By David Laing.
Statement from Sierra Club Ontario related to the Government of Ontario's request for input on the enhanced Minister's Zoning Order powers that were enabled with Bill 197.
I am writing my comments on behalf of Sierra Club Ontario and Peel Chapters.
In its justification for enhancing the powers of the Minister's Zoning Order (MZO), it is our opinion that the government has not adequately demonstrated the need to take decision-making power away from local municipalities/planning departments and concentrate it in the hands of the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry. There needs to be more specific information provided about the “potential barriers and development delays” that these enhanced powers are trying to address. Removing transparency of decision-making and removing the requirement for the Minister’s decisions to be accountable to the public through consultation appears to be taking the Province in the wrong direction! How are these enhanced powers going to provide “additional value capture to enable economic recovery”? How will the government balance the need to streamline approvals while still making good land-use planning decisions that consider local needs and conditions? Expedient planning is not necessarily good planning.
We agree that there is a need for more affordable housing and for building transit-oriented communities. But, why can't these developments be facilitated through regulations and due process rather than an MZO? Why does the Minister need the authority to alter zoning to a property without giving public notice? And, in what circumstances would there be a need to remove municipal use of site plan control?
As an example, site plan control is a tool to regulate development provided to municipalities in Ontario’s Planning Act. It is used to ensure that any development meets certain standards and regulations. The site plan approval process promotes functional and attractive development, while minimizing adverse impacts on the surrounding land uses. We are concerned that if the Minister receives the enhanced authority for MZOs as proposed and without well defined limits for their use, then municipalities will effectively lose the ability to set standards for how the appearance of the development will fit into the surrounding neighbourhood or ensure that there is proper grading, drainage and municipal services in place. Read more about Site Plan Control here.
It is our opinion that the Province should be providing “development guidelines” to the municipalities and then allowing the local governments and planning departments to decide the best approach while implementing those guidelines. Local governments should have the best information and insight to make decisions regarding individual development projects.
We are concerned that the MZO as proposed, is a blunt instrument that lacks finesse and transparency. It would be both a powerful, yet risky tool that we feel should be used only for extreme and unforeseen circumstances such as the declaration of a state of emergency by cabinet. To prevent its misuse, we recommend stringent guidelines should be established as to how and when MZO’s can be requested and granted. Otherwise, normal planning and development processes should be the standard operating procedure. We are also concerned by the government's lack of transparency through the effective suspension of public consultation by including legislative changes in an omnibus or budget bill that negates the ERO public consultation requirements.