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Barrie mayor calls on province for 'shovel-ready' employment land

Residential development not being matched by job opportunities, says Nuttall; 'this cannot continue or the city will not be a complete community'
Former long-term care minister Paul Calandra, now Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, speaks with media at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Sept. 14, 2022.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra’s deadline to hear back from mayors affected by the Tories’ flip-flop on their official plans has come and gone, with local leaders offering the provincial government a mixed bag of opinions over the move.

Calandra's legislation undoing most changes the provincial government imposed on a dozen cities' and regions' official plans was passed on Tuesday, a day before the legislature rose for the winter holidays, and two days before he had asked mayors of the impacted municipal governments for their feedback on the province's U-turn.

By Tuesday, The Trillium had gathered letters that six mayors had sent Calandra, who had specifically asked them to identify whether they'd like to keep in place the provincial changes that were being undone.

The six mayors were generally pleased with the province's reversal. Some, however, expressed that they were on board with changes that went beyond what their city councils approved and that the province later imposed.

Although some of these modifications were undone by Bill 150's passage, Calandra assured mayors in a letter of his own on Nov. 2 that their input "will be carefully considered to determine the best approach for moving forward, including if further legislative steps or the use of other provincial tools are required."

Barrie Mayor Alex Nuttall is shown in a file photo. | Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday

In his response last week, Barrie Mayor Alex Nuttall asked Calandra to consider his request for more employment land.

“As the city grows rapidly, there needs to be a sufficient amount of jobs to accompany the housing growth. Barrie is experiencing significant demand from existing employers who wish to expand and grow their footprint, but are constrained by the availability of shovel-ready and available lands," Nuttall wrote in his Dec. 6 letter.

“The intensification we are seeing with residential development is not being matched by jobs and employment opportunities. This cannot continue or the city will not be a complete community,” Nuttall wrote. 

“I simply do not see how this can be accomplished without additional land. It’s recommended that the new Official Plan also include a boundary adjustment to facilitate employment lands,” he added.

The other 11 cities and regions that the provincial government undid its changes to included Belleville, Guelph, Hamilton, Ottawa, Peterborough, Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterloo, York and Wellington County.

Mayor Mark Sutcliffe of Ottawa, where one of the more controversial urban boundary expansions happened, welcomed the municipal affairs minister's walk-back in his letter, while also endorsing a slight change upping the maximum building heights on certain streets in the city.

If the province’s building height changes aren’t kept, it “will negatively impact (the) opportunity to provide a full range of future housing supply across low, mid and high-rise building forms” and disrupt existing development applications made under the previous rules, Sucliffe said in his letter.

Markham, part of York Region, supports the majority of Calandra’s walk-back but wants a few small modifications kept in the new plan, including keeping about 60 hectares of agricultural land as is, versus zoning it for future urban development “as these lands are not needed to accommodate growth.” 

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward of Burlington, which is part of Halton Region, noted in the letter she sent Calandra with her council’s endorsement that it supported his decision as it maintained two new urban areas that the municipality had wanted originally.

Meed Ward also expressed an openness to changes the provincial government had imposed as they “provide near and longer term opportunities” for development that the municipality and region are onside with. 

Neither of the mayors of Waterloo, Julie Finley-Swaren, and Aurora (of York Region), Tom Mrakas, endorsed any of the changes to their official plans that the province walked back.

Calandra first announced the provincial government's intent to undo most of its modifications to the 12 cities' and regions' official plans on Oct. 23, as the heat of the related Greenbelt scandal was simmering.

The minister's U-turn — actualized by the passage of Bill 150 last week — marked the second reversal of major policies approved under his predecessor in his short tenure as minister of municipal affairs and housing. Premier Doug Ford’s Sept. 21 promise to restore Greenbelt land that was removed late last year preceded it.

The provincial government’s changes to the affected municipalities’ official plans frustrated some mayors and councillors originally, as well as after the fact when Calandra promised to undo them. Municipalities’ and regions’ plans that the provincial government overruled had in some cases taken years for local governments to decide.

In certain areas, changes to urban boundaries were shown by later-revealed documents to have closely mirrored developers’ direct requests to political staffers in the provincial government, like how many of the Greenbelt removals came to be.

At his Oct. 23 news conference, Calandra promised he’d still be seeking input from the mayors of impacted municipalities about which to-be-reversed changes to their plans that they’d like kept.

In a letter dated Nov. 2, Calandra followed up with the mayors of the impacted municipalities, asking them for their feedback, including “if there are changes that the municipality would like to see made to the official plan, based on the modifications that the province had previously made.”

Calandra has also apologized out to developers affected by his government's reversals of its decisions on official plan changes and the opening of some Greenbelt land to development.

"Let me just start by saying that I'm sorry. I do truly understand how difficult the last few months have been," he said at the Building Industry and Land Development Association’s (BILD) annual general meeting luncheon in Woodbridge last week, according to a recording obtained by The Trillium.

He apologized personally to Silvio De Gasperis of TACC Developments for how he and all developers have been "cast" in recently. Calandra promised to continue working with the industry and not to repeat his governments "failings."