New Ontario land-use rules: Higher Densities, Greenbelt Expansion

The Ontario government doubled-down on intensification today with the release of proposed updates to four Provincial Land Use Plans – the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan, Niagara Escarpment Plan, Greenbelt Plan, and Oak Ridges Moraine Plan.

While the Wynne government promoted the new environmental protections in a news release, the most significant changes were reserved for development inside urban areas. The changes are consistent with the Ontario Liberal policy that the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region, Canada’s growth engine, needs to grow up, rather than out.

A number of secondary changes support environmental protection and remove minor irritants to agricultural and rural development, including allowing more agriculturE-related employment within the Greenbelt.

Golden Horseshoe Will See Higher Densities, More Greenbelt

Anticipation was high for significant additions to environmentally protected lands in southern Ontario, but today’s announcement by the Wynne government instead centered on increased density requirements for Greater Golden Horseshoe communities.

Increased intensification targets will see more residential development directed to city cores and Urban Growth Centres, while greenfield developers will be required to build homes onto smaller, denser lots. Municipalities will be required to increase zoning densities around major transit stations, and new planned transit corridors.

Greenbelt expansions were reserved for public lands mostly in urban river valleys. Under the proposed changes, municipal support would not be required to add new lands to the Greenbelt. The government hopes that more flexibility for agricultural related development inside the greenbelt protected countryside will help diversify the rural economy within the region.

The Niagara Escarpment Plan is expanding its boundaries, with the Niagara Escarpment Commission leading a consultation process for boundary adjustments that will give municipalities, developers and aggregate producers cause for concern.

The announcement also consolidated and streamlined language in the four plans to ensure more consistency and easier implementation for municipalities.

Aligned with the provincial government’s plans to take action on climate change, the province is also requiring municipalities to integrate climate change policies in their local municipal plans.

Engagement Process Underway

The government is accepting feedback on the proposals until September 30th, 2016. The extended consultation period suggests the government is looking for significant  feedback and will be making careful evaluations of proposed changes.


Summary of Changes

Environmental Protection

  • Adding lands in 21 major urban river valleys and seven associated coastal wetlands to what is protected by the Greenbelt. Greenbelt policies would apply only to the public lands in these urban river valleys.
  • Adding four parcels of land identified by the City of Hamilton and the Region of Niagara as Protected Countryside to what is protected by the Greenbelt.
  • Increasing protections for natural heritage systems – such as wetlands, woodlands and rivers – beyond the Greenbelt. Municipalities would be required to plan for and protect these systems in their municipal official plans.

Economic Development

  • Encouragement for municipalities to identify Prime Employment Lands to help target growth to highway and transit corridors.
  • Allowing greater flexibility in the types of agriculture-related uses allowed on farm land.
  • More specific direction to municipalities to better protect transportation corridor lands reserved for future goods movement (rail or road) and other future infrastructure, such as hydro lines.

Building Complete Communities

  • Minimum intensification targets for municipalities will move from 40% to 60%.
  • An increased density target for “designated greenfield areas” increased from 50 to 80 residents and jobs per hectare
  • Minimum densities would be required around major transit station areas.

Managing Growth

  • Strengthening environmental, financial and planning criteria for any future settlement area expansions.
  • Requiring the province to establish a transparent and consistent way for municipalities to calculate the amount of land needed to accommodate growth.
  • Refining and clarifying the rules for development on rural lands.
  • Ensuring that major infrastructure projects or urban expansions fully consider and reduce impacts on agricultural lands.


 Summary of the Four Land Use Plans

Growth Plan

Current Plan:

Proposed Plan:

The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe is a regional growth management policy that was released on June 16, 2006. Since its release, it has been amended twice, in January 2012 and June 2013. It is a long-term plan that aims to:

  • Revitalize downtowns to become vibrant and convenient centres.
  • Create complete communities that offer more options for living, working, learning, shopping and playing.
  • Provide housing options to meet the needs of people at any age.
  • Curb sprawl and protect farmland and green spaces.
  • Reduce traffic gridlock by improving access to a greater range of transportation options.


Niagara Escarpment Plan

Current Plan:

Proposed Plan:

The Niagara Escarpment Plan provides direction on how land in the area may be used or managed and sets out criteria for development of permitted uses. The Plan is administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and implemented by the Niagara Escarpment Commission. The overall objectives embodied in the Plan are:

  • To protect unique ecologic and historic areas;
  • To maintain and enhance the quality and character of natural streams and water supplies;
  • To provide adequate opportunities for outdoor recreation;
  • To maintain and enhance the open landscape character of the Niagara Escarpment in so far as possible, by such means as compatible farming or forestry and by preserving the natural scenery;
  • To ensure that all new development is compatible with the purpose of this Act as expressed in section 2;
  • To provide for adequate public access to the Niagara Escarpment; and
  • To support municipalities within the Niagara Escarpment Planning Area in their exercise of the planning functions conferred upon them by the Planning Act.


Greenbelt Plan

Current Plan:

Proposed Plan:

The Greenbelt Plan provides permanent protection to the agricultural land base and the ecological features and functions of the designated Protected Countryside lands through identifying where urbanization should not occur. The purpose of the Plan is to enhance urban and rural areas and overall quality of life by promoting the following matters within the Protected Countryside:

  • Agricultural protection
  • Environmental protection
  • Culture, recreation and tourism
  • Settlement areas
  • Infrastructure and natural resources


Oak Ridges Moraine Plan

Current Plan:

Proposed Plan:

The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan is an ecologically based plan established by the Ontario government to provide land use and resource management direction for the 190,000 hectares of land and water within the Moraine. The objectives of the 2001 Act are to:

  • Protect the ecological and hydrological integrity of the Oak Ridges Moraine Area;
  • Ensure that only land and resource uses that maintain, improve or restore the ecological and hydrological functions of the Oak Ridges Moraine Area are permitted;
  • Maintain, improve or restore all the elements that contribute to the ecological and hydrological functions of the Oak Ridges Moraine Area, including the quality and quantity of its water and its other resources;
  • Ensure that the Oak Ridges Moraine Area is maintained as a continuous natural landform and environment for the benefit of present and future generations;
  • Provide for land and resource uses and development that are compatible with the other objectives of the Plan;
  • Provide for continued development within existing urban settlement areas and recognizing existing rural settlements;
  • Provide for a continuous recreational trail through the Oak Ridges Moraine Area that is accessible to all including persons with disabilities; and
  • Provide for other public recreational access to the Oak Ridges Moraine Area



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