What Does the Housing Availability Task Force Mean for King Township?

Mar 18, 2022

What Does the Housing Availability Task Force Mean for King Township?

By: Tom Butt

It is not difficult to appreciate the conundrum faced by the Ontario Housing Availability Task Force. They assessed the cost of housing and the changes that have occurred in recent years to the housing stock in the province and analyzed the options available to the government to help solve this problem. One of the concerns of the Task Force was that Municipalities require numerous studies and, whether true or not, appear to set all kinds of rules for adding housing, many of which go well beyond the requirements of the provincial Planning Act. While some of this guidance has value for urban design, some rules appear to be arbitrary and not supported by evidence. Our major issue is — how does this affect planning in King Township?

The Task Force acknowledged that one recent result of uncontrolled development is that more growth is pushing past urban boundaries and turning farmland into housing. One particular conclusion important to King Township is the position taken by the committee that a ‘shortage of land isn’t the cause of the problem’ — meaning removing regulations to make land more available, both inside the existing built-up areas and on undeveloped land outside greenbelts. Because King Township, while not unique in Ontario, has a significant percentage of its land mass that can be defined as ‘sensitive’— specifically the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Holland Marsh — we need to view the Task Force recommendations from two points of view.

The Task Force concluded that most of the solution for affordable housing must come from densification. In our three settlement areas, the recommendations, combined with the directions for planning approved in our Official Plan, should allow for a more ‘gentle’ density growth pattern that will make better use of roads, water and wastewater systems, transit and other public services that are already in place and have capacity, instead of having to be built in new areas. The Task Force accepted that underused and vacant commercial and industrial properties in urban areas are another potential source of land for housing. Is it possible to re-allocate employment lands located in the settlement areas of King Township to offer affordable housing, starting with a Village of Care complex for Seniors’ Services, including Seniors’ Housing?

What does this report mean to the overall direction for future development of King Township? The ORMCP — a prescriptive provincial land use plan with the purpose of protecting the hydrological and ecological integrity of the Plan area. It is recognized by most that the municipal plans and zoning by-laws must conform to the ORMCP. The Task Force made several recommendations oriented to preventing the abuse of the appeals process. Whether made by the land owner, the developer or a third party, the ORMCP must be viewed as an unassailable source document— not open to appeal. The ORM and Greenbelt Conservation Plans have been vetted by many public consultations over the years and are supported by all political parties. Recent cabinet statements are very clear that there will be no inappropriate or questionable development on land protected by these two Conservation Plans.

CCKT assumes that the ORMCP will supersede recommendations for undeveloped land located across The Township, whether approved by planning staff and Council or under appeal. Specifically, even though the Task Force acknowledged that undeveloped land inside and outside existing municipal boundaries must be part of the solution, they recognized that the Greenbelt and other environmentally sensitive areas, like the ORMCP and the Holland Marsh, must be protected. If farms in King Township are going to provide food and food security, relying too heavily on undeveloped land would whittle away too much of the already small share of land devoted to agriculture. Equally, The Task Force also acknowledged that if our wetlands/woodlands/water ways and the home lands of our wild life are going to be maintained, the Greenbelt and the ORM must have exclusionary zoning to restrict inappropriate development.

We can not have planning parameters that suggest that the ORM is just a collection of “lines on a map” — if conditions exist on one side of a demarcation line is it appropriate to consider similar planning guidelines on the other side of that line? We can not accept that if there are changes to be considered to approve a project — the ORMCP may have to be modified. We can not accept a ‘bait and switch’ approach to planning where a questionable institutional facility is approved and serviced, followed immediately by an array of unrelated infrastructure services like a hotel, conference centre, banquet hall or residential accommodations. We have to assume that our Township planners and Council are the stewards of the ORMCP. We expect them to implement the guidelines and directives of the ORMCP.

The ORM has three major land classification outside of the settlement areas—Natural Core Land, Natural Linkages Land and Countryside Land. Hopefully our unique collection of wetlands and woodlands will help to ensure our Natural Core and Linkages Lands will be easy to protect. However, Countryside designated land does allow for ‘Small-Scale’ institutional facilities if all other conditions of the ORMCP are met. While there is a definition of ‘Small-Scale’ as it applies to licensed retirement homes, we urge our planners to bring a more broad, and acceptable, definition of ‘Small-Scale’ to Council before it is needed to adjudicate on future ‘site plan applications’.

Will the protection of the ORM and the Greenbelt be an election issue in 2022 at either the provincial or municipal level of government? This is a question for discussion over the next six months. It will be addressed at our Annual General Meeting On April 6, 2022 by our Key Note speaker, Mr. Steve Gilchrist — Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing when the ORMCP was introduced in Ontario in 2001. It is not a question that is asked a year from now, six months after to elections and when the first bulldozer moves onto the Moraine. Who do we turn to, to be accountable for protecting the guidelines and directives of the ORMCP?