Mayor, Members of Council and Staff,
I want to thank you for this opportunity to comment on the decision of the City to include the “white belt” lands (sprawl) in the Official Plan and express my disappointment in the public process. In contrast to Councillor Mario Ferri’s comments in the Vaughan Citizen, “It’s unfortunate that the people taking issue with it were not involved”, I am here to correct that misconception and assure you that the people who are taking issue have been involved all along. I have been at all the evening public meetings on this OP process and I have been expressing my concerns to both Pino and Paul ever since last November, when we discovered that the City had decided to expand the urban boundary with no public discussion and a lack of justifying documents.
The “Places to Grow” legislation sets out criteria that must be met before an urban boundary expansion can be made (policy 126.96.36.199). The City has only met three out of the eight criteria. Several important studies are still required to be completed and here we are trying to include the lands before we even know if it is wise or will meet the criteria. The critical studies required are the economic study proving this sprawl is sustainable, and the secondary plans needed to prove it can be done without negative impact to the Greenbelt lands (which provide important habitat and ecological function to local endangered species) and the high value farmlands surrounding this proposed expansion.
Through a careful analysis of the numbers and reports it is clear to me that we are planning for significantly more growth than is being acknowledged and with the addition of “white belt” (countryside) lands we will be far in excess of the required numbers from the Province and subsequently the Region. The population estimates that came out of “Where and How to Grow”, when added up are approx. 440,000 people, we are required to accommodate approx. 419,000 people by 2031. In addition, the numbers in the report are acknowledged by the authors to be at the low range of the possible intensification possibilities. Why are we planning for more than we are required to accommodate?
It is too bad that I only have five minutes to cover a subject that should take many hours. So I shall only be able to touch on a few of the inconsistencies of the Hemson report that appear to be driving this need for sprawl.
“Where and How to Grow – June 2008” from Urban Strategies states on pg. 79 that an urban boundary expansion is not necessary. It stressed that a decision needed to be made whether the City does additional expansion within the built boundary, or additional development in the designated greenfields or an urban boundary expansion or a combination of some or all of the above. We had a choice. We (the public) were hoping to be part of that discussion before we got to this point. We were not!
I started to analyze the documents looking at population numbers, however the Hemson report is all based around units so I had to change my assessment to look at the units required to be provided. We need to keep in mind the approx. 65,000 new housing units we are required to provide by 2031 and that this translates to approx. 170,000 new people.
Let’s take a little look at the intensification opportunities:
The Urban Strategies reported in “Where and How to Grow” the intensification Priority Opportunity Areas to yield approx. 54,200 units at the low end of the FSI (intensification) range. It was a conservative estimate and they confirmed that the City of Vaughan has the capacity to meet and exceed the intensification targets set by the Region (30,000 units). The Hemson report identifies the intensification opportunities to be lower at 30,430 units, however the Hemson report has many TBD sections indicating the numbers will follow after the secondary plans have been developed. If you take an educated guess of those TBD’s from the work done by the “Where and How to Grow” report you get over the 9,630 units that are needed in the “white belt” lands. Add the 54,200 intensification units to the existing Greenfield developments already planned which will net approx. 30,000 units and you get a total of 84,200 units. We only need to accommodate approx 65,000 units. So what is clear from both reports is that we do have the capacity to accommodate the growth without an expansion of the boundary, and the secondary plans for intensification are being drawn up to allow for that higher growth to occur.
However, Hemson concludes that because only 20% of the intensification units are ground related it will not satisfy the market demand for ground related units and this is why we need to expand the urban boundary.
Let’s take a closer look at the Greenfield developments:
Both Hemson and Urban Strategies agree that there are approx. 30,000 units still to be built within the existing OPA’s and that 70% of that is for ground related housing. An interesting fact is that currently over 85% of Vaughan’s housing stock is ground related and the whole premise for expanding into the “white belt” is to supply more ground related units.
With over 85% of our housing stock in ground related units maybe it is time we look to get a better mix of housing types in Vaughan, to satisfy the needs of our community; the seniors looking to downsize and reduce maintenance, and young adults looking to start out who can’t afford a house.
Hemson’s position in reports dating back to Feb 2003 (Growth and Urban Land Need in Central Ontario – prepared for The Greater Toronto Homebuilder’s Association) has been a reluctance to restrict the supply of ground related units continuing the need for sprawl out into the countryside. This type of growth has been proven to result in higher taxes, create more traffic congestion, and result in negative environmental effects. The residents spoke out against this type of growth and their input has been ignored.
Because of this philosophy Hemson identifies an additional Greenfield housing demand of 34,560 units. They also identify in their report that not all the current Greenfield supply will be available by 2031, so the supply has been factored down to 24,930. This is how we ended up with the surprise figure of 9,630 units at the last open house and surprisingly this works out to just the 480 ha that is being designated in the expansion area. It is amazing what you can do with numbers.
I am a little puzzled how we will be allowed to expand while we still have capacity in the existing Greenfield lands as I am sure this does not meet the requirements for Places to Grow.
In summary, Urban Strategies “Where and How to Grow ” document has shown us a new way forward, however due to a lack of vision and lack of sensitivity to the wishes of the existing residents we are going to expand the urban boundary and do the intensification, resulting in numbers that are significantly higher than the required forecasts. This is why so many of us, who have been involved since day one, are outraged and are here to speak out today.