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The Growth Plan in the GTA is being ignored by municipalities

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is the fastest growing region in Canada, and urban sprawl is a glaring issue. Unfortunately, attempts to mitigate urban sprawl are being ignored by municipalities.

The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe came into effect on June 16, 2006 with a goal to create density targets in the GTA region. Many of the density planning targets in the Growth Plan are not being properly adhered to by the Ontario Municipality Board (OMB). Friends of a Greenbelt, an environmental non-profit, recently released a report detailing exactly what needs to be changed to ensure that the OMB, developers, and other power players in building the GTA adhere to the Growth Plan.

When planning for future development, it is necessary to create Land Needs Assessments (LNA). A LNA is a planning tool used to determine the amount of new land needed to house the future population, as well as employment growth in the area. This land use tool assesses land vs. supply and plans future growth capacity in a given area.

Previously, urban planners used a methodology created in 1995 known as the Projection Methodology Guideline (PMG). This standard assesses what kind of housing people need dependant on the population (families, seniors, students etc.) rather than how much densification is needed in the given area to preserve land. Many detached homes are built using these standards.

With the Growth Plan in place, it requires a LNA to implement intensification and density target. On May 10, 2016, the Ontario government proposed new intensification targets, which required that a minimum of 60 per cent of all new residential development be built-up in areas that already have housing. The government also mandated that new development property should target a density a minimum of 80 residents and jobs per hectare.

In theory, the LNA proposed under the Growth Plan is a great tool to slow down urban sprawl, but it is not being followed properly. Instead, the OMB, land economists and developers are using the PMG criteria still, with minor adjustments in a small attempt to meet the Growth Plan density and intensification targets. A part of the reason that the PMG continues to be in use is because the language and specifications surrounding the LNA are confusing for municipalities to understand.

Alongside implementing intensification and density targets for the Growth Plan, Ontario needs to create a simplified LNA methodology that the OMB and developers can use without issue. Certain terms in the Growth Plan need to be clarified as well.  For example, the LNA policy indicates that “40 per cent of all residential development” needs to be intensified to adhere to the density targets in the Growth Plan. This indicates that municipalities must assess not only the number of new housing units required, but also the average person-per-unit (PPU) of these units. It is very unreliable and difficult data, which makes the LNA under the Growth Plan difficult to understand.

Instead, if the act indicated that the LNA needs to measure “40 per cent of the population forecast to occupy new residential dwelling units”, this would simplify the process of determining future density targets without needing to specify how many people would live per house. This small change would waste less resources and time for planners, and would help streamline the process for the LNA under the Growth Plan.

The report also recommended freezing urban boundary expansion until the 2016 census data is released for most up-to-date population information, and to also not allow developers to appeal LNA calculations the OMB. Oftentimes, developers and land economists have been allowed to appeal to the OMB and ignore intensification and density targets.

Putting pressure on land developers to adhere to the Growth Plan conserves valuable land and increases density in areas rampant with urban sprawl. Simplification and understanding are tools of power, and hopefully Ontario implements these recommendations, making the LNA under the Growth Plan a powerful tool for change.