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Bradford Highlands' 998-unit proposal lands back at council

Town receives its first request for a Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator order; staff lay out path forward at April 2 meeting

Plans for the vacant Bradford Highlands Golf Club are back before council, in a form they haven’t seen before.

A report from Thomas Dysart, senior planner for the town, explained Bradford received its first request for a Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator (CIHA) order and laid out the path staff expect to follow, during an April 2 council meeting.

Similar to a Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO) for which council adopted a request process in January, CIHA allows the provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing the power to make orders for zoning land (outside of the Greenbelt area) to determine the permitted use, size and spacing of buildings.

Unlike MZOs, which have been used in Ontario for decades, CIHAs were only introduced in 2022 in provincial bill 109, the More Homes for Everyone Act.

Also unlike MZOs, the minister will only consider CIHAs with endorsement from municipalities who are then responsible for ensuring the order is made available to the public, providing public notice and undertaking consultation “in a manner that the municipality considers appropriate.”

In response to that ambiguity, Dysart recommended the town provide notice and consultation for CIHA order requests, similar to what is done for zoning or official plan amendment requests. That includes among other things:

  • Posting notice signs on the property
  • Publishing notice in local media
  • Issuing notice by mail to landowners within 120 metres
  • Publishing related documents on the town’s website

The response from councillors was generally positive.

“We’re not circumventing the system, we’re working with the developer, working with the residents of this community, to make sure we get the best results we can when it comes to this development,” Mayor James Leduc said.

“I do think our staff has taken all the changes that the province has mandated down to the municipalities, and are trying to do right by the residents, right by the developer and ultimately put in place a good process,” Ward 2 Coun. Jonathan Scott added.

BWG’s first CIHA

According to the report, Bradford’s first CIHA order request comes from Bradford Highlands Joint Venture Inc. (BHJV) who include ICG Golf Inc., Bayview-Wellington (Highlands) Inc. and 2523951 Ontario Limited.

BHJV want to revise the town’s settlement boundary to include the golf club property and have it rezoned from rural to residential so it can be redeveloped into a subdivision with 998 units.

Officially known as 23 Brownlee Dr. (plus 2820, 2824 and 2848 Line 5) and located between Line 5 and Line 6, the property borders 20 existing homes along Brownlee and wraps around a group of 14 more at the end of the street.

The 60-hectare property is proposed to include 342 single-detached homes, 196 semi-detached homes, 334 street townhouses, and 126 back-to-back townhouses as well as blocks for parks and stormwater management.

Mention of that plan in the report had some residents confused, and about two dozen attended the meeting to speak out against the plan during public forum and ask why they hadn’t been given more notice.

Town chief administrative officer Geoff McKnight clarified that council wasn’t making a decision about the plan, but being informed by staff about how CIHAs would be handled moving forward. He further explained that a public meeting would be held to discuss BHJV’s plan and that notice of that meeting would be provided ahead of time.

“We’re absolutely being transparent,” Leduc reassured those in attendance. “We’re going to do the public meeting. We’re going to do all the process.”

Still, some councillors couldn’t wait to weigh in on the plan.

Ward 7 Coun. Peter Dykie represents the area of town that includes the property and said he “can’t imagine” how existing residents would feel after investing millions into their estate homes only to have “high density” proposed for their “backyard.”

Several other councillors echoed those concerns and recommended the inclusion of green buffers to offset the impact as well as the inclusion of natural features and a canal trail for residents to enjoy.

“You could make this into a beautiful subdivision,” Ward 5 Coun. Peter Ferragine said.

Dykie wasn’t so sure and took the opportunity to direct his comments at the developer’s representative in the audience.

“I know you’re here to do business, but we have to listen to our existing residents and work with our residents,” he said. “I’ve seen good land get developed in front of my eyes growing up in this municipality, but it was done with community planning. One subdivision ties into another one, to another, and I’d like to see that here.”

He also emphasized the need to be able to service all of the new residents with schools, water, sewers and traffic planning.

Proposal comes with rocky past

While the number of units may vary slightly, this isn’t the first time this proposal has come forward.

According to the report, in March and April of 2022, an application for an official plan amendment was submitted to the town, which held a virtual public meeting on May 31, 2022, after which Malone Givens Parsons Ltd. held an informal public meeting on behalf of BHJV on July 21, 2022.

That followed a similar application for official plan amendment filed on July 13, 2017, but the town considered that application incomplete until the 2022 update.

In the meantime, the municiality continued ongoing work to update its official plan, which excluded the property from the town’s settlement area, and BHJV appealed to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) in 2017.

However, before a decision could be reached, BHJV, the town and the County of Simcoe entered an agreement dated Feb. 3, 2020, which adjourned proceedings pending the outcome of the county’s Municipal Comprehensive Review (MCR) while also acknowledging that the property “would be considered as a suitable candidate” for inclusion in the settlement area, according to a letter to the town from BHJV included in the report.

While the county adopted the first phase of the MCR as an amendment to their own official plan (SCOPA 7) on Aug. 9, 2022, BHJV requested the provincial housing minister modify that plan to include their property as part of Bradford’s settlement area.

To date, the minister has not released a decision, and in the meantime, the OLT ordered on Aug. 22, 2023 that the town’s official plan is in effect save and except for the golf course property.

In prior years, Bradford councillors and residents pushed back against adding the property to the settlement area, but a report to council in March echoed warnings from 2023 that the town will need to add about 450 hectares of land in order to house the expected population of more than 84,000 people by 2051.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the mayor hit on the importance of using that land to the fullest, noting that many residents tell him “they don’t want density.”

“We’re going to absolutely build density. I want to see density more than I want to see sprawl,” he said. “I don’t want to see a bunch of farmland gone for no reason, just to put big homes on it. We can’t afford big homes. We have to build homes that we can buy, that our kids can afford to buy.”

— With files from Natasha Philpott and Patrick Bales

Michael Owen

About the Author: Michael Owen

Michael Owen has worked in news since 2009 and most recently joined Village Media in 2023 as a general assignment reporter for BradfordToday
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