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Bradford struggling to keep up with provincial planning changes

'It is very difficult to follow provincial policy right now, because it’s bouncing steady ... the province is continually moving the bars for you,' says mayor

The town is bracing for the potential impacts of big changes to provincial policies.

During the regular meeting of council on Tuesday evening, staff presented council with a report on the expected repercussions of the province pursuing several pieces of legislation related to housing including: Bill 109, Bill 108, Bill 23, and most recently, Bill 97, which received Royal Assent on June 8.

Councillors were most interested in the impacts of the province’s recent announcement that it would merge the existing Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) with the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

While both documents guide land use, the PPS applies to the whole province, and the other to just the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

“The changes in Bill 97 and new draft policy statement lend to streamlining the process for advancing development approvals,” Alan Wiebe, manager of community planning explained.

Ward 6 Coun. Nickolas Harper shared concerns about affordable housing.

“It talks about removing the definition of affordable housing and ... no longer requires planning authorities to implement targets for affordable housing. What does that look like for us?” he asked.

Wiebe confirmed the definition is removed and policies changed as a result, but said the County of Simcoe would still be the regional housing provider.

Harper asked if that meant Bradford would have more leeway in implementing its own affordable housing targets and Wiebe said it would depend on how the county proceeds with creating a new 10-year plan, as the current plan only covers to 2024, but “I think the short answer would be yes,” he said.

Mayor James Leduc clarified that the county has exceeded the affordable housing target of 2,685 units set out in 2014, and actually built 2,775 units.

“Those targets are set by the county and they deliver it down to us ... but it’s looking more through the policy that we will have a little bit more opportunity to address that ourselves,” Leduc said.

Harper asked how the changes would impact the town’s ability to build up instead of out, and Wiebe explained the answer would depend on a number of provincial decisions, including on amendment No. 7 to the County of Simcoe’s official plan, which would expect an additional 83,500 people and about 31,000 jobs by 2051.

“The growth plan has really been the governing document in guiding the county’s municipal comprehensive review work that it’s been carrying out over the last few years, so ultimately what effect the removal of the growth plan would have on that, we don’t yet know,” Wiebe said.

Leduc praised Wiebe’s efforts to navigate the ever-changing provincial planning landscape.

“It is very difficult to follow provincial policy right now, because it’s bouncing steady ... the province is continually moving the bars for you,” he said.

Harper also wanted to know if Bradford could get some sort of consideration for being a fast-growing community, despite not meeting the province’s criteria for being considered “large and fast-growing” like Vaughan and Hamilton.

Wiebe said one of the biggest impacts of being on that list is the requirement for new developments to meet minimum density targets of 50 persons and jobs per hectare, but even without being on the list, Bradford would still have the ability to plan for greater levels of intensification including within a 500- to 800-metre radius of the GO Train station and within strategic growth areas.

“The town could also establish minimum densities for those areas to pursue growing vertically,” Wiebe said.

Leduc added that in the current version of the PPS, the area around the train station is rated for 150 people per hectare.

Ward 5 Coun. Peter Ferragine asked about the new criteria for severing agricultural lots to create more residential spaces.

“I know that in the past we’ve had residents where generations below would like to live on the land, which is an amazing idea and I totally support that, so that they can stick with the farming and have an affordable place to live,” he said.

Wiebe explained there are still conditions in place to protect agricultural land including that the new dwelling must be compatible with and not hinder surrounding agricultural use and be limited in size.

According to the report from Thomas Dysart, senior planner, Bill 97 also includes changing the definition of areas of employment, which results “in municipalities being challenged to protect some employment areas for the long-term, by having them proposed for development with non-employment (e.g., residential) uses.”

The bill also allows residential development with 10 or fewer units if the land is in a “prescribed area,” but according to the report the Planning Act does not yet define “prescribed area,” and as a result, staff can’t know what, if any, effect the proposed modification would have on the town.

Bill 109 requires municipalities to issue graduated refunds if an approval decision isn’t made for site-plan applications within 60 days or for zoning amendments within 90 days.

In the report Dysart said staff have implemented mitigation measures to protect the town’s application fee revenues, while looking for ways to process development applications faster.

“The draft policies would represent a significant shift in the approach to land-use planning in Ontario. Notable concerns for the town include lot creation policies in prime agricultural areas, employment land conversions happening outside of a municipal comprehensive review, settlement area boundary expansions happening outside of a municipal comprehensive review and the ability to set minimum density targets in new growth areas,” the report says.

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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