Intensification, Sprawl & the OMB

The province is currently reviewing the future of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) so it was interesting that the builder’s association (BILD) came to it’s defense in a recent article (Ontario Municipal Board not to blame for intensification, Brian Tuckey, March 25):

“Some people mistakenly blame OMB decisions for the intensification that we have experienced across the GTA … The reality is that intensification is actually the result of provincial policy and the OMB makes its decisions based on that provincial policy, including the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, using submissions made by experts in land planning and development… If municipalities, local politicians or members of the public feel there is too much intensification in the GTA, then the remedy lies with the province and its policies — not with the building industry or the OMB.”

I wish it were that simple. We tend to get too much intensification in places where it is already heavily populated, like downtown Toronto. And provincial policy has only led to more dense forms of suburban housing (smaller single lots and townhouses) on the fringes of existing towns instead of as infill or redevelopment in the core. The OMB has garnered a lot of resentment because the Board tends to favour developers in 60% or more of cases according some analyses. The threat of a developer’s appeal to the OMB can sway a Council because of certain factors:

  • The cost to an individual of presenting ‘expert’ witnesses to this quasi-judicial body is estimated to range between $35,000 and $80,000. I’m guessing if municipal legal staff are involved, it could be a lot higher.
  • An appeal at the board begins “from new”, (de novo) meaning, “as if the developers application had just been tabled, disregarding the Municipalities report or decisions by the Municipalities Planning Committee or City Council … it invites the Developer to table what they really wanted vs. what the City approved or refused. ” (Think twice about appealing to the OMB, July 2014)

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Places to Grow – in Barrie

McKayPlan1

A public meeting tomorrow in Barrie (council chambers, 7:00 pm) is further proof that Ontario’s Places to Grow strategy to limit urban sprawl is a failure – at least in Simcoe County. It also confirms that Barrie is a city without boundaries and an insatiable appetite for greenfields.

McKayPlan2

“The lands are designated Highway 400 Industrial/Business Park within the City’s Official Plan and are currently zoned Agriculture (AG) in accordance with Zoning Bylaw 054-04 (Innisfil). The owner has applied to amend the current zoning of the property to Highway 400 Industrial with Site Specific exceptions …”  Continue reading

Live, Work and Play

I’m just catching up to local news since being away from writing. At first glance, I’m impressed with the six story residential and commercial development being proposed for the 25th Sideroad and Innisfil Beach Road. It’s the first significant new construction that actually conforms to the Official Plan and the ‘Inspiring Innisfil’ urban design concept for Innisfil’s commercial core. It would add four or five new retail spaces to the street and add a mix of 55 living spaces (bachelor to 2 bedroom) to enliven the street. It might even inspire development, or redevelopment, of some other nearby commercial properties that need to be brought into the 21st century.

I have a hard time reconciling resident objections to the project since it has been clear for at least the last five years that Innisfil Beach Road will be developed as a retail area with zoning to allow street-front buildings up to six stories.

What I find more disappointing is Mayor Wauchope’s response as he tried to deflect responsibility to the county and provincial governments:

“The province is telling us this, the county is telling us this … we’re caught between a rock and a hard place.”  Continue reading

Land, Housing & Growth – It’s Complicated

Maybe you saw the recent article, “Blame prices on growth plan, economist says” (Toronto Star, Oct. 14, 2016). Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC World Markets was quoted as saying, “Affordability and Places to Grow cannot coexist.”

I have to point out he was speaking at a meeting of the Building Industry & Land Development Association (BILD). This “leading Canadian economist” went on to say that development charges and slow municipal approvals are contributing to the affordability problem.

Neptis Foundation had already countered this overly simplified view with factual data on October 5 (Land supply not to blame for rising home prices: Study, Toronto Star).  Continue reading

Finding A Place to Call Home

It’s increasingly difficult for younger people and new families to find an affordable place to call home. We have Places to Grow legislation, which is intended to rein in urban sprawl and preserve a ‘greenbelt’ around Southern Ontario’s built-up urban area. At the same time, provincial growth projections mandate all municipalities to actively plan for more growth with specific population targets. One estimate suggests 3.5 million people will move to the Greater Toronto and Hamilton region in the next 25 years. But so far, this has only led to more suburban developments starved of employment opportunities; a choice of either lower paid local employment or more costly and lengthy commutes, road congestion, and poorer quality of life. Meanwhile in major cities the size of an average high-rise condo continues to shrink. Neither housing option serves existing needs well. (In New York, ‘micro apartments’ are about 275 to 300 square feet).  Continue reading

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]: Continue reading