New provincial amendments to the Growth Plan make clear that this government is firmly in the grip of the building industry. The Ontario government released notice of amendments to the Growth Plan of the Greater Golden Horseshoe on June 16. Town of Innisfil staff brought these forward to Council on July 15 with a ‘recommended’ response to the province which was due on July 31. The opportunity for public comment also closed on July 31.
Amendments include “changes to the population and employment forecasts, horizon year for planning, and other policies to increase housing supply, create jobs, attract business investment …”
The existing Growth Plan for Simcoe County forecasts a population of 416,000 and 132,000 jobs by 2031 and 497,000 population and 152,000 jobs by 2041. From those amounts, Innisfil was allocated a population of 56,000 and 13,100 jobs by 2031. The County of Simcoe has not yet completed an allocation to Innisfil for 2041.
New Growth Plan
The province proposes to amend the Growth Plan:
- to extend the ‘forecast horizon’ to 2051
- to remove allocations of population and employment amongst constituent Simcoe County municipalities
- to allow mineral aggregate operations, quarries and pits within endangered species habitats and the defined Natural Heritage System
- to replace existing Simcoe County forecasts with three new ‘scenarios’
- to amend the Land Needs Assessment Methodology to require Ministerial approval for a municipal forecast of density lower than the provincial forecast
The new plan for Simcoe County proposes:
- a Reference Forecast: 555,000 people / 198,000 jobs
- a High Growth Scenario: 571,000 people / 210,000 jobs
- a Low Growth Scenario: 540,000 people / 188,000 jobs
The three scenarios propose an increase in population of 33 – 37% and a proposed increase in jobs of 42 -59%. The provincial consultation initiated with this notice will determine which scenario will be adopted as the ‘forecast’ for 2051.
“Minimum” Replaces Target
Policy language makes it clear “that the 20151 forecasts are to be treated as minimums and not targets”. Official Plans must be updated by July 1, 2022 to accommodate, at minimum, the 2051 forecast.
Staff consider the proposal for growth minimums rather than targets as “potentially of significant benefit to Innisfil”. The Town’s planning staff are “generally supportive” of the change because existing forecasts “have historically constrained the Town’s ability to expand the Innisfil Heights employment area and the settlement boundary of Alcona.” Staff also argued that existing forecasts were “potentially challenging” to the ability to achieve Council’s vision for the Orbit Go station development.
To help manage increased development pressures, planning staff endorses adopting the Reference Forecast. “This provides a basis from which municipalities can plan to exceed the growth forecasts …” Staff note that “continuing to prohibit LPAT appeals on municipal growth management decisions is especially important” to ensure “that development is aligned with the local community’s vision …”
Staff “has concerns” about the impact of larger urban centres on adjacent smaller municipalities, especially if they exceed forecast minimum growth. They suggest a land budgeting process to take existing boundaries into consideration. “The Growth Plan should include policies requiring municipalities to explore growth options … for the purposes of containing development within their existing municipal boundaries.”
What Does It Mean?
Adopting a Reference Scenario sets that forecast as a minimum growth number for Simcoe County with no specific allocation to individual County municipalities, and the High Growth Scenario as possibly a ‘target’. Local municipalities could potentially face pressure from the County to adopt more aggressive development proposals.
A Minimum Growth requirement opens the way for major residential development of Innisfil Heights. It has been prohibitively expensive to install services in what was solely an “employment” zone. Now classified as an “employment/settlement” area, a higher growth forecast could justify intensive residential development in Innisfil Heights under the rubric of “complete communities” to finance the municipal services also required for the added industrial growth long sought by Innisfil.
The province proposes amending the Land Needs Assessment Methodology for the entire Greater Golden Horseshoe. The “new methodology intends to provide a streamlined approach to land budgeting activities …” Municipalities could consider alternate assumptions about population and employment growth … to establish the case for a higher density target”. However, “assumptions that include density targetslower than those requiredin the Plan would require the Minister’s approval.”
Town staff says that wider mineral extraction would pose a significant threat to the Natural Heritage System in Innisfil
The Staff Report says, “The proposed amendments to the Plan, if approved, would apply immediately after they come into effect, including in-progress Municipal Comprehensive Reviews. The Province is proposing to retain the current date of July 1, 2022 for municipalities to bring their official plans into conformity with the amended Plan.”