Still "open for business" - Amendments to growth plan, a regional review, and the defeat of Bill 66

31 January 2019

The Province of Ontario recently announced three major initiatives which have the potential to result in additional significant changes to the new land use planning regime introduced last year in Ontario. Though only two initiatives are slated to proceed, all three point to the new government's interest in leveraging land use planning and municipal controls to develop efficiencies and encourage economic growth in the province.



Amendments to Growth Plan, 2017

On January 15, 2019, the Province announced amendments to the Growth Plan, 2017 (the "Plan"). The government is hoping to increase and promote economic growth; reduce congestion and provide easy access to businesses and services; build communities that maximize infrastructure investments; and balance local needs for the agricultural industry and natural areas. These aims would be achieved by attempting to provide greater flexibility and address barriers to building homes, creating jobs, attracting investment and locating infrastructure while protecting the environment.

The following is a summary of the proposed amendments.

1. Employment Planning

Stated Purpose: To protect employment lands while unlocking land for residential development.

Effect: Allows the conversion of lands within designated Employment Areas to permit non-employment uses, in advance of a municipal comprehensive review, provided that there is:

  1. A need;
  2. No adverse impact on the viability of an Employment Area or the achievement of minimum intensification and density targets;
  3. iii. Existing or planned infrastructure and public services in place; and
  4. iv. A significant number of jobs maintained.

Certain employment lands will be designated as Provincially Significant Employment Zones that can only be converted through a municipal comprehensive review.

2. Settlement Area Boundary Adjustments and Expansions

Stated Purpose: To enable local municipalities to unlock land faster for residential and commercial development, thereby supporting more jobs and housing.

Effect: Settlement Area Boundaries can be adjusted or expanded without a municipal comprehensive review under certain conditions.

Adjustments

Municipalities may adjust settlement area boundaries in advance of a municipal comprehensive review when:

  1. There is no net increase in land within the settlement areas;
  2. Adjustment would support the municipality's ability to meet intensity and density targets of the Plan;
  3. The location of the added lands satisfy the requirements of policy 2.2.8.3;
  4. The affected settlement areas are not rural settlements or in the Greenbelt Area; and
  5. The settlement area to which the lands would be added are serviced with sufficient reserve infrastructure capacity to service the lands.

Expansions

Municipalities may expand settlement area boundaries in advance of a municipal comprehensive review where the area of the additional lands is no larger than 40 hectares, provided that:

  1. The added lands will be planned to achieve minimum density targets;
  2. The location of the added lands satisfy the requirements of policy 2.2.8.3;
  3. The affected settlement area is not a rural settlement or in the Greenbelt Area; and
  4. The settlement area is serviced with sufficient reserve infrastructure capacity to service the lands; and
  5. The additional lands and associated forecasted growth will be fully accounted for in the land needs assessment associated with the next municipal comprehensive review.

3. Natural Heritage and Agricultural Systems

Stated Purpose: To enable regional mapping systems that reflect local mapping realities and protect natural resources, while continuing to build the agri-food industry.

Effect: A municipality may refine provincial Natural Heritage System and Agricultural System mapping before incorporating it into their Official Plan. Existing Official Plan mapping applies until the provincial mapping is incorporated.

4. Major Transit Station Areas

Stated Purpose: To enable quicker determination of major transit station areas to facilitate faster zoning and development approvals.

Effect: Upper-tier and single-tier municipalities may delineate the boundaries of major transit station areas and identify minimum density targets for these areas in advance of the next municipal comprehensive review, provided the municipality does so in accordance with Planning Act provisions regarding Official Plan requirements for these areas.

5. Intensification and Density Targets

Stated Purpose: Simplifying the approach to minimum intensification and density targets, in order to support provincial transit investments, planned growth rates and local realities, including market demand for housing.

Effect: The minimum intensification target in more urbanized areas for residential development within Delineated Built-up Areas is 50% or 60% depending on the municipality. Less urbanized areas are required to establish minimum targets through the next municipal comprehensive review that maintain or improve existing targets.

The minimum density target for residential development within Designated Greenfield Areas is 40, 50 or 60 residents and jobs combined per hectare, depending on the municipality.

Comments on the proposed amendments to the Growth Plan can be submitted to the Province until February 28, 2019.

Regional Review

On the same day that it announced the amendments noted above, the Provincial government declared a review of the governance, decision-making and service delivery functions of eight regional municipalities and Simcoe County.

The government is seeking to cut red tape and inefficiencies in regional governance. With the Province's recent decision to cut the Toronto municipal council size almost in half, municipalities may be wary about what the review may bring. There is some speculation that the review could ultimately lead to the amalgamation of municipalities across the province.

The review will cover Durham, Halton, Muskoka, Niagara, Oxford County, Peel, Waterloo, York, Simcoe County and their 73 lower-tier municipalities. Two special advisors will carry out the review according to a terms of reference, and will make recommendations to the Province on opportunities to improve regional government. The review will include consultations with municipal councillors, leaders, stakeholder organizations and the public during Spring 2019. Recommendations will be submitted to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing this summer.

Restoring Ontario's Competitiveness Act, 2018

The third recent change sought by the new government in the land use planning field was Bill 66, Restoring Ontario's Competitiveness Act, 2018. Bill 66 was tabled on December 6th, 2018. Schedule 10 of Bill 66 would have given municipalities the power to enact by-laws to facilitate new major employment uses without the need to be consistent with, or conform to, other higher order planning regulations including the Provincial Policy Statement, the Growth Plan or the Greenbelt Plan. Referred to as an "Open-for-Business Planning By-law", the by-law could be passed by council without notice or public consultation and was not subject to appeal.

On January 23, 2019, the Province announced it was withdrawing the Open-for-Business Planning By-law provisions from Bill 66 as a result of early stakeholder feedback. Nevertheless, Bill 66 is an indication of a trend the new government appears to be taking in using amendments to the planning regime in an attempt to stimulate jobs, housing, and the economy while eliminating inefficiencies.

Preparing for Change

The proposed changes outlined above stand to impact several stakeholders, including municipal governments, developers, environmental organizations, and citizen associations. Gowling WLG has a team of lawyers with expertise in land use planning, municipal governance, and environmental law who can provide guidance and support in preparing for the changes ahead.


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