Getting To Know Us: The benefits of smarter planning

This is a part one of three posts outlining our “two sides of the coin” approach to advocacy, or our focus on achieving what is known as “co-benefits”.

In this post, we focus on the first side of the coin, which is planning our communities in a way that is more efficient and that enhances the quality of life for residents.

Introduction

Defining "Environment" in a Comprehensive Sense

Spend just a little while with us, and you’ll quickly understand that when we say “environment”, we mean it in the classical sense, which is, “the area in which something exists or lives”. In other words, it includes the areas of our homes, our neighbourhoods, and our cities, as well as those areas more commonly associated with “the environment”, such as the wilderness or the global commons.

Maximizing Co-Benefits for Communities

In this post, the first of three that are planned in this series, we cover why planning our communities in a way that maximizes what are known as co-benefits makes a lot of sense, including by reducing the burden on the taxpayer and increasing quality of life and enjoyment.

Part two, which focuses on environmental benefits, and part three, which ties parts one and two together, as well as provides more specific information on our efforts, are in the pipeline, so keep an eye out!

The Greenbelt and Municipal Planning

Understanding the Greenbelt's Role in Ontario's Planning Regime

As an organization that focuses primarily on issues surrounding the Greenbelt, you might be a bit surprised by our focus on municipal planning and urban areas. The Greenbelt is a crown jewel on Ontario’s planning regime, and it helps to both direct development toward areas where it’s most beneficial, by, in large part, restricting sprawl, this, in turn, helps protect the valuable natural assets, such as farmland, fresh water, and clean air, that enable our high quality of life.

We think it is important to view the Greenbelt in this context, as a policy that serves as the foundation stone of Ontario’s prosperous and sustainable future. The Greenbelt, in other words, is a valuable tool that our Province has to shape land-use in a way that improves our cities, towns, agricultural areas, and natural habitat.

It’s crucial to underline, accordingly, the fact that, as a tool, the Greenbelt can be further implemented – enhanced and expanded – for the benefit of all Ontarians.

Impact on Municipal Budgets

Land-use and climate action! What could be more exciting than that!?

But seriously, land-use is a pretty dry topic on the surface – zoning, development applications, approval processes and appeals… (although the right of citizens to appeal has been severely curtailed in Ontario of later by the Ford government).

For evidence of how dry this stuff is, one need look no further than council meetings, where the vast majority of attendees are suits, representatives of developers. The reason they are there is pretty obvious – they stand to make money if they are able to get a decision going their way.

The Approvals Process, and Citizen Engagement

For citizens, on the other hand, attending these meetings is taking time from family or other social obligations – and it’s time they aren’t paid for, or, for the most part, time that would result in financial benefit to them.

Thus, the decks tend to be stacked at these meetings.

Councils, elected by the public, generally do their best to ensure decisions aren’t outrageously at odds with the public’s interest. But, councillors are often overworked and under-resourced, and need to rely on information given to them by city staff (also often overworked and under-resourced). In this scenario, it isn’t difficult to see the opportunity for developers to step into the gap and provide information and resources that buttress their claims.

For us at SCGC, a lot of our focus is on these processes because they determine where houses get built, and conversely where houses don’t get built (which happens to be where farmland and natural habitat is preserved!).

To be clear, building houses in not the issue – it’s where they are built that is typically the problem.

Below we briefly sketch out the first of these components.

Challenges and Solutions

Infrastructure Problems, a Growing Threat

Our suburban style of living, while there are a lot of nice things about it, is putting a huge hole in municipal budgets.

The roads that we use to get to and from work, to drop our kids off at school, to purchase groceries and to visit the mall, all cost a lot to maintain.

In 2021 the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAO) released a report that puts the municipal infrastructure deficit at more than $50 billion. This is how much it would cost to bring roads, bridges, and other municipal infrastructure to a state of good repair.

Spread out infrastructure is less efficient and more expensive to maintain. The cost is likely to only increase as climate change results in more extreme weather, placing additional stress on it. (The FAO did a report on this, too.)

Why Sprawl Is So Attractive

One of the biggest bang-for-buck transformations that a municipality can do is convert farmland into urban development. This goes for developers, too, which is why many of them love to build sprawl.

The purchase price of farmland is low, relative to a similar size of land with existing infrastructure and development. When this land is brought into the urban envelope, its value increases dramatically.

(Witness the recent Greenbelt scandal, where plots of land value at $240 million prior to being given permission to build skyrocketed to a value of $8.523 billion once lands were removed from protections.)

This, of course, is extremely profitable for developers, and municipalities can, for a period of time, also feel like they have come out ahead. The newly added tax base contributes much needed revenue, which can be used to address those infrastructure needs outlined above.

The Economic Drag that Sprawl Creates Over Time

But, over the course of several years, that spread-out infrastructure in the newly developed area, along with pre-existing spread-out infrastructure, starts to act as a drag on municipal coffers, and ultimately creates a net-negative revenue flow – more goes out to maintain it than comes in from the tax base it services. (By some estimates, municipalities receive just 10 – 20% of revenue vs liability over the lifetime of these developments. Any business run this way would have been bankrupted long ago, and yet that’s what we demand of our elected leaders.)

Factoring in the costs of pollution associated with needing a car to access amenities, like groceries, not to mention the contribution to climate change those cars make, and those costs only grow.

This is why experts in the area have taken to calling sprawl a “Ponzi scheme” and “Ontario’s tar sands“.

A recent study by the City of Ottawa found that, every year, it cost $465 per capita to service residents in low density areas, while it took in $606 more per capita than it spent from those living in high density areas.

Sprawl is an expensive, and inherently inequitable form of development. Those living in suburban sprawl areas don’t pay the full cost for the infrastructure servicing them, with those living in more dense parts of the jurisdiction, which often tend to be those who are also less well off, subsidizing their cost.

Click the image for a larger version.

Sustaining Sprawl at the Cost of Other Services

When our local governments are constantly needing to increase revenue simply to maintain what we’ve already got, it puts a huge amount of pressure on other services, including many that we place high value on.

These services include cultural activities, funding for public transportation, for affordable housing and mental health, parks, libraries, schools and emergency services all have to compete for a slice of the funding pie, and many are limited due to the pressure on budgets that municipalities face, in no small part thanks to unsustainable patterns of urban development.

Even more pressure is added to the mix when costs associated with a rapidly changing climate are factored in.

As severe and unpredictable weather events ramp up, investments need to be made to ensure infrastructure, such as storm water systems, are able to cope. What were considered “100-year storms” just a decade ago are now likely to happen on an almost yearly basis, and the rare events – those 100-year storms – will be even wilder.

Moving Forward

Promoting Walkability and Mixed-Use Development

Over the past few decades, there has been a growth in the number of planners interested in how the way that we build our communities can improve quality of life for residents, enhance economic vitality, as well as promote a healthy environment. Much of the impetus behind this emergent practice is in response to the negative impacts that car centred planning, such as sprawl, has had on the livability of the places we call home.

Practices like promoting walkability in neighbourhoods, ensuring there is a range of housing choices and a mix of building types, with proximity between residential and commercial areas, accessible schools and other services, such as transit, as well as green-spaces such as parks and playgrounds, are some of what advocates of this form of planning promote.

Well-known planners in this area include Brent Toderian, former Chief Planner for the City of Vancouver, Jennifer Keesmaat, former Chief Planner for the City of Toronto, as well as Charles Marohn, of Strong Towns, to name a few.

And, while more conventional approaches to urban planning remain dominant, these ideas have filtered through. Concepts like complete streets, transit oriented design, along with a growing awareness of the risks of and vulnerabilities to climate change impacts, are increasingly present in high-level policy and planning documents.

(Until it was effectively scrapped by the Ford government, the Growth Plan placed a premium on complete communities, reflecting many of the principles outlined above.)

Photo of John St., Toronto, showing a street with many people walking on it, as well as people sitting on chairs at tables on the street. The widewalk has been extended to enhance walkability. Credit City of Toronto.

This image, taken from the City of Toronto’s website outlining their efforts to create more complete streets, illustrates how many municipalities are trying to reinvigorate streetscapes and enhance the experiences of the residents who live around them.

Credit: City of Toronto

Conclusion

We can build our communities in a way that improves our quality of life, that supports a thriving economy, and that promotes a healthy environment. Cities like Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, and Montreal are implementing projects in-line with many of the goals outlined above.

By enhancing the livability of our urban areas, including with increased public transit and active transportation like walking, we mitigate negative impacts like carbon emissions and health risks associated with sedentary lifestyles. These are some of the co-benefits of better planning.

In our next post in this series, we look more closely at how poor planning impacts the environment.

-/-

This work by Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

Share This

Sharing builds awareness and helps achieve a better, more sustainable future.

Facebook
Email
Telegram
Pocket

Related Content

Photo of several high-rise apartment buildings, with blue sky above and trees below. Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash

Vertical Sprawl

By building spaces that prioritize equity, diversity, and inclusion, we are setting the foundations for a future that is more sustainable. Sprawl, including vertical sprawl, is not the right way to do this.

Read More »
Photo of a highway bridge. Credit Ajai Arif.

The Bradford Bypass – Clearing the Air

There are a lot of misconceptions, myths, and misunderstandings regarding the role that highways and cars play in our economy, and the impact they have on our environment and communities. Many of these are coming to the fore with the Bradford Bypass. Here we address some of them.

Read More »
Arial view of suburban sprawl. Credit Blake Wheeler.

The New Growth Plan Puts Sprawl Over All

We can no longer treat land use as its own issue, nor can we always assume that growth is always a net benefit to our communities. This is simply not true. We can grow our communities in ways that provide affordable housing, protect our natural spaces and water and aspire to create healthy, vibrant centres where people can live and work.

Read More »
Bird's eye view of a wastewater treatment facility. Credit Van Bandura.

Upper York Sewage Solution

York Region is planning to increase its capacity for wastewater treatment. The rationale is that this is required to meeting a projected increase of roughly 150,000 in population by 2031.

A key aspect of this project that is important to recognize that it is more than the sum of its parts. The EA for the project, on its own, does not capture the impacts the wastewater treatment facility will have on the region.

Read More »
Arial photo of the Holland Marsh, with Lake Simcoe in the distance. Credit Jeff Laidlaw.

Bradford Bypass

The provincial government is proposing a highway that would connect the 404 with the 400. The proposed route passes along the northern edge of Bradford, and through portions of the Holland Marsh.

Read More »

Press Release

In Simcoe County three of our local MPPs – MPP Dunlop, MPP Downey and MPP Mulroney – are directly responsible, as members of cabinet, for approving the Greenbelt takeouts.

March 21, 2023 - Simcoe County

Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition pleased with federal intervention on Greenbelt development

Barrie – Today, it was announced that the federal government will be doing studies on how development on the largest part of the province’s Greenbelt takeouts, the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve, will impact the Rouge National Park and other federal lands. This will likely delay the paving of the largest Greenbelt takeout and we thank the federal government for this intervention.

This is a good start at ensuring Ontario’s, and more specifically the Greater Toronto Area’s environment remains healthy and viable. The Greenbelt was created to be a legacy for our children and future generations, a safeguard for local food production and source water protection – not to be a land bank for well connected developers.

 

Infographic showing the benefits of Ontario's Greenbelt. Credit Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.

Ontario’s Greenbelt provides billions of dollars worth of value each and every year. This value is directly experienced by millions in the Greater Toronto Golden Horseshoe Area, as well as indirectly by Ontarians elsewhere who visit and benefit from the economic benefits it accrues to the province.

Benefits from development within it, however, are far more narrowly distributed, going, by and large, to already wealthy individuals and their privately held companies.

The Greenbelt is, very much, a legacy to all Ontarians and future generations.

This is a significant win for the public who have been rallying, phoning, messaging and organizing showing their care for the Greenbelt is to be taken seriously, a public that has been completely shut out of this decision. (Comments on the Environmental Registry regarding changes to the Greenbelt were overwhelmingly opposed, but not a single change or modification to Greenbelt takeouts came as a result.)

Locally, our coalition hosted 15 rallies and actions in two weeks across many of Simcoe’s communities and supporters have been continuing to visit MPPs, phone representatives and write emails. Again, this is in line with sentiment across Ontario, with a public that feels betrayed by a government that promised it would not develop on the Greenbelt. In fact, a recent poll by EKOS, commissioned by the David Suzuki Foundation, found that 75% of residents across the GTA believe that the Greenbelt should be better protected – better protected, not less. And definitely not used as a piggy bank to enrich wealthy, connected developers.

Our coalition’s mission has always been to ensure clean air, clean water, and a liveable climate provide the foundation for accessible food and housing and a vibrant, dynamic, and sustainable economy. After all, without clean air, water, and a livable climate the rest simply won’t matter.

Our public servants need to be accountable for betraying public trust and making decisions that threaten our shared future.

Map showing locations of highways that the Ford government plans to build, and the impact they would have on the Greenbelt and on farmland. Credit Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.

There are 3 highways in the pipeline for the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area of Ontario. All of them will significantly impact the Greenbelt, as well as prime farmland.

In Simcoe County three of our local MPPs – MPP Dunlop, MPP Downey and MPP Mulroney – are directly responsible, as members of cabinet, for approving the Greenbelt takeouts. And while all MPPs in caucus are accountable, these three, along with their cabinet colleagues, had the final say and final approval. The promise to not touch the Greenbelt was broken intentionally.

And what does this broken promise represent? Not pursuit of more affordable homes, which is how it’s being spun. Study after study makes it crystal clear that there is more than enough land already zoned to meet this demand. This is about exploiting a legitimate housing crisis to enrich a few.

Let’s make no mistake, this announcement is the result of public pressure and community organizing. We will keep pushing with our supporters to protect our communities and public health. Our hope is that this announcement will strengthen the will to hold this government accountable and return due process and decisions made in the public’s interest to the core of what elected office means.

Beyond political stripes, the majority of the public support the Greenbelt and what it provides to all of us, now and into the future. Our hope is that the MPPs that have influence and accountability will see that the decision to open up the Greenbelt to developers was wrongheaded and will take action to reverse their decision. This is what the public wants and as a public servant this is what they agreed to do.

Youth Vision of Simcoe County

Results from a survey conducted in the summer of 2021 asking youth in Simcoe County what they envision for the future.

One goal was to address a gap in the County’s Municipal Comprehensive Review engagement, which did not include voices of youth. The MCR is planning for the communities that today’s youth will inherit, after all.

Introduction

The Youth Vision of Simcoe County Survey was a collaboration between Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition (SCGC) and Simcoe County Environmental Youth Alliance (SCEYA) over the summer and fall of 2021. The intention of the survey was to get an indication of where Simcoe County youth are at with regards to climate action, barriers to engaging in their communities, and their visions for the future of their communities. 

This was an informal community survey to inform how local organizations can help eliminate barriers that youth are facing to engaging in community organizations, local government and climate action generally.

The results of this survey are not generalizable, nor is this intended to be a formal, academic study. The survey was promoted through social media, word of mouth and reaching out to community organizations, local libraries and schools.

The survey had 162 respondents. No contact information was collected from participants to ensure the anonymity of the youth who completed the survey.

Download a PDF version of the report.

Concerns & Barriers

We know that young people globally are facing severe mental health challenges because of the climate emergency, and according to more recent research1Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon, these mental health challenges have been linked to government inaction.

Climate action must be part of addressing the mental health crisis that is impacting youth here in Simcoe County.

  • 75% said that they were ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ concerned about climate change
  • About half said that climate change is affecting their lives either ‘a lot’ or ‘a great deal’, with another third saying it is affecting their lives ‘a moderate amount’

Considering that Ontario is not even feeling the worst of the coming impacts of climate change yet2Canada in a Changing Climate: National Issues Report, this is particularly concerning. Young people are recognizing that the climate emergency is here, now.

Photo of a young woman looking sad. Photo by Kyle Broad.

Youth who were not involved in climate action often faced barriers to meaningful participation:  

  • About half of participants felt that participating in local decision making was ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’.
  • Main barriers were identified as simply not enough time to engage, not knowing enough about local issues or local organizations, and not being able to find local organizations or lack of roles for youth in those organizations. 

Priorities for Future Communities

In light of Simcoe County’s municipalities undergoing major planning decisions via Municipal Comprehensive Reviews (MCRs) at the time of the survey, we asked youth about some of their priorities regarding planning decisions:

  • 83% of youth felt that designing communities in ways that protect local forests, wetlands and animal habitats was ‘very’ or ‘extremely important’. 
  • 70% of youth felt that changing the way Simcoe County plans to adapt to climate change was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important.
  • 69% of youth felt that building what we need in existing communities to avoid expanding on to more land was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important. 
  • 68% of youth felt that it was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important that Simcoe County plans communities in ways that address social justice issues and climate change at the same time.

We asked youth to rank the importance of different aspects of community life that reflect the Complete Communities envisioned in Ontario’s Growth Plan:

  • 82% of youth ranked having different kinds of affordable housing available as ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important; 
  • 48% identified being able to safely get places via active transportation as ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important;
  • 62% said that having essential services close to home was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important; 
  •  78% said that access to healthy, affordable food close to home was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important to them;
  • 52% said that convenient public transit was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important; 
  • 65% identified having public spaces close to home was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important;
  • 71% ranked having greenspaces and parks close to home as ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important

This implies that the smart growth policies our municipalities should be pursuing to conform to the Growth Plan, lower carbon emissions and create affordable housing resonates with most young people.

Photo of two young women looking down at the camera. Photo by Adam McCoid on Unsplash

Recommendations

Youth are concerned about the climate, want to see dramatic changes, and have a good understanding of many of the policy changes needed. This survey confirmed much of what we knew (Government of Canada, 2021), but gave some insights into where to engage local youth.

1. Meet youth where they are at.

Climate action should start where youth are at, both in terms of knowledge and experience, and literally where they are at: schools, clubs, youth organizations. Future partnerships and collaborations should attempt to include organizations/groups/institutions that are directed at youth or have youth programming, in addition to supporting youth-led organizations.

2. Educate the public, especially youth.

Linking the interconnections between local planning, local politics, community design, etc. with the broader narrative of climate change (that many youth already know and are wanting to act on), will likely make these local actions more relevant to youth.

This will empower them to feel like they can do something in response to their low confidence in local government. Making these connections is critical in tackling an emergency with such far reaching and intersectional impacts. Awareness around the interconnections between climate and other issues, such as housing, food security or health, can help residents better understand what local climate action can look like. The more connections made, the more options and opportunities for people with various backgrounds, interests and priorities to take action where they are, so that everyone in the community can move towards climate justice. 

3. Link knowledge and awareness with action and advocacy.

We know from climate justice and climate education discourse that simply learning about or knowing about the impacts of climate change is not enough to move people to action. Action-oriented approaches that move from awareness to action bridge the gap and lessen feelings of apathy and distrust. Focusing resources on youth-led initiatives, roles and projects that are taken seriously is something that organizations and local governments would be wise to look into. 

We hope that this project and any insights gained from it can help or motivate other organizations and local governments to build on these efforts to identify and eliminate barriers that youth face in engaging with their communities. Similarly, we recognize that a community survey is a small first step of what needs to be an ongoing process to create spaces for meaningful participation by youth in their communities, including decision making processes.

How Can You Get Involved?

  • If you are a young person, get in touch with SCEYA to see about helping out. If you are an adult you can donate to SCEYA and, of course, SCGC.
  • Find SCEYA’s social media accounts and give them a follow.

Related Content

This illustration image of Poilievre combines a frame from a now notorious engagement where he belittled a journalist while eating an apple, with a photo of a forest fire added as a backdrop, in place of the orchard.

Issue In Brief: Understanding the Carbon Tax

The debate around the carbon tax frequently misses its broader economic and environmental benefits. By effectively addressing the externality of carbon emissions, the carbon tax stands as a critical component of Canada’s strategy to combat climate change and promote sustainable growth. Clear communication and understanding of the policy’s benefits, including the progressive rebate program, are vital in navigating public concerns and fostering support for this essential environmental initiative.

Read More

Community Polls

Every month we send out our newsletter, in which we include a poll, as well as results from the previous month’s poll. Open polls, as well as completed ones, are below.

Subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out!

Read More

In Conversation: Catherine McKenna

Join us for an hour-long conversation, including a question and answer session, that will cover topics including the current state of Canada’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions, how we can think about progress to combat climate change in the presence of political uncertainty, and the role of women in public life, particularly in an era that seems to be one of increasingly toxic discourse, including around gender.

Read More
Aerial view of red fall leaves, a lake, and cottages on the shore. Photo by Derek Sutton on Unsplash

The Year That Was: 2023

Our approach to our work has always been how we can make an impact in long-lasting and effective ways.  We hold ourselves to high standards — how can we create better rules, better systems and better communities? 

Internally, that means we reflect to ensure that we’re putting our values into practice. This year, we decided to adopt a different way to assess our impact. 

Read More

Community supported, advocacy for a safe and secure future.

Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.

We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.

Please consider donating to support our work. It’s people like you who make us possible.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

We send out a once-monthly newsletter full of information on what’s happening in Simcoe County and beyond, including information on how you can take action to protect the health of your community.

Upper York Sewage Solution

York Region is pushing for a massive wastewater treatment facility. This facility will serve a massive increase in sprawl in the area, and will dump effluent into important water bodies.

2009 – York Region begins work on UPSS; Environmental Assessment (EA) process is started.

2010 – Terms of Reference approved. 

2014 – EA completed.

2016 – Ministry review completed.

Proponents submit Stakeholder and First Nations review.

Provincial Duty to Consult determined to have not been met.

2010 – Part of the UPSS project – the York Durham Sewage System forcemain twinning and pumping station modification work – is separated out and exempted from the EA process. Construction on this part proceeds.

Present – Waiting for a decision by the Province.

What's happening?

York Region is planning to increase its capacity for wastewater treatment. The rationale is that this is required to meeting a projected increase of roughly 150,000 in population by 2031.

A key aspect of this project that is important to recognize that it is more than the sum of its parts. The EA for the project, on its own, does not capture the impacts the wastewater treatment facility will have on the region.

While the impacts of the wastewater treatment facility on its own are of concern, the knock-on impacts of increasing capacity for development in the area, which is what this project accomplishes, cannot be separated out from the wastewater treatment facility itself. One leads to the other.

Quick Facts

Inadequate First Nations Consultation

Effluent Contains Pharmaceuticals

Impacts to Aquatic Ecosystem

Why is it a concern?

Lack of Consultation with Georgina Island First Nation

The duty to consult with First Nations that has not been fulfilled.

Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation Chief, Donna Big Canoe, has outlined concerns that the project would infringe on hunting and fishing rights, and stated that the province and region have not done enough to explore alternative solutions.

Sprawl

One of the biggest problems with this project is the financial justification is not on solid ground. This is a major reason why, as the thread embedded below outlines, the Region has had a on and off approach to implementing it.

As the thread notes, York has put a lot of money into servicing areas closer to the GTA, but the development in the area didn’t materialize to the extent that justified this cost, putting York deep in the red financially.

The UYSS, however, is intended to service an area to the north, bordering on the southern shores of Lake Simcoe.

There is the potential for increased development that this project opens up, as mentioned above. Without a strong commitment to build complete communities, and to focus on the sustainability of the region those communities are situated within, this project simply doubles down on business as usual for developers in the GTA, which is to build cheap sprawl on farmland.

Protect Lake Simcoe

Learn more about the threats facing Lake Simcoe and take action to protect it.

Currently, approximately 3 out of 5 residents in York Region commute more than 30 minutes each way to work every day, and just under 1 out of 5 drive more than an hour.

While York is starting to work towards increased intensification, it is important that its ability to direct growth beyond these areas remains constrained. The Region, for example, states that towards the end of the anticipated planning period to 2041 employment growth will shift towards what are currently less populated, and less integrated in the regional urban fabric, ares of Georgina and East Gwillimbury. It also states that additional urban lands will be required to accommodate forecasted growth.1York Region: Preferred Growth Scenarios – 2041

The capacity of the UYSS is 1/3 unfilled through 2031, allowing for continued growth through the projected lifespan of the facility.

How Can You Get Involved?

  1. Learn more about the threats facing Lake Simcoe and take action.
  2. Share your concerns on social media.
  3. Sign up to our newsletter to stay informed on developments with growing the Greenbelt and limiting sprawl.

Links to Further Reading

Related Content

Photo of a highway bridge. Credit Ajai Arif.
Planning

The Bradford Bypass – Clearing the Air

There are a lot of misconceptions, myths, and misunderstandings regarding the role that highways and cars play in our economy, and the impact they have on our environment and communities. Many of these are coming to the fore with the Bradford Bypass. Here we address some of them.

Read More »
Bird's eye view of a wastewater treatment facility. Credit Van Bandura.
Featured

Upper York Sewage Solution

York Region is planning to increase its capacity for wastewater treatment. The rationale is that this is required to meeting a projected increase of roughly 150,000 in population by 2031.

A key aspect of this project that is important to recognize that it is more than the sum of its parts. The EA for the project, on its own, does not capture the impacts the wastewater treatment facility will have on the region.

Read More »

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

We send out a once-monthly newsletter full of information on what’s happening in Simcoe County and beyond, including information on how you can take action to protect the health of your community.

Rama Road Corridor - Ramara

Ramara is pushing large developments in what’s known as the Rama Road Corridor,  which was designated an employment district by the previous Liberal government. The township has requested a MZO for the developments, but has denied this is the case, claiming the request was simply meant to open dialogue with the province regarding the proposal.

What's Happening?

Ramara Township is pushing for developments along the Rama Road Corridor, and has requested a MZO from the province.

The developments – three are currently included in the proposal – would impact Lake Couchiching, including both on-land and shoreline/shallow water wetlands categorized as provincially significant.

A map showing where development is proposed, and showing how it will impact wetlands. Map by SCGC using layers from Simcoe County, the MNRF, and features drawn from the proposal.
A map showing where development is proposed, and showing how it will impact wetlands. Map by SCGC using layers from Simcoe County, the MNRF, and features drawn from the proposal. Click for a larger version.

The Township has said that it hasn’t requested a MZO, but they have, evidenced by two motions in council, at Ramara and at Simcoe County, as well as by a staff report recommendation.

The public deserves to participate in decisions that will affect their communities.

Ramara Council must uphold its duty to the public it serves by acknowledging the  MZO request, by rectifying it with a motion that would send a letter to the Minister revoking the MZO request, and re-committing to a planning process done  in good faith, with full public participation and due diligence paid to environmental and other necessary studies to ensure no negative impacts.

Status

The Township officially revoked the MZO request. The town may continue to pursue the development via normal planning processes.

The MZO request stands, after approval for the request letter to the Minister from both the Township and the County.

Until the Township officially revokes its request the MZO can be granted by the Minister.

The Township has not officially revoked its request.

Proponents

Parataxis Design And Development Corporation. 280 High Park Avenue, Toronto, Ontario. M6P 2S7

Timeline

February 8, 2021:

Orillia Council special meeting on the Rama Road Corridor, with Ramara Mayor, CAO, and staff participating.

This is the meeting at which the Ramara mayor and CAO state that Ramara is not seeking a MZO.

December 7, 2020:

November 24, 2020:

November 10, 2020:

November 2, 2020:

Learn More

A map showing where development is proposed, and showing how it will impact wetlands. Map by SCGC using layers from Simcoe County, the MNRF, and features drawn from the proposal.
Planning

Rama Road Corridor

Ramara Council must uphold its duty to the public it serves by acknowledging the MZO request, by rectifying it with a motion that would send a letter to the Minister revoking the MZO request, and re-committing to a planning process done in good faith, with full public participation and due diligence paid to environmental and other necessary studies to ensure no negative impacts.

Read More »

How Can You Get Involved?

  1. Send a message to local Councils.
  2. Sign up for alerts and updates on the issue.

Send a Message to Council

Message to Ramara Council

Dear Mayor Clarke and Ramara Council.

Please end the confusion regarding use of a MZO in the Rama Road Corridor and send a letter, passed by Council, to the Minister that officially rescinds any possible outstanding request.

The proper route to proceed with development is through the planning process, ensuring that it includes full and transparent public participation done in good faith.

Sincerely.

Message to Orillia Council

Dear Mayor Clark and Orillia Council.

Please take a stand to protect the health of Lake Couchiching and the water that we rely on for drinking as well as for recreation.

I ask that you send a letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing stating that Orillia opposes the use of a MZO in the Rama Road Corridor.

Sincerely.

Sign up for Ramara Alerts and Updates

Help us fight MZO requests.
Send a message to your council and MPP, and report MZOs in your community.
Click Here

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

We send out a once-monthly newsletter full of information on what’s happening in Simcoe County and beyond, including information on how you can take action to protect the health of your community.

The Orbit - Innisfil

A giant development proposed along the GO Train line in Innisfil. This mega-project is slated to pave over farmland and radically change how Innisfil grows for decades to come. It will also place a great burden on nearby Lake Simcoe.

What's Happening?

Update August 9, 2021: MZO order issued by province; Development proceeding.

In Innisfil, the proponent of a controversial development, The Orbit, has successfully sought backing from council to seek a Minister’s Zoning Order, or MZO, from the province.

If the province grants this request the developer gets a short cut through rules meant to ensure the public is consulted, environmental impacts are studied, and financial consequences understood.

Issuing a MZO effectively eliminates public input and reduces oversight into the net benefit of a development.

Innisfil council should affirm the principle that the voice of residents – your voice – matters when its comes to how their community develops, and require developers to follow the rules in place without any shortcuts.

Quick Facts

150,000 People

Paving Over Farmland

≠ Urban Growth Centre

Why is it a concern?

The Orbit is a concern, and should be given due process and careful consideration, given its size, scale, and location.
A map view of where The Orbit is proposed to be built. Natural features are overlaid.
A map view of where The Orbit, outlined in white, is proposed to be built. Natural features are overlaid. Click for a larger version.
On paper it seems great — a development focused on high density living, where people are close to amenities, including public transportation to major urban centres.
 
The glaring question, however, is why here — why should a development for 150,000 additional people be located in what is currently a largely rural area?
 
It seems the only reason this location is being pushed is the developer owns the land and wants to turn a profit, otherwise it makes absolutely no sense.
 
Given these concerns, this request for a MZO can be seen as an attempt to avoid uncomfortable questions that might be raised by going through due process and engaging in public consultation.
 
If a development is a net benefit to the community then developers can easily demonstrate that by engaging with those who it will most impact, namely the public and residents of the community.
 
We need more public engagement and participation in determining how our communities develop, not less.

How Can You Get Involved?

  1. Use our MZO action page to tell elected representatives of your concerns regarding their use.
  2. Write a letter to local papers outlining your concern with the development.
  3. Use our sign up form, below, to get updates on environmental issues, including The Orbit, happening in Innisfil.

Links to Further Reading

Help us fight MZO requests.
Send a message to your council and MPP, and report MZOs in your community.
Click Here

Related Content

This illustration image of Poilievre combines a frame from a now notorious engagement where he belittled a journalist while eating an apple, with a photo of a forest fire added as a backdrop, in place of the orchard.
Climate Change

Issue In Brief: Understanding the Carbon Tax

The debate around the carbon tax frequently misses its broader economic and environmental benefits. By effectively addressing the externality of carbon emissions, the carbon tax stands as a critical component of Canada’s strategy to combat climate change and promote sustainable growth. Clear communication and understanding of the policy’s benefits, including the progressive rebate program, are vital in navigating public concerns and fostering support for this essential environmental initiative.

Read More »
Reports

Community Polls

Every month we send out our newsletter, in which we include a poll, as well as results from the previous month’s poll. Open polls, as well as completed ones, are below.

Subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out!

Read More »
Events

In Conversation: Catherine McKenna

Join us for an hour-long conversation, including a question and answer session, that will cover topics including the current state of Canada’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions, how we can think about progress to combat climate change in the presence of political uncertainty, and the role of women in public life, particularly in an era that seems to be one of increasingly toxic discourse, including around gender.

Read More »
Aerial view of red fall leaves, a lake, and cottages on the shore. Photo by Derek Sutton on Unsplash
Letter

The Year That Was: 2023

Our approach to our work has always been how we can make an impact in long-lasting and effective ways.  We hold ourselves to high standards — how can we create better rules, better systems and better communities? 

Internally, that means we reflect to ensure that we’re putting our values into practice. This year, we decided to adopt a different way to assess our impact. 

Read More »

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

We send out a once-monthly newsletter full of information on what’s happening in Simcoe County and beyond, including information on how you can take action to protect the health of your community.

Ramara’s MZO application
on Lake Couchiching

We hope that the City of Orillia will take a stand for the interests of its residents and the lake and officially oppose the MZO application request.

This letter was sent to the Mayor and Council of Orillia on January 12, 2021.

Grave Concerns

The undersigned is writing to you today with grave concerns about a MZO application recently submitted to the province by the Township of Ramara and supported the County of Simcoe. We strongly believe that this development is not in the best interest of Lake Couchiching, the environment writ large or the City of Orillia and its residents.

As you can see from the graphic below, a large portion of this development resides within a provincially significant wetland (PSW) and infringes on others. Currently, development within a PSW is prohibited under Ontario’s planning laws. A MZO would remove these prohibitions.

Figure 1.

In Figure 2, it is clear to see how the developments will also infringe on water intake protection zones as well as significant forests.

Figure 2.

For clarity, the development proposal would include 3 separate developments. The MZO is asking for all three of the development applications to be approved including:

Harbour Village at the Narrows (listed as “Resort Residential” on Fig. 1&2)

    • 258 room hotel, an additional 1,678 mixed units proposed

    • Creating 6,414 additional feet of frontage (through harbours and canals) mostly in the midst of a provincially significant wetland which is also one of the last, large intact wetlands on Lake Couchiching

Figure 3.

Rendering of aerial view of Harbour Village at the Narrows. Source: Rama Road Corridor MZO package, Ramara Township
Rendering of aerial view of Harbour Village at the Narrows.
Source: Rama Road Corridor MZO package, Ramara Township

Ramara Waterpark Resort (listed as “Waterpark” on Figures 1&2)

    • Includes a 58,500 sq ft water park, 7 hotels ranging from 6-10 storeys in height (totalling 700 hotel rooms), 8 restaurants, 152 condominium units (6-10 storeys), 252 stacked townhouse units; 8 storey, 34,000 sq ft retirement residence (40 units), commercial and retail space

Figure 4.

Site plan of Ramara Waterpark Resort. Source: Rama Road Corridor MZO package, Ramara Township.
Site plan of Ramara Waterpark Resort.
Source: Rama Road Corridor MZO package, Ramara Township.

Ramara Landing (listed as “Senior Living Homes” on Figures 1&2)

    • 172 townhouse units, 300 resident independent living building, 300 resident long term care home, Two 6 storey condominium towers (150 units total), community centre, water and wastewater treatment plant
Ramara Landing Site Plans overlayed on existing mapping. Source: Rama Road Corridor MZO package, Ramara Township
Ramara Landing Site Plans overlayed on existing mapping.
Source: Rama Road Corridor MZO package, Ramara Township

This application is problematic for the City of Orillia for several reasons.

The health of Lake Couchiching is vital to the health of the City of Orillia

Whether it be for drinking water for residents, recreation or supporting Orillia’s economy via its downtown and tourism, Orillia is highly dependent upon the wellbeing of Lake Couchiching.

A MZO application does not currently require environmental assessments to be completed, as per Section 47 of the Planning Act.

Although Ramara Township references a 1,400 page Environmental Assessment that has been done, it is our understanding that this EA only applies to a portion of the development that is proposed, and that this EA was completed in the early 2000s.

A lot has changed since then.

What we know about the necessity of shoreline wetlands to the health of a lake has also increased.

There is a reason why there aren’t policies within Ontario’s planning regime that guide how development should be done within a provincially significant wetland – because it isn’t allowed.

Since there are no statutory requirements within the Planning Act to complete environmental assessments as part of a MZO and there aren’t policies to guide how building on top of a PSW should be done, it is hard to understand how these wetlands will be protected through a MZO or through this development application at all.

And in the case of these particular shoreline wetlands, they play a significant role in flood mitigation and water filtration of Lake Couchiching.

Impairing these wetlands by building in the heart of them and directly infringing on other parts, squarely puts the health of the lake at risk.

A MZO application is not an appropriate tool for a large development such as this

MZOs cut out several key pieces of the Planning Act process, but most importantly, it removes the statutory consultation and appeal process.

Not only is this process for the public, but also for other stakeholders, such as neighbouring municipalities, to weigh in on shared assets and key issues.

Considering the significant impact this development could have on Orillia’s shoreline, water quality and recreation opportunities, the City of Orillia should be able to have meaningful opportunities to engage in the process and protect its interests.

With a MZO, the approvals are already given and Ramara Township would only be able to handle issues via site plan controls and permitting.

What meaningful process will the City of Orillia have under that system?

If issues do arise, what mechanisms will the City of Orillia have to outline its interests if approvals have already been given?

A large development such as this should have sober second thought, especially within a changing climate and biodiversity loss, but the idea of truncating the process by cutting out consultation through a MZO is unacceptable.

In conclusion

Of course, there are other issues that may be meaningful to members of council such as climate action.

Removal of forests and wetlands is directly incompatible with these goals.1Protecting wetlands and forests can reduce climate adaptation costs2Fighting climate change with conservation3The Role of Wetlands for Climate Change Mitigation and Biodiversity Conservation

The increased boat traffic could also impact shoreline residents on the west side of the lake and historical sites such as the Mnjikaning fish weirs, which are one of the oldest remaining human developments in Canada and a national historic site.

Again, there are many impacts that need to be fully considered, which underscores why a truncated MZO process, which removes meaningful community consultation, is not in the best interest of area residents or other stakeholders.

The City of Orillia has prided itself on its port and Couchiching shorelines. Consequently, council should consider itself a steward of the Lake and deem applications such as this as problematic – especially when utilizing a MZO.

We hope that the City of Orillia will take a stand for the interests of its residents and the lake and officially oppose the MZO application request.

Additional Resources

Help us fight MZO requests.
Send a message to your council and MPP, and report MZOs in your community.
Click Here

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

We send out a once-monthly newsletter full of information on what’s happening in Simcoe County and beyond, including information on how you can take action to protect the health of your community.

Hi there!


Use this form to send an email to our general inquiries address.

Photo of a giraffe's head against a clear blue sky. Credit Gary Bendig.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Hi there!

Use this form to send Margaret an email.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Hi there!


Use this form to send Adam an email.

Adam-2

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Hi there!


Use this form to send Julie an email.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Thank you for signing up!

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

A monthly missive, full of information on what’s happening in Simcoe County and beyond, community polls you can vote in, and deep dives into key topics.

Become part of our network. Stay informed. Take action. Protect Ontario.

Friends. Online censorship by unaccountable tech companies, combined with an all-out assault on the Greenbelt by Ontario’s developers/government, make this a perilous time for the future of democracy and the power of the people in Ontario.

We need to build new ways of empowering those who believe in accountability, in a healthy environment, and in communities ready to thrive in the economy of tomorrow.

Join our supporter network and stay informed about efforts and actions to protect the Greenbelt, to build communities that support the health and well-being of people, and to lay the foundations of a resilient, climate friendly future.