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Province puts chill on Barrie's Official Plan

While reviewing how decisions were made regarding official plans in several municipalities, minister says 'it is now clear that they failed to meet this test'
Residential development in south-end Barrie is shown in a file photo.

Barrie’s Official Plan (OP) is no longer quite so official.

Paul Calandra, Ontario’s minister of municipal affairs and housing, released a statement Monday saying he will introduce legislation to reverse OP decisions for Barrie, Belleville, Guelph, Hamilton, Ottawa and Peterborough, the regional municipalities of Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterloo and York, as well as Wellington County.

OPs designate land use and guide municipal zoning bylaws.

Calandra said he’s made it a priority to review past decisions, including minister’s zoning orders (MZO) and OPs, to ensure they support the province’s goal of building at least 1.5 million homes in a manner that maintains and reinforces public trust.

“In reviewing how decisions were made regarding Official Plans, it is now clear that they failed to meet this test,” he said in a statement.

“This legislation would wind back provincial changes to official plans and official plan amendments, except in circumstances where construction has begun or where doing so would contravene existing provincial legislation and regulation,” Calandra said. “This includes winding back changes to urban boundaries.”

Barrie’s new OP was approved by the Ontario government just last April with 73 modifications by the province to the city’s policies and maps, to address provincial policy direction related to land-use compatibility, source water protection and government priorities related to housing and streamlining development process, among other matters, including site-specific changes.

“The city considered the ministry changes to be relatively minor and since April has used this document as a foundation for council decisions on development applications and the work staff have been doing on a new city-wide comprehensive zoning bylaw,” said Michelle Banfield, the city’s director of development services.

“With respect to the urban boundary in the City of Barrie’s Official Plan, there were no modifications made by the minister," she added.

But the province has also put municipalities like Barrie on the clock.

“We will be asking impacted municipalities to submit changes and updates to those plans to ministry staff within 45 days of today (Oct. 23), including information on projects that are already underway,” Calandra said.

Banfield said city staff are working with ministry staff to understand the implications of this 45-day consultation window.

“As we’ve been given this opportunity for further review, the city may provide the minister with modifications to the Official Plan to address the lack of serviced employment lands within the city’s current boundary,” she said, “and to more aggressively target specific areas in the city for additional growth and intensification for his consideration to get more homes, built faster.”

Contacted by BarrieToday on Monday, Calandra’s communications staff did not answer questions about which OP decisions for Barrie could be reversed, where the projects were located, type of development, when approved by the city and why the decisions need to be reversed.

But in recognition of the costs incurred by municipalities from the province’s decision, it will work with impacted municipalities to assist with related planning and staffing costs, the minister also said in the statement.

Barrie Mayor Alex Nuttall said Barrie’s new OP was approved by the previous city council (2018-22), supported by staff and adopted by this council. 

“Amid the housing crisis, Barrie is currently on track to meet its goal of 23,000 homes by 2031,” he said, “and we hope this review will be expedited with little to no impact on our timelines or accrual of additional costs.”

Nuttall’s council pledged earlier this year to a target of 23,000 new homes built by 2031, in addition to what’s already planned. The pledge is a requirement of Bill 23, the province’s More Homes Built Faster Act of 2022 and its goal of 1.5 million new homes in Ontario by 2031.

Barrie’s new OP outlines a comprehensive land-use policy framework to guide growth and development within the city until 2051, including new and revised policies and schedules related to an updated community structure, land-use designations, housing, infrastructure and environmental protection, among other matters. 

The new OP also establishes a settlement area boundary expansion, consistent with Barrie’s existing boundary.

Council’s pledge divides Barrie’s housing target into five areas, the largest being 19,180 units based on demographic trends, from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs forecast for allocation of growth for this city.

Collaborating with development industry partners is expected to yield 3,900 housing units, second and third suites another 1,800 units, the New Foundations program (on church, place-of-worship, institutional properties) for 1,500 units, and 1,400 units by re-examining existing development approvals. This totals 27,780 new homes, well above Barrie’s target of 23,000.

But city councillors have had concerns about how Barrie can meet its housing targets, and what the bill will be for infrastructure.

Council passed a direct motion in late 2022, for example, to request the province fund the $250-million expansion of the city's wastewater treatment facility, to aid Barrie in meeting the housing targets outlined by the Ontario government in the More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022.

Nuttall also has so-called 'strong mayor' powers to help him move the housing needle, if need be.

Granted to mayors by the Ford government, they include a veto on council decisions conflicting with provincial priorities such as housing, transit and infrastructure — although a two-thirds majority of council can override the mayor’s veto.

These powers include allowing mayors to propose housing-related bylaws and pass them with the support of one-third of councillors, as well as override council approval of bylaws, such as a zoning bylaw, that would stall home construction.

Strong mayors can also prepare and table their city's budget, instead of council, and hire and fire department heads.