Canada: Amendment 1 – Proposed Changes To The Growth Plan For The Greater Golden Horseshoe

Last Updated: January 31 2019
Article by Katarzyna Sliwa and Aaron Kurts

On January 15, 2019, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (Ministry) released proposed amendments (Amendment 1) to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2017 (Growth Plan). The government is undertaking a consultation process that is open until February 28, 2019, which provides an opportunity for stakeholders to give feedback on the proposed amendments. To complement Amendment 1, the province has also released accompanying modifications to O. Reg 311/06, Transitional Matters – Growth Plans, a framework for provincially significant employment zones, and proposed modifications to O. Reg 525/97, Exemption from Approval – Official Plan Amendments.

The purpose of these changes is to increase the province's available housing supply, streamline the process for transit growth, attract investment and foster job creation, and improve the planning process for rural communities. Amendment 1 also walks back the Growth Plan's long-term goal of net-zero communities, committing instead to working towards environmental sustainability. The government has indicated that the driving force of these amendments is to provide local governments more autonomy in the decision-making process, while continuing to protect the Greenbelt, agricultural lands, the agri-food sector, and Natural Heritage Systems in Ontario.

Proposed changes under Amendment 1

1. Employment planning

Under Amendment 1, upper- and single-tier municipalities would have the ability to designate employment areas by way of official plan amendment without the need for a municipal comprehensive review. Municipalities would also have increased autonomy to convert lands within existing employment areas to non-employment uses prior to a municipal comprehensive review, provided that:

  1. There is a need for such a conversion;
  2. The conversion would not adversely affect the overall viability of the employment area, or the achievement of the minimum intensification and density targets of the Growth Plan;
  3. There is existing or planned infrastructure and public service facilities to accommodate the proposed uses; and
  4. The conversion maintains a significant number of jobs.

This considerable increase in municipal autonomy to convert employment areas is balanced by the proposed creation of provincially significant employment zones, which are exempt from this simplified conversion process. The government has provided a list of proposed provincially significant employment zones, which are areas that:

  1. Are within the boundaries of an existing settlement area;
  2. Are designated as employment areas;
  3. May be susceptible to conversion;
  4. May be facing an encroachment by sensitive land uses; and
  5. Are crucial to the investment and industry of the region.

To determine if an area will be identified as a provincially significant employment zone, the Minister will also consider the general connectivity to transit and infrastructure, strategic economic placement, interconnectivity with industrial uses and contiguous zones. Amendment 1 also provides additional protection to the industrial and manufacturing sector. It is proposed that the development of sensitive land uses, major retail uses, or major office uses be required to avoid or mitigate any impact on affected industrial and manufacturing uses.

A number of the sites on the Ministry's proposed list of provincially significant employment zones include parts of major transit areas in Ontario. The government is currently seeking feedback from the public and other stakeholders on whether these areas ought to be included in the provincially significant employment zones designation. The list of proposed provincially significant employment zones can be found here.

2. Settlement area boundary expansions

Amendment 1 would also allow municipalities to fast-track residential and commercial development by granting increased independence to municipalities to make settlement area boundary changes outside of the confines of a municipal comprehensive review. Under Amendment 1, municipalities may adjust settlement area boundaries outside of a municipal comprehensive review if:

  1. It does not result in a net increase in land within settlement areas;
  2. The adjustment would support the municipality's ability to meet the intensification and density targets established by the Growth Plan;
  3. The location of the lands added to the settlement area satisfy the applicable requirements of the Growth Plan's policies relating to settlement area boundary expansions, generally;
  4. The affected settlement areas are not rural settlements or located within the Greenbelt; and
  5. The settlement area is serviced by municipal water and wastewater systems, and there is sufficient reserve capacity to service the lands.

Municipalities, under Amendment 1, may also expand settlement area boundaries outside of a municipal comprehensive review, provided that:

  1. The lands that are added will be planned to achieve at least the minimum density target established by the Growth Plan;
  2. The location of the lands added to the settlement area satisfy the applicable requirements of the Growth Plan's policies relating to settlement area boundary expansions, generally;
  3. The affected settlement areas are not rural settlements or located within the Greenbelt;
  4. The settlement area is serviced by municipal water and wastewater systems, and there is sufficient reserve capacity to service the lands;
  5. The additional lands and associated growth will be accounted for in the next municipal comprehensive review; and
  6. The lands to be added do not exceed 40 hectares.

3. Intensification and density targets

Amendment 1 revises the Growth Plan's minimum intensification targets for delineated built-up areas, resulting in targets that differ by municipality. The province's stated intention with these revisions is to recognize that "one-size does not fit all" when it comes to intensification and density. Under Amendment 1, intensification targets remain at 60 percent for development occurring within the City of Hamilton, and Regions of Peel, Waterloo and York, but drops to 50 percent for the Cities of Barrie, Brantford, Guelph, Orillia and Peterborough, and the Regions of Halton, Durham and Niagara. The City of Kawartha Lakes, and the Counties of Brant, Dufferin, Haldimand, Northumberland, Peterborough, Simcoe and Wellington, will be required to establish a target through their next municipal comprehensive review.

Similar modifications were made to minimum density targets for designated greenfield areas. Amendment 1 has set density targets for the City of Hamilton, and the Regions of Peel, Waterloo and York, at 60 residents and jobs per hectare. The Cities of Barrie, Brantford, Guelph, Orillia and Peterborough, and the Regions of Durham, Halton and Niagara, have a slightly lower target of 50 residents and jobs per hectare, while the target for the City of Kawartha Lakes, and the Counties of Brant, Dufferin, Haldimand, Northumberland, Peterborough, Simcoe and Wellington, is set at 40 residents and jobs per hectare.

The minimum density targets for Urban Growth Centres, including those in the City of Toronto, are unchanged by Amendment 1.

4. Major transit areas

Amendment 1 is intended to streamline the process for determining major transit station areas, in order to speed up the process for development and zoning to meet the growing infrastructure and transit needs of Ontario residents. Amendment 1 would provide municipalities with the ability to delineate major transit station area boundaries, and identify minimum density targets for these areas prior to a municipal comprehensive review, provided it be done in accordance with the Planning Act's provisions relating to major transit station areas.

5. Small rural settlements

Amendment 1 also seeks to alleviate some pressure on small rural communities, by allowing minor adjustments to the boundaries of rural settlements outside of a municipal comprehensive review. Rural municipalities will have the ability to adjust boundaries, if:

  1. The settlement area is not in the Greenbelt;
  2. The change would be a minor rounding out of existing development, and would not impact the rural character of the area;
  3. The available water and wastewater infrastructure is appropriate to service the change; and
  4. Sections 2 and 3 of the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS)—those regarding the wise use and management of resources, and protecting public health and safety—are applied.

6. Natural Heritage and Agricultural Systems

Under the proposed changes to the Growth Plan, provincial Natural Heritage and Agricultural System mapping will not apply until it as been implemented in the applicable upper- or single-tier official plan. Municipalities will have the ability to refine provincial mapping during the implementation phase of their official plans. Subsequent to these refinements, changes to the Natural Heritage System and agricultural land base mapping will occur through a municipal comprehensive review.

Conclusion

Amendment 1 focuses on providing more power and independence to local governments to manage growth planning in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. This increased autonomy will have a substantial impact on the development industry in Ontario. Dentons will continue to monitor the proposal as it makes its way through the public consultation process. The deadline to submit comments to the province is 11:59 p.m., February 28, 2019.

*This article was co-authored by Katarzyna (Kat) Sliwa, Aaron Kurts, Dragana Bukejlovic and Tina Fang.

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Dentons is the world's first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world's largest law firm, Dentons' global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries. www.dentons.com

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