This month’s Greenbelts issue was still hot off the press when A\J was once again reminded of the need to actively protect our green spaces. While we were assembling the issue in late January, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), the provincial adjudicative tribunal for municipal and planning issues, ruled in favour of developing 1,053 hectares of greenspace in the Region of Waterloo by 2031. This ruling is against the Regional Official Plan as it is 968 hectares over the land budget.
According to Environmental Defense, “OMB appeals of Waterloo’s official plan have been the most significant attack to date by developers on the Places to Grow Act.” The Act is the province’s primary initiative to promote the densification of development, thereby reducing traffic congestion, decreasing air and water pollution and protecting farmland.
The Region appealed the January ruling and asked the OMB to reconsider the case. The concerns are that increasing developable land would promote sprawl while inhibiting the Region’s densification goals, created to maximize the use of land and infrastructure. Planning professors of the University of Waterloo showed solidarity by releasing a statement on the Faculty of Environment’s website in late February.
Developers argued that the allotted 85 hectares would not be sufficient to support growth, based on the past preference of detached single-family homes over high-density housing. However, the recent growth in multiple housing unit developments in the Region suggests there is increasing demand for higher density dwellings.
“The very goal of Planning is to understand (through much public input) what the future community should be, not what it will be without any action,” stated Professor Jeff Casello and others. In their statement, they urge for better cooperation amongst the Region, Province and OMB, as well as clarity regarding density regulations. It is a call for stronger, more comprehensive planning policy.
As we finally see the magazine that we’ve worked on for months in print, we take time to celebrate. It would be great to not need to put out another greenbelt issue. But as this dispute and others found in Greenbelt’s pages illustrate, borders are ephemeral. This isn’t always a bad thing – see Ellen Jakubowski’s piece “The Green Curtain.” But for the most part, it means pushing back. As articulated by Professor Casello and company, it is imperative for residents to “add their voices to the vision of how the Region should grow.”
Update, April 3, 2013: Sustainable Waterloo Region has weighed in on the issue: “Sustainable Waterloo Region believes that urban intensification supports a way of life that people increasingly want to live and planning policies need to support this change,” says Mike Morrice, Executive Director of Sustainable Waterloo Region. “The Regional Official Plan is a well thought-out strategy that was created in partnership with the community. We hope that the Province of Ontario will support the Region of Waterloo as it works to balance expected growth with the continued health of our community, economy, and natural environment.”
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