How Places to Grow Failed Innisfil

Ontario’s Places to Grow legislation, enacted in 2005, was considered to be such a major advancement that it received awards from the American Planning Association, the Canadian Institute of Planners and the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

In 2010, it is more a failure of good intentions as the principal goals continue to be lost in local versions of Official Plans.  The Act was intended to control growth

  • to avoid traffic gridlock, urban sprawl, loss of farmland
  • to protect threatened natural areas.

But its success depends on the foresight of municipal governments. According to the Ontario Places to Grow website, the Act sets “the framework for growth and development, while regional and local official plans guide local planning decisions. These local and regional official plans must conform with the growth plan within three years of the growth plan’s adoption.”

The thrust of the legislation was to designate growth areas and create growth strategies. One of the requirements was for 40% of new growth to occur within existing settlement areas through intensification while up to 60% would be allowed on ‘greenfield’ areas within municipal boundaries. In response, Innisfil has spent a great deal of effort to try and define new “settlement areas” within its Official Plan to enable further greenfield sprawl. The Town Hall and Recreation Centre were placed at a rural crossroads and called a ‘campus’. Documents started to refer to the original growth centre of Alcona as Alcona/Lefroy. A new town of 50,000, Innisfil Heights, was planned west of highway 400 on the pretext of developing ‘employment lands’.

Barrie claimed that it was designated as a ‘Growth Centre’.  In reality, Places to Grow defined downtown Barrie as a growth centre, something that has never been recognized by the press. (Barrie’s former mayor initiated an ambitious plan for downtown revitalization that vanished when he was defeated for reelection.)

Faced with competing plans for sprawl, the Ontario government allowed Barrie to annex another 2,300 hectares beyond the 3,500 hectares it annexed from Innisfil in the 1970s. (1,000 hectares equals 10 square kilometers.) Although the Ontario government had the legislative authority to limit Barrie to its existing boundaries it failed to do so under the lame excuse that Barrie had “run out of land”. It sets a terrible precedent based on the flimsiest justification that may undermine any later attempt to limit municipal boundaries anywhere else.

As a result, Innisfil has lost:

  • 3 years spinning its tires on plans that do not have official approval at the provincial level
  • 2,300 hectares of territory and accompanying assessment revenue

Meanwhile car-dependent development continues apace and For Sale signs sprout on rural lands. Innisfil can continue to go down that path of growing, and looking, just like any other town or it can decide to be a leader, an innovator and a pioneer of sustainable growth. But to do that we have to decide how we should grow, how much and where, but also where not to grow, what we want to protect and preserve and what compromises we’re willing to make. In future posts, I will be writing about “Reinventing Innisfil”.