• Protecting Water and Farmland in Simcoe County

Simcoe County’s future planning missing critical information say local advocates

In Agriculture
Oct 7th, 2021

Midhurst, ON – Two local organizations engaged in a planning process to help Simcoe County prepare for future growth, the Municipal Comprehensive Review, believe that key pieces of information and analysis need to be included to ensure this process benefits existing communities, local watersheds, climate and our economy.

This week, Simcoe County hosted information and Q&A sessions about this process where they presented details about how they are planning for growth until 2051 and what analysis will be used to decide how the region will prepare for a potential influx of 198,000 people.  Advocates say that what was presented shows there are significant questions and analysis that are missing from the current process.

“One of the key pieces missing is an analysis of how all this extra growth will impact Lake Simcoe and our local watersheds,” says Claire Malcolmson of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition.  “Our lakes and rivers are not in great shape and can’t really afford more haphazard growth and the sewage and stormwater that come with it.  A critical question is whether  the studies around our water, servicing and wastewater plans will influence and change the growth scenarios we were shown this week?”

Malcolmson notes that in York Region, the public was told how much more it would cost to provide services to support growth in rural areas versus established serviced communities. In Ottawa a similar analysis was done that showed growth in areas not serviced cost the municipality over $400 per capita even after taxes and development charges were factored in while directing growth to existing, serviced communities resulted in a surplus of over $600 per capita.

“Will people in Simcoe County get the same information?  Residents have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and how their water will be protected,” she says.

There is also extra analysis that needs to be done to ensure that future housing supply will give people affordable housing choices.

Margaret Prophet of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition says, “The kind of housing we build and where we build it has a big impact on affordability and emissions. Currently, the County isn’t analyzing whether the housing they have planned could be afforded by current or future residents. York Region did that analysis and found that they needed to change what was built so people could afford a place to live.  We too have a housing affordability crisis so the County needs to be analyzing this.  Without it, the system is too vulnerable to developer pressures to build what makes them a profit, not what helps our communities.”

SCGC and RLSC, believe that this exercise should be used to move towards a vision that promotes community health, affordability and climate action.  Commonly known as 15 minute communities, the vision centres around making cost efficient investments in the community that allow people to access daily needs by no more than a 15 minute walk.

Kelly Gingrich, SCGC’s Youth Engagement Lead says, “It’s a long term vision that won’t be realized overnight, but we can start working towards those changes today.  What we know is that this type of community development leaves more money for community improvements, healthier for residents, leads to more affordable housing, has a lower impact on our environment and will help us meet our 2050 climate targets. This is what the youth of today want and increasingly what communities around the world are moving towards. We’re in a climate emergency; we need to be acting accordingly.”

To help people articulate the future they want to see in the County, SCGC created a petition asking for 15 minute communities; The RLSC has a sign up sheet on their website and sends signers updates about opportunities to comment and engage, and sends these people suggestions about what to say within the MCR process. https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/current-activities/official-plans/

The Municipal Comprehensive Review process will go on until July 2022 across Ontario. At risk in Simcoe County are 420 hectares of land for residential and employment lands to 2051 (about 1037 football fields). This is on top of lands that are still natural but have been slated for development. Across Ontario the extent of this provincially mandated development planning to 2051 threatens tens of thousands of acres of farmland and green spaces, putting clean water, farm viability, and access to nature at risk. Critics argue that it will be impossible to reach clean water and climate targets if the dominant pattern of growth results in communities that can only be navigated by car.

“The MCR is being treated as an administrative exercise, but it’s deciding a lot about big picture issues that residents really care about: climate, housing and affordability, Indigenous rights, public and mental health, social justice. These decisions today will have an impact on the next several decades, especially for today’s youth.  It’s important to speak up for the community you want today.” says Gingrich.

For media inquiries please contact:

Margaret Prophet, Executive Director, SCGC
705-718-1383      email: margaret@simcoecountygreenbelt.ca

Claire Malcolmson, Executive Director, RLSC
647-267-7572  rescuelakesimcoecoalition@gmail.com

About the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalitionwww.simcoecountygreenbelt.ca  The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition is a diverse coalition of 40 organizations from across Simcoe County and the province calling on local and provincial leaders to better protect our water resources, green spaces and farmland through smart growth and sustainable policies including expansion of the Greenbelt into Simcoe County.

About: The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition is a lake-wide member-based organization that provides leadership and inspires people to take action to protect Lake Simcoe. www.rescuelakesimcoe.org

Please see the press release that went out on today re: the County’s MCR process. Based on what we know, our broad concerns with this process are:

  • lack of transparency about how the land use calculations were made. Many assumptions, but no clear indication of the inputs into the final amount of land needed so we’re not sure if we are over supplying more land or not. Our gut says yes, but not sure until the details come.
  • uncertainty (but we have asked for clarification) about how much wiggle room lower tiers (specifically Innisfil, BWG, New Tec) will have to reduce density and intensification targets that are currently being set by the County. If those lower tiers are able to suggest lower targets to the County then what seems like a low amount of land needed could quickly increase depending on the lower tier’s desires.
  • the County does not see any constraints in our servicing and water infrastructure that would limit growth. This while Collingwood is in a development freeze, Beeton and Tottenham have water quality issues, Innisfil requires massive expansions to its WWTP, Collingwood requires expansion of its water intake and generally ground water reserves are not being managed properly (e.g. Waverly), not to mention the lack of assimilative capacity within the Nottawasaga River and Lake Simcoe which receive a majority of the storm water and wastewater in the County. A master servicing plan is due end of November. Will its results impact growth projections? We feel it should, but unclear if it will.
  • other regions like York and Ottawa have including housing affordability calculations within the MCR procress to determine whether what is being built is affordable (sprawling McMansions are not) and offers housing choice. Asked directly on Tuesday, the County said that it is not analyzing housing affordability within its calculations. It should.
  • other regions have also analyzed the cost of servicing. Ottawa’s analysis showed that directing growth to unserviced, rural/suburban communities cost the city over $400 per capita while directing growth to existing servicing communities netted the city over $600 per capita even once increased tax revenue was considered. We feel the county should also be doing this sort of analysis to ensure that tax dollars are being well spent and to ensure that there is a surplus in municipal coffers to service existing communities and residents.
  • concerns about how the county plans on addressing climate action when the number one influence it has over emissions (how and where we grow) isn’t being viewed through a climate lens. Many municipalities over rely on adoption of EVs and offsets to reduce carbon emissions. We’d like the County to assess its growth, road expansion and building bylaws within a climate action focus.

Below are some links that help you engage in the process. Also, for those in New Tec, Innisfil and BWG, keep a close eye on council agendas where they will be discussing the MCR and settlement boundary expansions. In New Tec, that looks like Monday, October 18; BWG, Tuesday, October 19 and Innisfil Wednesday, October 20. If you see MCR on your agenda, please help people submit letters/emails/deputations to ensure that they don’t cave to developer requests to needlessly expand settlement areas and force consideration of water and climate.

Additional Public Information

People can register for upcoming sessions that will discuss Natural Heritage (forests, wetlands etc), agricultural land, climate change and watershed plans Oct 18th and 19th here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/simcoe-municipal-comprehensive-review-public-information-sessions-oct-18-19-tickets-173561114967.  If you would like to share your concerns via letter or email, you can submit comments to the County no later than Nov 12, 2021.

People can find out how much of each type of development is being proposed in their municipality, and how much land that could take up, here: https://www.simcoe.ca/Planning/Pages/MCR-Studies/GrowthManagement.aspx

Concerned residents should find out on their municipal Council calendar when those numbers will be up for public discussion in their municipality. It’s October 20th in Innisfil.

More information about the MCR from Simcoe County is available at https://www.simcoe.ca/dpt/pln/mcr

Resources for the public about the Municipal Comprehensive Review can also be found here https://environmentaldefence.ca/the-big-sprawl/

See the release here

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