Board ruling puts a hitch in plans

(Graphic by Stephanie Truong).

(Graphic by Stephanie Truong).

The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) is under fire from the Region of Waterloo over recent and controversial urban development plans.

The OMB sided with developers in the region in a decision over the amount of land that will be opened up for development in the areas surrounding Waterloo. The region is currently at its capacity for urban sprawl; however, in the development plans passed by the OMB, up to 1,053 hectares of land could be developed. This is ten times the amount regional councilors had originally planned.

“The decision is quite frankly baffling,” said Gillian McEachern, campaigns director at Environmental Defence. “The province set objectives, the Region of Waterloo met them and then you have the Ontario Municipal Board, a provincial body, overturning that in favour of a handful of developers who wanted more land opened up for sprawl. It doesn’t make any sense”.

Environmental Defence is an action group that works on various environmental issues across Canada, including protecting green space. The organization, which coordinates the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, spoke out in support of the appeal after the initial finding was issued.

Karen Kotzen, communications consultant for the OMB, was reluctant to comment on the board’s decision. “The decision speaks for itself,” she said. “Our role is to hear appeals and make decisions”.

Ken Seiling, chair for the Region of Waterloo, expressed his own frustration with the board’s decision, explaining that it is contrary to the region’s plans concerning urban sprawl. “Our plan of restricted urban sprawl put an increased focus on intensification and this hearing decision in fact opens the door to far greater sprawl than we had anticipated, or would want, or what the community wants,” he said.

The regional councilors voted unanimously to request an appeal on the decision.

Seiling explained that OMB’s decision “flies in the face of legislation.”

He stated, “The Places to Grow legislation sort of sets the framework for growth in South-Central Ontario. This decision actually doesn’t follow the way that we feel the legislation is set out. As we see it, this opens up South-Central Ontario to a far higher degree of urban sprawl than the plan legislated. We think it’s really important from a provincial point of view and from a local point of view that the plan reflect the legislation and curb urban sprawl.”

McEachern asserted that Waterloo Region has been quite diligent in meeting the objectives of the Places to Grow Act, setting high density targets, planning to contain development within the existing urban boundary. The Places to Grow Act was established by the Ontario government in 2005 to help coordinate growth in the province.

“It’s inexplicable that you have a provincial body basically siding against goals and objectives set out in provincial legislation, something in that needs to change,” she continued. “Our fear with the Region of Waterloo decision is that the message that could be sent to the municipalities is that, if you try to do the right thing you get your wrists slapped.”

According to McEachern, the OMB has a tendency to “side with industries.”

The Region will simply have to wait and see how the Divisional Court rules in respect to the request for appeal.

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