations where growth would best occur. It becomes self-fulfilling.
Under the Places to Grow Act, revised in 2020, new development is also expected to create “complete communities” where residents can live, work and play. The living part has been relatively easy. It’s the “work” part that presents a challenge. Official Plans can designate areas as employment land, but attracting employers has proved difficult and efforts on that front continue. The creation of local jobs would also help the community mitigate local climate change impact instead of exacerbating them by enticing people to larger homes requiring longer commutes.
Developers seek opportunities in communities where growth has been planned, where land is earmarked for development to meet the growth projections developed by the province. The closer to the GTA, the better. Cavan Monaghan fits the bill on both fronts.
Council is required to consider development proposals, particularly when they adhere to planning legislation. While they can’t arbitrarily reject development plans, they can and do ask for adjustments that make the projects more palatable.
Despite the underwhelming feedback, many of us care about new development, and while we can’t shut it down, we can try to influence it to better meet the needs and aspirations of the community. Accommodations and concessions have already been obtained during Phase 1, including a $500,000 contribution to the new community centre in addition to its mandatory parkland allocation; more senior living options; more garage/driveway space to reduce street parking;
Like it or not, Phase 2 is coming. Council welcomes ideas from residents about how the project can be more palatable to the community, and the sooner, the better. Do you think the apartment blocks should have roof-mounted solar panels? Would you like more trees? Wider streets? There are no guarantees requests will be accommodated, but it is certain that they won’t happen if we don’t ask. KG