Before year’s end, a consulting firm hired by Lanark County is slated to produce a report that municipal planners hope will guide discussion on responding to a 2014 provincial policy statement (PPS) within the Ontario Planning Act that many say is handcuffing area development and complicating longer-term infrastructure planning.
The PPS requires municipalities to maintain an inventory of residential property for new development, but no more than a 20-year supply. However, this development cap conflicts with those trying to plan infrastructure projects like pumping stations, arterial roads, bridges, and wastewater treatment centres that have much longer lifespans. On the one hand, towns have to build enough capacity to meet their growth needs, but if they are not able to plan based on longer timelines, it hampers their ability to determine the best size and amount of infrastructure to build.
Paul Knowles, who serves as chief administrative officer in Carleton Place, uses the theoretical example of developers interested in producing a 600-home subdivision. To make it accessible, a bridge needs to be built over a river, but if the town is only allowed 150 units given the provincial development cap, the developer will not see their costs returned based on the lower numbers, and will likely abandon the whole idea.
“I understand the logic of it, which is supposed to facilitate orderly development,” says Knowles. “In the Toronto area, you don’t want a subdivision being built five miles outside of everything else and skip the stuff in between, because you want your services to develop in a logical pattern.”
But what seems to be a policy largely aimed at the Golden Horseshoe region fails to take into account the different development dynamics affecting urban and rural areas.
“The problem is [the provincial government] capping the amount of growth for the whole county, and then the county has to decide who gets allocated what, which pits municipalities against each other,” Knowles adds, noting that if some municipalities are not developing all of their allocated lots, “they are tying up everybody else’s capacity.”
Carleton Place’s planning and protection committee received a staff report in October indicating that “there is high demand for development in the east end of the county but little demand in the west end. Existing inventory in the west end could restrict development opportunities in the east end. If growth follows a historical pattern, the urban communities of Smiths Falls and Perth will see little growth while the other areas, including the rural areas, will see significant growth. This seems to contradict the provincial direction to have growth in serviced areas.”
Perth’s director of development and protective services, Forbes Symon, agrees that the PPS is problematic, calling it a “fine grain issue” whose complexity makes it daunting to confront.
As someone who has come up against similar issues his entire career working in smaller towns, though, he believes “we can work through it with good facts on the table and if we keep our heads about us. The key to dealing with these things is working collaboratively at the local level and coming up with a made-in-Lanark County solution.”
Exactly what that solution will look like remains to be seen. But newly appointed county planner Julie Stewart says once the consulting report comes back, “a meeting will be set up pretty immediately with municipalities to go over the results and see where we go from there.”