The Zoning Game

I’ve been watching for a while now how things work. Usually, residents get engaged in development proposals, typically with objections, when a plan comes down to a rezoning application. In most instances, it is a losing proposition. The overall broad scheme of things has been decided years before through the Official Plan that maps the boundaries of existing and future growth, agricultural, recreational and natural areas. I’ve come to the conclusion that, additionally, municipal zoning only exists as a mechanism for developers to move vacant land into urban development through a series of rezoning applications. But what comes out the other end is still an unknown.

Here is a description of a development that is moving forward adjacent to the railway line, as outlined by the developer’s lawyer in correspondence to the Town (Council Agenda, May 6, 2015):

This draft plan of subdivision and associated conditions … were approved by the Ontario Municipal Board on June 27, 2008 … On May 29, 2013 the OMB extended “the lapsing date for five (5) years to allow adequate time to register subsequent subdivisions in different stages of approval.” In January 2015, the applicant requested approval of a “revised draft plan” dated December 12, 2014 for the purpose of increasing the number of 50 ft. lots and decreasing the number of 38 and 34 ft. lots “in response to sales … and market demand in the community”.

This revision leaves five lots backing onto the railway corridor in this building phase. The County of Simcoe and the Town of Innisfil consented to the revised draft. “The County considers the above changes to the draft plan and conditions of draft approval to be minor.”

Notably, Metrolinx has required the following warning for purchasers “within 300 metres of the railway right-of-way” [that’s 984 feet]:

There may be alterations to or expansions of the rail facilities … in the future … ; which expansion may affect the living environment of the residents in the vicinity … GO Transit will not be responsible for any complaints or claims arising …”

You have to wonder if creating larger lots is the best way to plan development beside an active commuter railway line. For the record, I hear the daily GO train horns at home from about 4.5 km. from the track crossing. These new-home buyers are in for a treat with all-day train service in a few years! This is what happens when provincial “Policy Guidelines” collide with uninspired planning, calculating developers and a pliable Council. But people will be told that the provincial “intensification” policy is to blame.

When have you ever heard of zoning moving in the other direction for agricultural, recreational or conservation purposes? We have federal, provincial and municipal parks, beaches, and regional conservation areas. Each of these was created, and is protected, through public ownership. Non-government organizations also manage trails, wetlands and nature conservancies through ownership. This is why I would support expiry dates for zoning; banning “grandfathering” approvals; municipal ‘land banking’ of public space for various and multiple uses; and new zoning specifically for “urban agriculture” within settlement & industrial areas.

Now that warmer weather is here, I’ve been out more and noticed a couple of those bright yellow rezoning application signs. There are a couple of them posted at lakefront lots concerning applications for a “minor variance” to amend the minimum setback required by the Lake Simcoe Protection Act:

Applicant proposing to demolish existing structure & replace with new dwelling. Proposed dwelling to be within 30 m of Lake Simcoe shoreline. Applicant seeking relief from Section 3.50e of Bylaw which requires waterfront setback from Lake Simcoe of 30m.” [Meeting date: Apr. 16, 2015]

Applicant proposing to replace existing dwelling with new dwelling and is seeking relief from front yard setback (7 m allowed, 25 m proposed) min. setback from water’s edge (30 m required, 15.7 proposed), and min. interior side yard setback (1.2 m requ’d, 0.63 proposed.) [Meeting date: Jan. 15, 2015]

So, after passing comprehensive legislation to protect all of the Lake Simcoe shoreline, we allow individual property owners to apply for a “minor variance” to overturn the minimum setback. The decision is turned over to local Committees of Adjustment to make the decision in consultation with other agencies. I’m wondering why we would take people’s money for these applications, if we’re serious about protecting the lake. How many similar applications have been made? How many have been approved? In which municipalities?

An earlier generation built more modest lakefront summer places, mainly to eat and sleep, maintaining outdoor space to, well, enjoy the outdoors. Now, there has been a steady trend toward demolition of those seasonal homes. Today’s property owners prefer what some people might call ‘monster homes’ built from lot-line to lot-line, with paving street-side for cars and a big deck or patio lakeside. It is the visible manifestation of a major shift in social attitudes.

Mississauga, meanwhile, is considering a plan to charge home owners an annual fee based on the amount of lot coverage to compensate for increased water run-off to storm sewers. Innisfil might be creating conditions for future problems, but, hey, it’s all in the zoning!

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2 thoughts on “The Zoning Game

  1. No, its not all in the zoning. Its all in the failure of elected and appointed municipal officials to “keep up to the market” or put another way ” to anticipate the market demand for their product”

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