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Friday, November 28, 2008

County Approves Plan for Growth

Simcoe County councillors approved a long-term vision for the county, a new official plan, despite serious concerns from Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs.


The proposed OP sets out a plan of how the county will grow over the next 25 years. It divvies up how communities will grow and designates four economically strategic zones – two along Highway 400 in Innisfil and Bradford West Gwillimbury, a third at the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport in Oro-Medonte, and the fourth along Rama Road – areas designed to be major industrial, destination, commercial and employment hubs in the region.


The plan also targets population growth for Bradford West Gwillimbury (almost doubling to 49,700), Innisfil (doubling to 65,000), New Tecumseth (increasing by 21,000 to 49,000) and Wasaga Beach (more than doubling to 35,000). Established urban centres like Midland and Penetanguishene would grow marginally, with moderate growth spread throughout the rest of the county.


“The province is asking for a made-in-Simcoe County solution. That is what we have provided them with. These numbers may not be perfect, but these are numbers most of us could live with, until the province revisits the (projections),” said Rick Newlove, the county’s corporate services general manager.


In its plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe known as Places to Grow, Ontario has set population targets for the regions in what it considers Ontario’s and Canada’s economic engine.

The plan is designed to make best use of the infrastructure and human resources in the region, to bolster productivity while protecting prime agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands.


Ontario is directing more growth to southwestern Ontario, rather than north to Simcoe County, although with development community pressures, the province could increase its Simcoe County long-term target of 667,000 in 2011. If all development applications in the process now were to proceed, the county estimates it would have a population of 920,000 by 2031.


The province has set density and intensification targets, to also make better use of existing water and sewer services; however, the county has asked for leniency in those targets – one of four issues Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing regional director Larry Clay raised in a Nov. 10 letter. Clay also asked the county for a land budget – a document to substantiate its growth plans, as well as how the county has allocated population.


Newlove, however, said the province can refine the county’s plan before approving it. He added the county needed to finalize its OP so that lower-tier municipalities can revise theirs to fit with Places to Grow by the June 2009 deadline.


He also argued the four economic districts are critical and will work well because they are not located within settlement areas, and therefore will not be incompatible with residential uses, which could limit shipping or production hours.


Despite those reassurances, some county politicians weren’t keen on signing onto a document they say needs more work.


“More work is still required. It is imprudent to approve this before a land budget is provided,” said Midland Deputy Mayor Ruth Hackney. “The current version is not ready for adoption. It does not meet the objective of a clear and actionable document.”


New Tecumseth Mayor Mike MacEachern also urged caution.


“We have a raceway along Highway 89 because we do not have the units to enable people to work close to home. We’re not prepared to support the county OP in its current state until policies are better thought out. What’s the rush?”


He also wanted the county to define regional market area and polish its economic development policies.


However, most county politicians took the advice of Bradford West Gwillimbury Mayor Doug White.


“This isn’t perfect; all OPs aren’t perfect. That’s why they’re amended all the time,” he said.

“Over time, things evolve. The achievement is we’ve done something we thought we couldn’t do: 16 municipalities got together and came up with a document that asked us all to give up something for something greater.


“We took 16 different colours of string and weaved them together into something beautiful. Are there loose ends? Certainly. But we if pull on a string, it will all unravel.”

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