Developers looking to have their lands included in expansion plans and citizens’ groups worried about the implications of growth have been making conflicting requests of municipal councils as the Region of Waterloo looks to set out a 30-year plan for development.
The region is seeking public input, including comments from lower-tier municipalities. Wellesley council has the process underway. On Monday night, it was Woolwich councillors spending some four hours getting an earful.
This same fierce debate is happening in municipal council meetings across the area as regional staff undergo the process of updating the Regional Official Plan – the document that guides growth for the region. The ROP determines how much urban sprawl will be allowed in the region and where, as well as how much density should be designed into the urban spaces, and where in the urban areas the density should go.
The region created three growth scenarios to meet the population requirements set by the province, and presented these options to the municipalities in the spring. Municipal staff were originally expected to review the options, allow for public input, present their recommendation to council, receive input from council and respond to region staff by last month.
Given the short deadlines, the region will allow the municipalities to respond by mid-June.
Jeremy Vink, the manager of planning for Woolwich Township, walked councillors through the three options at a meeting June 6.
Option one has the least density at 50 jobs and people per hectare across the region, and the most urban sprawl with 2,208 hectares or 5,456 acres of land opened up for development. Option three has the most density with 66 people and jobs per hectare and no new land opened up for development.
The current density target the region sits at is 54 people and jobs per hectare.
Option two was in the middle, with 60 jobs and people per hectare and 376 hectares of new development across the region.
“Staff determined option two provided the preferred overall approach,” said Vink to the Observer in an email. “It provides the best mix of housing and best reflects the character of the township, while yet transit supportive, helps to minimize loss of agricultural lands, supports intensification, can be climate action friendly, and can be reasonably serviced.”
Environmental and citizen groups have put together a fourth option, however. Advocate Kevin Thomason presented it to council as a delegation on behalf of Smart Growth Waterloo Region. He and the other two authors of the option four report, including now-retired Kevin Eby, former director of community planning for the region, and Mark Reusser, vice-president of the Waterloo Federation of Agriculture, argue that none of the region’s proposed options do the region justice or work hard enough to preserve agricultural land.
Thomason said that option one included too much sprawl, by losing over 5,000 acres of farmland in the region. He pointed out that option two, while having less farmland loss than option one, introduces inequity into the region by allocating urban expansion to some municipalities and not others, and option three, while it does not include any farmland loss, allocates the majority of the density to the outer edges of the urban areas where there are no services or transport set up to accommodate it.
The group’s proposed option four includes no allowances for urban expansion, a density target of 60 people and jobs per hectare across the region, which is the same as option two, but allocates this density across the whole region with an emphasis on the core areas, and infilling in-between to the outer areas. Thomason says the goal is to create walkable, complete communities where people can live, work and buy their necessities within 15-minute walks of their homes.
He also brought up the question of seniors’ dwellings. As the region’s seniors continue to age, they will leave their single-family homes and seek out smaller dwellings more appropriate for their needs. It is expected they will want to live in their own neighbourhoods rather than having to leave and move to a facility somewhere else. He said councils and staff across the region should plan for this upcoming demand.
In his presentation, Eby stressed that as well, saying this need will be great in the coming years, and is largely going ignored. Meanwhile, developers have not maxed out the number of vacant lots already approved for development.
Vink said township staff had also received option four, and have considered it.
“The main difference is that (option four) is more heavily focused on having growth focus on intensification of existing areas. It goes a step beyond option three,” said Vink. He said township staff are unsure the proposed option four would be practical or feasible in the smaller communities of Woolwich.
After Thomason finished speaking, there followed at least three more hours of delegations of people, including landowners and representatives of developer interests, arguing for their lands to be included in the settlement boundaries, as well as others who agreed with the need to preserve the township’s farmland.
Region staff present at the meeting also confirmed that further information about each of the three options was expected soon, including an analysis of the climate impact of each option. As well, staff also said that final decisions about the land needs assessment were not needed until August.
Almost four hours in, and all of the delegates having been heard, Woolwich councillors weighed into the discussion. Ultimately, they agreed with the principles of option four, to prioritize and protect farmland, and that more information was needed before making a decision that would lock-in the future of the township for the next 30 years.
As a response to send back to the region staff, councillors unanimously voted to support option four in principle and to recommend the land needs assessment be based on the principle of minimizing the impact or loss of agricultural land.