Comment 89703

By Noted (anonymous) | Posted June 24, 2013 at 11:26:11

Just as predicted in its unofficial provincial anthem from the 1960s, Ontario has indeed become a place to grow. And since approximately six million of the province’s 13.5 million people live in the Greater Toronto Area, government officials cannot be blamed for making difficult decisions to prepare for another two million newcomers in the years ahead.

To ignore those growth projections would be irresponsible, even if they aren’t expected until the decade between 2031 and 2041. But a recent amendment to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe treads into potentially dangerous territory by giving developers new opportunities to build on precious green space, even with checks and balances by local municipalities.

Given that urban sprawl has contributed to the gridlock that costs the region some $6 billion in lost productivity each year, the municipalities that still have swaths of open land must be extremely careful moving forward. Future generations will thrive only if local governments make smart decisions.

Rampant housing development without proper transit will further diminish the region’s productivity and quality of life. Of equal importance is the fact that much of the at-risk land is made up of rich agricultural soil that can feed thousands. It has to be protected.

Infrastructure Minister Glen Murray says the government plan will “protect the environment while creating jobs, attracting new investment, and strengthening local economies.” And the minister’s spokesperson says protections remain because municipalities must follow the rules before expanding the boundaries of certain green spaces. For example, local governments that want to build on prime land must first show that the property does not comprise specialty crop areas, that there are no “reasonable” alternatives, and that the impact on nearby agriculture will be lessened “to the extent feasible.” Those rules aren’t entirely reassuring.

The devil, as they say, is in the details and critics such as former Toronto mayor John Sewell call the amendment a loophole that will help developers build more subdivisions. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture has also warned against paving over prime farmland.

The original much-lauded plan wasn’t perfect: strict limits on developments diminished the region’s housing supply and, at least in part, forced a dramatic spike in housing prices. And it didn’t stop all housing development. Some just jumped over the protected areas to less-regulated lands, further extending the sprawl.

Still, Ontario’s cachet as a place to grow is vitally important. With the new discretion allowed in government rules, it’s now up to the municipalities to control the future and use those powers wisely.

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