Too many com­mu­ni­ties out of Green­belt plan

Their ab­sence puts mas­sive stress on clean wa­ter sup­plies

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Beatrice Ekoko is a free­lance writer based in Hamil­ton.

Ninety per cent of On­tar­i­ans sup­port a big­ger, stronger Green­belt — a nearly two mil­lion acres swath of pro­tected farm­land and nat­u­ral heritage sys­tems around the coun­try’s fastest grow­ing re­gion, the Greater Golden Horse­shoe (GGH). It is ex­pected that we will gain 100,000 peo­ple a year un­til 2041.

So when the prov­ince’s pro­posed amend­ments to the Green­belt Plan came out in May — along with the three other land-use plans un­der a co-or­di­nated re­view — I felt re­lief. Noth­ing ter­ri­ble was be­ing pro­posed, in fact, there is a mod­est rec­om­men­da­tion to grow the Green­belt (with Hamil­ton and Ni­a­gara get­ting two pieces added) to­talling 15,000 acres of land and the prov­ince is work­ing on a con­sul­ta­tion pol­icy as to how to grow the Green­belt fur­ther.

The prov­ince plans to iden­tify and map key hy­dro­log­i­cal ar­eas be­yond the Green­belt, and ex­tend nat­u­ral heritage, wa­ter re­sources and agri­cul­tural sys­tems pro­tec­tions into the GGH. Pub­lic land along 21 ur­ban river val­leys that feed into lake On­tario and seven coastal wet­lands are be­ing pro­posed for ad­di­tion to this world-class green­belt. Dis­ap­point­ingly, Hamil­ton was not of­fered ur­ban river val­leys of our own to be in­cluded in the mix (aside from Fifty Creek).

It is how­ever, a big let down that many com­mu­ni­ties have been left out of the pro­posal for an ex­panded Green­belt — leav­ing them vul­ner­a­ble to ex­ist­ing and fu­ture growth pres­sures and putting mas­sive stress on clean wa­ter sup­plies.

The Green­belt Plan tells mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties where they can’t grow. The Growth Plan says where and how they can. The Growth Plan helps to pre­serve the Green­belt. To­gether, these plans aim to work holis­ti­cally to­ward our shared pros­per­ity across the var­i­ous sec­tors.

While the Green­belt Plan has some pro­posed changes, it is the Growth Plan that will see sig­nif­i­cant amend­ments.

For smarter growth to hap­pen, the Growth Plan is propos­ing higher in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion tar­gets from 40 per cent to 60 per cent and rais­ing den­sity on new de­vel­op­ments from 50 to 80 peo­ple and jobs per hectare.

More growth will be di­rected to the ex­ist­ing ur­ban ar­eas and tran­sit. There will be a wel­comed fo­cus on in­te­grated plan­ning of all kinds: In­fras­truc­ture (trans­porta­tion, waste), en­ergy and wa­ter­shed plan­ning, and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of nat­u­ral heritage and agri­cul­ture and wa­ter re­source sys­tems in the set­tle­ment ar­eas. As well, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties will be re­quired to pro­vide data to be used to mon­i­tor plan im­ple­men­ta­tion. Fi­nally, a strong, un­der­ly­ing theme is cli­mate change, and this runs through­out the plan.

In all this, let’s not lose sight of the fact that more than enough land has al­ready been set aside to ac­com­mo­date fu­ture growth fore­casts in the GGH. Nep­tis Foun­da­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Marcy Burch­field ex­plains that there are 107,100 hectares of land al­ready des­ig­nated for de­vel­op­ment both from the em­ploy­ment and the res­i­den­tial side un­til 2031.

“Our re­search shows that we can build new com­mu­ni­ties on land that is not al­ready ur­ban­ized and in­ten­sify our ex­ist­ing com­mu­ni­ties and still not need to go into the Green­belt,” Marcy says.

The Growth Plan could def­i­nitely be stronger. There are ma­jor con­cerns that need to be ad­dressed. For ex­am­ple, there are no mu­nic­i­pal hard ur­ban bound­aries and the worry is that with set­tle­ment area ex­pan­sions, the risk is that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties could ap­ply to have their bound­aries ex­panded every five years, rather than the prov­ince lead­ing a process every 10 years when re­view­ing the plans.

With the Nep­tis Foun­da­tion, “the Growth Plan is only as good as its im­ple­men­ta­tion.” His­tor­i­cally, the first phase of the plan (2006) was “plagued with prob­lems in­clud­ing ap­peals of mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cial plans to the On­tario Mu­nic­i­pal Board, many of which re­main un­re­solved to this day” be­cause the prov­ince ab­di­cated its role as a re­gional plan­ner.

Ba­si­cally, the prov­ince did not mon­i­tor the im­ple­men­ta­tion of its own plan, nor did it pro­vide guid­ance or sup­port to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that needed it.

What’s more, that 107,100 hectares of land I men­tioned? It has al­ready been al­lo­cated for fu­ture ur­ban­iza­tion at lower in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion and den­sity tar­gets and in the con­text of less am­bi­tious poli­cies than those be­ing pro­posed to­day. Not great.

Thank­fully, the prov­ince, work­ing to har­mo­nize the four land-use plans and make them bet­ter (no small feat) is still seek­ing in­put on said plans, up un­til Sept. 30.

Groups such as the lo­cal non­profit, En­vi­ron­ment Hamil­ton, have planned pub­lic work­shops to sup­port in­di­vid­u­als in pre­par­ing com­ments.

They are also a mem­ber of #GrowOurGB — a col­lab­o­ra­tive of more than 120 groups and or­ga­ni­za­tions that have re­cently launched a cam­paign ask­ing the prov­ince to ex­pand the Green­belt to in­clude a com­pre­hen­sive pro­tected “Blue­belt” of vul­ner­a­ble wa­ter sup­plies (in­clud­ing key head­wa­ter fea­tures, ground­wa­ter recharge ar­eas, head­wa­ters and sur­face wa­ter fea­tures) in Sim­coe, Welling­ton, Water­loo, Brant and Northum­ber­land — the idea be­ing that wa­ter­sheds should be the bases of any plan­ning.

Their cam­paign asks the prov­ince to en­sure com­plete map­ping of these sys­tems is quickly un­der­taken for the en­tire Greater Golden Horse­shoe, and for the most sig­nif­i­cant and vul­ner­a­ble wa­ter sys­tems to be pro­tected per­ma­nently by grow­ing our Green­belt.

The cam­paign is en­cour­ag­ing mem­bers of the pub­lic to sub­mit com­ments to the prov­ince at­growour­green­­tion.

An­drew Dreschel will re­turn


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.