Building strong, vibrant Ontario communities isn’t easy but it’s an important goal. Unfortunately, in Ontario how developments are paid for and decisions about how we grow often tip the balance in favour of costly urban sprawl.
That’s why we were pleased to hear Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Jeffrey’s announcement that the province is reviewing some of the most important parts of our planning system. The review will include Development Charges (DCs) and how planning decisions are made – two factors that now tend to undermine smart growth in Ontario.
DCs are the fees municipalities levy to pay some of the costs new developments impose on existing taxpayers. As we showed in our report The High Cost of Sprawl, the current DC system often undercharges sprawl developers for the costs of their inefficient developments. This subsidy is often thousands of dollars per new home, which ends up costing existing residents through higher property taxes or fewer municipal services. If developers were charged the actual cost of their projects, they wouldn’t be able to afford to produce wasteful sprawl. Current DC systems mask the true financial costs of sprawl to residents and municipalities.
Like Development Charges, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) – a board that hears applications and appeals about urban planning decisions – has, at times, undermined smart growth. For example, last January, the OMB gave permission to pave over more than 1,000 hectares of prime farmland when it overturned the Waterloo Region’s Official Plan in favour of the plan put forward by sprawl developers. In the process, the OMB may have also fatally wounded the province’s award-winning Growth Plan. The provincial government did the right thing when it announced it would join the Region’s appeal against the OMB. We hope Ontario makes its appeal official soon.
The costs of urban sprawl are many; there are financial costs, health costs and costs to quality of life. Increased sprawl leads to higher taxes, poor air quality, strained municipal services, habitat destruction, and loss of farmland. It’s also the main cause of the congestion crisis the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton region now faces. As more sprawl is built, all this is set to get worse.
As part of its review, the province will examine how developments give back to the residents of communities. Municipalities can require developers to set aside some land for a park or recreation area for local residents. Section 37 of the Planning Act (often called “density bonusing”) enables a developer to surpass height and density zoning if they provide the community with tangible benefits like community centres, parks and streetscape improvements. These are important tools for municipalities to create the kinds of places we want to live, work, shop and play in.
When it comes to shaping how Ontario grows, thousands of people are part of the process, including community groups, politicians, public officials, developers and consultants. It’s important that residents are also among those the province hears from.
Be sure to make your voice heard about how to change these important parts of our province’s planning system. Go to our action page and tell the province to continue curbing sprawl and building the healthy, vibrant and prosperous communities we all want.
The deadline for submissions is January 10, 2014. Make sure you have your say about the kind of communities you want to see grow in Ontario.