Ontario’s development seems premised on a bigger, faster, better equals sprawling philosophy. Climate change among other important reasons has many asking… why? Are there priorities around development and who sets them? At what and whose expense does this unfettered development come?
OP-ED by Barbara Ramsay
To be published in Community Voice – Kanata soon
These questions, historically asked by farmers and activists are now being echoed by homeowners, taxpayers, parents, seniors and even 16-year-old environmentalists. Their views on planning and development often speak to a broader community development perspective – talk about quality of life and shared social, environmental, cultural and sometimes even economic goals.
The Planning Act is the regulatory backstop for Ontario’s development philosophy. With the lens of bigger, faster, better it prioritizes the economics of development ahead of other important considerations and ensures efficiency by defining one approach for almost the entire province. Only the City of Toronto enjoys The Toronto Act. Everyone else, including the one million residents of Ottawa, enjoy a one size fits all approach to planning and development. Doesn’t seem particularly responsive and might not even be fair.
The Planning Act, not municipal elections, determines how our City Council and its Planning Committee oversee development in our City. It is prescriptive, specifying process and timelines. There is little waste for words on values such as fair, transparent our quality. It guarantees proponents unfettered access to arbiters, currently called the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT). Its appointed members decide the contentious issues without the weighty constraints of assessing community values, wants or beliefs. It’s streamlined.
Witness our current Kanata North challenge. ClubLink, Minto and Richcraft are determined to destroy 175 acres of urban greenspace despite opposition from the entire Kanata North community and its leaders, elected and voluntary.
From the outset, the Planning Act gave this group a running start. The City planning staff met with the developers from March 2019 onwards to discuss their application in confidence. A uniformly opposed community was not informed of these meetings or even that planning was underway, because the Planning Act decrees these meetings be confidential. Who benefits from that?
ClubLink dropped its application at City offices on October 8, 2019 starting the clock on Planning Act deadlines of 90 and 120 days for the key subdivision and zoning decisions recognizing that, should those deadlines be missed, it could remove the decision from the City by appealing to LPAT. This short cut is so widely used by developers that City staff warned of its expected use during November public meetings. It doesn’t seem logical that a process timeline could be so arbitrary as to take no consideration of the scope of the application under advisement. 1 house or 1502 houses. 25’ x 90’ lot or 175 acres. Who benefits from that?
Official Plans, also mandated by the Planning Act, are validated by community consultation and input but lack the policy teeth to enforce obligatory pre-assessment to cull out proposals as self-aggrandizing as this one. The municipal taxpayer foots the bill for the months of mandatory review of these inappropriate applications. Who benefits from that?
The beneficiaries of these systemic weaknesses and biases are developers like ClubLink, Minto and Richcraft. Simply put – communities in Ontario do not.
Instead, the Planning Act should empower municipalities by regulating fair, transparent development processes and encourage taxpayer support and participation by ensuring elected officials, who can be held accountable, decide development appropriateness with an eye to the community values in their municipality. At minimum, it should not allow a legitimate municipal planning and review process to be driven to an off-ramp like LPAT for the sole benefit of developers.
LPAT is a symptom of Ontario’s planning and development ills, not a solution. It is time that voters ask community leaders and elected City and Provincial representatives to start talking about municipal planning and development regulated by policy and process that works for everyone in the community, not a select few. That is how we build sustainable neighbourhoods and communities and protect the future of our children.
Chair, Kanata Greenspace Protection Coalition