The Ontario government is proposing to expand the greenbelt and force more infill development with new draft planning rules that will shape growth in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
These proposed changes were released on Tuesday at a news conference in Mississauga. They are among 87 recommendations in a report – Planning for Health, Prosperity and Growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe: 2015 – 2041 – from an advisory council, appointed by the province and led by former federal Tory cabinet minister and former Toronto Mayor David Crombie.
The panel was asked to review four current land-use plans for the GTHA and chart a new way forward. It spent 14 months consulting with residents and other stakeholders.
"We need to revise the plans because the area's prosperity is attracting more and more people," Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Ted McMeekin told the news conference. "To sustainably support the growth, we must continue to create complete communities in which people live and work and in which businesses thrive."
He said the proposed changes are based on public input and "very careful thought."
An aide to Mr. McMeekin, Mark Cripps, said the report signals the direction the province wants to take and that the government will hear feedback from the public until the end of September and then make final decisions.
Planners are calling the recommendations bold and necessary, while builders warn the restrictions will further drive up house prices and limit choice.
Gary Carr, regional chair of Halton, which includes Milton – Canada's fastest growing community – is adamant the province allow flexibility rather than forcing new rules.
"By imposing this one-size fits all, you create some problems even within a region like us," he says.
Since the 1990s, it is estimated that 100,000 and 120,000 people move into the area every year. The report says the province has forecast that "the number of people living in the region will grow from the current population of about nine million people to about 13.5 million by 2041, with the number of jobs forecast to rise from 4.5 million to 6.3 million."
"This will increase our population by nearly 50 per cent and the number of jobs by 40 per cent. A central question for the region is 'where and how will future growth be accommodated?'" the report says.
Among its key recommendations is continued protection and expansion of the greenbelt. The greenbelt now protects 800,000 hectares, but under the recommendations this would increase to include 21 major river valleys and four parcels of land identified by Hamilton and the Region of Niagara.
The panel also recommends increasing intensification rates from 40 per cent to 60 per cent, meaning most new residential building will occur in urban areas with infrastructure.
Cities currently are allowed to plan for 50 residents and jobs per hectare, but the panel proposes this increase to 80 residents and jobs per hectare.
"It's really bold. Growing our greenbelt is really bold. Intensifying our urban areas is excellent and it's exactly what we need if we want to be sustainable," Cherise Burda, executive director of Ryerson City Building Institute, says.
However, Ms. Burda is concerned about how municipalities will react and says incentives will be needed to make intensification happen around the transit stations, as proposed in the Crombie report.
Last year, the Wynne government pledged to invest nearly $30-billion in transit – Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are to receive about $15-billion of that.
Bryan Tuckey, president and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), said that for people in the GTA, the changes would mean "more intensification, more condominiums, more cranes, more congestion, less housing choice and fewer single family homes."
He believes, too, housing prices will only increase. In 2006, when the province introduced its growth plan, the average price of a new single-family detached home was $439,000. It is now more than $1-million.
"The demand for low-rise homes has not diminished," he says, "and the intensification targets put out today mean fewer of these low-rise homes will be built and demand will continue to outpace supply."
Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto's chief planner, called that position "absurd." She says the opposite is true as the advisory panel's recommendations promote density in the places where the demand for housing is highest – near transit.
"The demand for housing isn't highest at the edges of the greenbelt," she says. "The demand for housing is highest in our most dense, walkable communities."
Ms. Keesmaat says the important message from the report is the strong emphasis it puts on making the region more transit-oriented.
"Reinforcing that direction is a critical part of fighting congestion. It's a critical part of using our tax dollars better. It's a critical part of addressing climate change," she said.