Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs) have been described as a weapon of mass destruction in the planning world.
MZOs override the processes that ensure public consultation, environmental studies, and impacts to agriculture and endangered species are considered.
COVID as an excuse...
Before this government, and for some reason the timing of COVID and the pandemic seems to play into this as well, these orders were used sparingly, mostly in areas without municipal organization that could do planning, such as northern Ontario.
But now, we’re seeing blatant abuses of this tool as it is used to rush past due process, facilitating sprawl and padding developer profit.
In New Tecumseth, their council voted to ask for an MZO for a 999 unit development that would be built on a floodplain, paves over farmland, and is outside of where growth was planned for, breaking their own bylaws meant to protect Beeton from flooding.
Since approving this request New Tec has received three more requests, which, frankly, was to be predicted. Developers are gonna try to make as much money as easily and quickly as they can!
In Innisfil, the 150,000 person mega-development, The Orbit, has been sent to the province for a MZO. Council is defending the request by arguing that it’s only for the first stage, which would see just 20,000 residents.
The justification for this project, the one made to the public at any rate, is that it is a transit oriented development, the province’s and developer’s new favourite buzzword. 20,000 people in what is currently farm fields is not the amount of people that would justify this proposal.
(By the way, council has also argued, and this is likely a more accurate reflection of priorities here, that a MZO is necessary to help the developer secure financing for the project. Why are elected representatives acting on behalf of a developer to help them secure financing? 🧐)
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But you need to know that the MZOs that are coming from Simcoe County are often not popular within their communities.
In fact, in many instances there is strong opposition to the use of a MZO, and this opposition has largely been ignored by local councils.
You need to be aware that by approving these MZOs your government is now wearing these decisions.
Many of these applications promote sprawl – an environmentally and financially wasteful way to grow.
Although some have been geared towards employment lands, far more are exacerbating a car dependent style of growth.
If your priorities are efficiency and reducing waste, this type of growth should deeply concern you.
One example is in Beeton, New Tecumseth, where council will be forwarding an application that would see a 999 unit development outside of the current settlement boundary, expanding it onto floodplain.
Further, there is not enough water to meet the demands of this development, nor others that are already approved in the area. This is a community already prone to frequent flooding. On top of that, the nearby community of Tottenham is rightly concerned about how providing more water to Beeton will impact a new water source, needed and promised due to the presence of high levels of carcinogens in its existing supply.
In Innisfil, the controversial Orbit project is also seeking a MZO.
Many local groups are concerned about the increased effluent into Lake Simcoe, as well as the paving over of farmland and the impacts on groundwater resources (highly vulnerable aquifers and significant groundwater recharge areas will be impacted).
These are issues that won’t be properly studied if a MZO is granted.
How will an MZO deal with the sensitive ecology that Innisfil has promised to steward, including Lake Simcoe?
Where is the demonstrated need for a project that, once fully built out, would bring an additional 150,000 people to the area?
The proponents, including the mayor, the CAO, and town staff, argue that the MZO is being sought for just the first stage of this project, which would see roughly 20,000 residents.
This line of argument makes the needs for a MZO even more suspect, as the key selling point of The Orbit is that it’s a transit oriented community.
20,000 residents is not enough to achieve a decent return on this promise, and the additional 130,000 is far too many for what is currently, as proponents put it, “a blank slate”.
This degree of population allocation belongs in currently built-up areas where there is existing infrastructure.
The reality is that the requirements your government has put in place to ensure that the right projects get priority are not enough.
Moreover, it encourages the abuse of public input and sustainable community planning.
Knowingly or not, your government’s issuance and promotion of MZOs as a planning tool has forced your government to be answerable to the local communities across Simcoe County, and has severely fragmented a coordinated and prudent approach to regional planning.
I am writing to you today to ask you to decline any further MZO approvals in Simcoe County.