Every time push comes to shove, Ontario’s Places to Grow legislation is shown to be ineffective in setting firm controls or limits on development. Now, Aware Simcoe has raised the alarm about Simcoe County’s interpretation of Amendment 1 regulations, which would ignore any population cap within settlement areas designated before January 19, 2012. Some estimates suggest that this would add anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 more population above the 667,000 target set for Simcoe County to 2031.
Those following the Places to Grow saga in Simcoe County will recall that Official Plans for Simcoe County and its constituent municipalities were put on hold while the province tried to put the brakes on leap-frog development with Amendment 1. Population projections were allocated for specific communities and growth was to be directed to designated “urban nodes”. (Innisfil was not included as a growth area) Following local political objections, the province relented by adding Alcona as one of several “primary settlement areas” and by assigning an additional 20,000 population to be allocated to individual municipalities by Simcoe County Council. The key policy guidelines are:
- “The County may approve adopted official plans or adopted official plan amendments regarding lands within a settlement area that redesignate lands not for urban uses to lands for urban uses that are in excess of what is needed for a time horizon of up to 20 years or to accommodate the forecasts in Schedule 7, whichever is sooner …”
- “The sum of all population growth accommodated on lands for urban uses approved pursuant to [this policy] shall not exceed a total population of 20,000 for the County of Simcoe.”
Here’s how the County planning director sees it:
“in excess of what is needed to accommodate the forecasts can apply to 91 communities identified as settlement areas. A significant amount of those settlement areas have lands that are designated for future urban employment, industrial, residential, whatever it is – they are free and clear to go in excess of any population ... I don’t think a lot of people realize this … Municipalities may approve development on lands already designated even if doing so would exceed the population allocation. This provides a tremendous opportunity for many of the local municipalities within Simcoe County. It also means that municipalities can plan for infrastructure beyond the 20 year population forecast.”
According to a provincial senior policy advisor, “allowing approval of development in excess of forecasts in settlement areas gives municipalities flexibility so they can de-designate “legacy approvals” – proposed developments that should not go ahead because they aren’t tied in to existing settlements and infrastructure.”
But Aware Simcoe reports, “There has been no reference to this expectation in the briefings to county councillors.”
What about that limit, noted above, of an additional 20,000 population? According to Simcoe County, “We believe this policy (Section 22.214.171.124) may augment that policy (Section 126.96.36.199) so the 20,000 is not an issue”
Aware Simcoe sees this as a capitulation of municipal politicians to pressure from developers but also says politicians are enamoured by growth as the ‘engine of prosperity’ – Perhaps prosperity in political terms, where politicians vie for the 3 Ps – power, pay and prestige. Since 2005, municipalities have conveniently adopted what they like and ignored portions of Places to Grow legislation that they didn’t like, leading to the current impasse that has stalled provincial approval of Official Plans throughout Simcoe County. The fear now is that the county has abandoned any pretense of setting real priorities and a timetable for future development.
A modified version of the County’s Official Plan will be presented to committee, in camera, on June 13. Municipalities will then review it, also in camera, with approval of the Official Plan by County Council scheduled for August 28.