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Protecting Quality of Life for Generations to Come

Archived Backgrounder

Protecting Quality of Life for Generations to Come

Ontario has released four updated land use plans that work together to help grow communities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe and on the Niagara Escarpment in a way that attracts jobs and investments in vibrant urban centres, while also preserving and protecting green spaces, farmland and ecologically sensitive lands and waters.

The plans are:

Updates to the plans are based on input received during the two-year co-ordinated land use planning review, which involved three rounds of public consultations from February 2015 to February 2017, 87 recommendations [PDF] put forward by an advisory panel chaired by former Toronto mayor David Crombie, 29 open houses and townhalls attended by more than 4,600 people across the region, and more than 42,000 submissions.

Highlights of the plans include:

Building Complete Communities

  • Adding more direction in the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe on the objectives of a complete community, such as supporting health and wellbeing, and access to local food and a mix of housing options for all incomes and household sizes.
  • Further curbing urban/suburban sprawl by increasing the intensification target and raising densities in Designated Greenfield Areas, while allowing for some flexibility in these targets to recognize unique circumstances in some communities.
    • As of 2031, the intensification target will be increased to 60 per cent of residential development annually directed to delineated built-up areas. At the next municipal comprehensive review, to be completed by 2022, municipalities will be asked to achieve an interim intensification target of 50 per cent.
    • The Designated Greenfield Area density target of 80 residents and jobs combined per hectare will apply to new lands designated in the future. An interim Designated Greenfield Area density target of 60 residents and jobs combined per hectare will apply, beginning in 2022, to the current Designated Greenfield Area. Alternative targets may be requested to the interim targets.
  • Requiring minimum density targets for major transit station areas along priority transit corridors and existing subways.
  • Continuing to ensure that municipalities plan for enough land and a range of housing types to accommodate growth, directing it to existing built-up areas and where transit can best serve all resident and businesses.
  • Reflecting the needs of a growing region, new provisions will require municipalities to consider the appropriate range of unit sizes in apartments, condominiums and townhouses to accommodate a diverse range of household sizes and incomes.
  • Requiring all conversions from employment uses to non-employment uses be approved by the province.
  • Introducing a new "prime employment area" designation to protect areas for employment uses that are land extensive or have low employment densities, including manufacturing, warehousing and logistics. Major retail cannot be located in these areas and will be directed to mixed-use areas accessible by transit. 

Supporting a Viable Agricultural Sector

  • Developing an agricultural system across the entire Greater Golden Horseshoe to support the viability of the agri-food sector and consistently protect farmlands.
  • Aligning plan policies with the Provincial Policy Statement to provide for greater flexibility in the types of agricultural, agriculture-related and on-farm diversified uses permitted on farmlands.
  • Clarifying the requirements for agricultural uses in natural heritage systems to reduce the burden on the agricultural sector and support farm operations and the effective use of productive farmland.

Protecting Natural Heritage and Water

  • Establishing Greenbelt-level protections for natural heritage systems -- such as wetlands, woodlands and rivers -- beyond the Greenbelt, with the province taking the lead in mapping those areas. Municipalities would be required to plan for and protect these systems in their municipal official plans.
  • Requiring municipalities to complete watershed planning before planning settlement area expansions, infrastructure or major developments that could affect those watersheds.

Growing the Greenbelt

  • Adding lands in 21 major urban river valleys and seven associated coastal wetlands to the Greenbelt.
  • Adding five parcels of land identified by the City of Hamilton and the Region of Niagara and the Town of Halton Hills to the Protected Countryside of the Greenbelt.
  • Including a new policy in the Greenbelt Plan that speaks to the potential for the province to consider opportunities to grow the Greenbelt. The province will undertake a process, including public consultation, to expand the Greenbelt on the outer edge in the near future.

Responding to Climate Change

  • Requiring municipalities in the GGH to include climate change policies in their official plans.
  • Requiring municipalities to develop storm water management plans and conduct climate change vulnerability risk assessments when planning or replacing infrastructure.
  • Encouraging municipalities to develop greenhouse gas inventories, emission reduction strategies, and related targets and performance measures.

Planning for Infrastructure

  • Providing clearer direction for municipalities to take an integrated approach to land use and infrastructure planning.
  • Providing more specific direction to municipalities to better protect corridor lands reserved for future goods movement (rail or road) and other future infrastructure, such as hydro lines.

The government has also made minor Greenbelt boundary adjustments to address mapping accuracy and respond to landowner requests.

Next Steps

The Niagara Escarpment Plan will come into effect June 1, 2017. The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2017), the Greenbelt Plan (2017), the Greenbelt Boundary Regulation and the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (2017) will come into effect on July 1, 2017.

Once in effect, all decisions on new planning matters must conform with the four plans. Municipalities are expected to review and update their official plans. Upper- and single-tier municipalities' conformity work is to be completed by 2022.

To support municipalities, the province has committed this year to:

  • Provide information sessions for municipal staff and stakeholders to familiarize them with the new, updated plans and explain how they will be implemented
  • Identify and map a region-wide natural heritage system
  • Collaborate with stakeholders to develop an agricultural system that supports the viability of the agri-food sector and consistently protects farmland across the Greater Golden Horseshoe
  • Develop a standard land needs assessment methodology
  • Develop guidance on watershed planning and on addressing climate change.
The release of the updated land use plans is another step in the reform of Ontario's land use planning system. Other steps include:

  • Providing clear, province-wide policy direction through the 2014 Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) on what should be included in municipal official plans and other municipal documents in order to promote strong communities, a strong economy and a healthy environment.
  • Making reforms, through the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, to the Planning Act and the Development Charges Act to improve the tools and processes communities and residents use to determine how their neighbourhoods grow and how they plan and pay for this growth.
  • Proposing reforms, to be introduced later this spring, to the Ontario Municipal Board to make it work better for municipalities and the people of Ontario.
  • Working with other ministries to improve alignment across provincial plans and transit investments, support planning and development decisions that create more complete communities across the province and provide more options for healthier living and shorter commute times for Ontarians.

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