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Another Dispatch from CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) in Hamilton
Posted January 21st, 2019 on Niagara At Large
The provincial government has tossed another bombshell into municipal planning with the release last week of dozens of proposed changes to the rules governing how cities can grow.
These are in addition to the controversial Bill 66 changes that lets municipal councils override the Greenbelt Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental and planning legislation in order to facilitate specific development prospects.
More than one hundred amendments to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe were posted last week for 45 days of public comment. Major changes include substantially lower density requirements, reduced protection of agricultural lands, and removal of social justice and climate change objectives from the plan.
A Queen’s Park media release announcing the changes says “Ontario’s government for the people wants to speed up development and increase the supply of housing”.
They’ve won support from the head of Ontario Home Builders Association, and the CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association, but are being denounced by groups like Environmental Defence.
“These changes, combined with those proposed in Bill 66, mark an end to provincial rules that support smartly planned, transit friendly communities, and the protection of farmland, natural heritage areas, and clean water,” states Environment Defence.
A retired key architect of the Growth Plan and the Greenbelt legislation, Victor Doyle calls the moves “a big sop” to developers who want to build on greenfield lands and contends that it will take land use planning back to the 1990s.
The Growth Plan just completed a legislated once-a-decade update early in 2018 after more than two years of very extensive consultation with both the public and municipal governments. That included three rounds of drafts and opportunities to respond to proposed changes as well as a major independent review led by former Conservative cabinet minister David Crombie.
By contrast, the new government says their changes have come out of “working group sessions” that were privately convened by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing last fall. Public consultation on these amendments, however, is being limited to submitting comments through the environmental registry before the end of February.
Densities of at least 80 residents or jobs per hectare were a key part of the Growth Plan because they are considered necessary to support frequent transit service.
But that’s being amended for Hamilton to 60 residents or jobs per hectare and cut down to as low as 40 in some parts of the Greater Golden Horseshoe alongside additional “policies that permit all municipalities to apply for alternative intensification and designated greenfield area density targets”.
Municipalities will now be able to expand their urban boundaries onto rural lands by up to 40 hectares without going through the usual justification process “so as to unlock land faster for residential and commercial development”. That translates into new big box complexes on farmland at the edge of cities and towns.
The philosophy behind the changes is evident right from the introductory statement where the central target of the growth plan of restricting “low-density urban sprawl” –– is replaced by the nebulous “unmanaged growth”. Then the principles section deletes the objectives of “a clean and healthy environment” and “social equity” and replaces those phrases with aim of “an approach that puts people first”.
Another guiding principle deletes “low-carbon” and “the long-term goal of net-zero communities” and replaces them with “environmentally sustainable”. Other references to climate change goals set by the Wynne government are removed entirely.
The government has already cancelled the Cap and Trade climate legislation that imposed fees on fossil fuel use and directed the proceeds to assisting residents and businesses to reduce their carbon emissions.
That policy was strongly praised by the province’s independent Environmental Commissioner, but her office has also been abolished as part of a Conservative government budget statement in November.
CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) updates use transcripts and/or public documents to highlight information about Hamilton civic affairs that is not generally available in the mass media.
Detailed reports of City Hall meetings can be reviewed at hamiltoncatch.org .
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