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Dufferin County Planning for Growth & Urban Expansion

Dufferin County Planning for Growth & Urban Expansion

On October 14, 2021, Dufferin County Council heard a presentation from its planning consultant regarding how the county can accommodate the province’s growth plan and how population and employment growth is intended to be directed toward each of Dufferin’s municipalities through the municipal comprehensive review process. Under the province’s growth plan, updated in 2020, Dufferin County’s population is forecasted to increase to about 95,000 by 2051. Hemson Consulting, the publisher of Ontario’s growth outlook report, stated that the population estimate for Dufferin County would be 69,000 in 2021. Employment in Dufferin is estimated to be 25,000 in 2021 and is forecasted to grow to 39,000 by 2051. Hemson’s report outlines that ‘significant growth’ is not expected in Dufferin County due to environmental constraints that restrict the ability to provide long-term water and wastewater services to accommodate growth in Orangeville, in addition to effective build-out of designated lands for development in Shelburne. 

Dufferin County (Est.)2021 (Est.)203120412051
Dufferin Population69,00079,00087,00095,000
Dufferin Employment 25,000 31,000 35,000 39,000
Source: Greater Golden Horsheshoe: Growth Forecasts to 2051 August 26, 2020 – Reference Forecasts (Hemson)

As part of the update on the municipal comprehensive review (MCR), county council received information on the land needs assessment, which estimates how much land must be made available to support the forecasted population and delineates methods of making that land available. These techniques can include settlement area expansions, intensification of employment lands, and land conversions. The land needs assessment allows for the development of a growth management strategy that is incorporated into the county’s official plan, ensuring conformity with the province’s growth plan, A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Municipalities are expected to review their official plans and growth management strategies every ten years or five years after an update through an amendment to the plan.

Greg Bender, Manager of Municipal Planning for WSP, told council that the land needs assessment assumes that local municipalities will continue to diversify their dwelling mix to address affordable housing and accommodate people during all stages of life. 

“The days of having single detached dwellings everywhere is gone,” said Bender. “Having single detached dwellings everywhere is not going to meet an affordability target.” 

Bender told council that the housing mix was already diversifying naturally in the area. Hemson predicts that most new housing developments in Dufferin County from 2021-2051 will consist of single- and semi-detached dwellings. These are expected to form an estimated 7,700 of the 11,600 households created in the timespan. The second most prevalent form of new homes expected in Dufferin will be row housing, increasing by approximately 2,600 from 1,900 units in 2021 to 4,300 in 2051. Although several Dufferin municipalities have made it easier for some homeowners to add accessory units to existing detached dwellings, Hemson expects this form of housing to increase by only one hundred in the thirty-year timeframe. This does not include new detached dwellings that are built with accessory units.

Dufferin County2021 (Est.) 2051New Households
Accessory Units200300100
Total Households23,30034,90011,600
Source: Greater Golden Horsheshoe: Growth Forecasts to 2051 August 26, 2020 – Projections of Housing by Type in Dufferin using Reference Forecasts (Hemson)

The planning consultant notified county council of the critical findings of the land needs assessment for the three ‘urban settlement areas.’ Bender said the assessment identified the maximum amount of land required over the specified timeframe while considering servicing capacity and land availability. It was determined that Shelburne would require 84 hectares of land to accommodate a forecasted population of 18,328 and 9.4 hectares for employment and institutional lands to allow for the community to support an estimated total of 6,477 jobs. Similarly, Bender outlined how Grand Valley would require 56 hectares of additional residential lands to support a projected population of 9,437 and another 4.8 hectares for commercial and institutional purposes for the municipality to maintain a total forecasted number of 2,318 jobs. Lastly, WSP assessed that Orangeville would require 25 hectares of additional land to reach an estimated population of 38,636 people and 73.5 hectares for commercial and institutional land needs for the town to carry a predicted 21,499 jobs. WSP determined that at this point in time, given current information, no new lands for industrial purposes were needed in the urban settlement areas, but the supply should be monitored in Grand Valley and Shelburne. The consultant recommended that Grand Valley and Shelburne initiate settlement area expansions and shared that these discussions were already taking place at the local level. Orangeville was said to have reached its corporate municipal limit, and a strategic policy approach was needed to allocate growth to 2051.

“There’s actually no land to accommodate growth out to 2051, it will be exhausted before that,” Bender said of Orangeville. “Sometime between now and 2051, annexation will be part of the discussion.”

Municipality2051 Population2051 Employment
Amaranth 5,1121,738
East Garafraxa3,961995
Grand Valley9,4372,318
Source: Dufferin County Municipal Comprehensive Review Land Needs Assessment Update – WSP (October 14, 2021 Dufferin County Council Meeting Agenda)

Amaranth’s Deputy Mayor, Chris Gerrits, reported that, Amaranth and East Garafraxa has more than enough greenfield land currently designated towards commercial and industrial needs adjacent to the west side of Orangeville to accommodate the projected needs of the entire county.

“We have about three times as much lands as required that’s currently zoned commercial/industrial,” said Gerrits. “It’s right there beside Orangeville, but we haven’t factored that into account, and you’ve identified a need where there may not actually be a need.”

Bender responded that provincial policy pronounces that growth can’t be directed to adjacent municipalities and that each municipality must serve its own needs. Gerrits said this may be a short-sighted approach and may need to be brought to the province’s attention. Amaranth’s deputy mayor also questioned the necessity of the action if there were no penalties for not reaching the growth forecasts. 

“I don’t see how it’s going to benefit Dufferin County as a whole to piecemeal and direct to these areas”, told Gerrits. “It would make no sense… to have some land annexed from one municipality to another just to move a fake line on a map to bring employment lands into one area out of another.”

The growth plan states that Ontario’s forecasted growth to 2051 will primarily be directed towards settlement areas that have delineated built boundaries and existing or planned municipal water and wastewater systems. The plan also describes how expansion will be limited in settlement areas that are rural settlements or are in the Greenbelt area. The county’s planning consultant stated that the county is obliged to direct growth to serviced municipalities. Growth is permitted to ’round out’ in rural settlements, and development occurring outside settlement areas will follow current trends. Bender told council that WSP would share more detailed findings, including information on Dufferin’s more rural municipalities, at a later date.

“Certainly, growth is going to happen,” said Bender. “We’re not necessarily directing the majority of growth to those municipalities.”

Orangeville’s Mayor Sandy Brown challenged the province’s position on ‘cramming’ housing in small towns consisting of people who may not want to live in ‘a Newmarket or a Milton’, noting urban sprawl experienced by several municipalities over the years.

“I bet if you talk to the average person in Shelburne, Orangeville, or Grand Valley, we like our small communities,” said Mayor Brown. “Building accommodations for people, based on somebody sitting at Queen’s Park… I think we don’t have enough control over what our municipality is going to look like in the future.”

Dufferin County has given the public multiple methods and opportunities for the public to provide input on the official plan. These include the hosting of a public meeting and a public open house, distribution of surveys, in addition to forming a Stakeholder Advisory Committee. Lower-tier municipalities are also involved, particularly when choosing which lands should be considered for development.

“We’re not saying this is where it’s going to be,” said Bender. “We’re asking them to direct us.”

Lower-tier municipalities also provide input on refining the province’s mapping of agricultural and natural heritage systems. Residents and councillors across Dufferin have expressed frustrations due to perceived inaccuracies in the provincial mapping of prime agricultural lands and natural heritage features, imposed in 2017. Amaranth’s Mayor Bob Currie has often pointed out how he perceives the provincial mapping as incorrect in areas of the county, particularly when it obstructs rural development. Provincial policy dictates that the mapping of these systems can only be revised through a municipal comprehensive review.

“As you can appreciate, certain mapping that’s provided at a provincial level is not necessarily going to be 100% accurate in each municipality,” said Bender at a county council meeting on March 12, 2020. “We’re working with local municipalities to understand what those impacts are and where some of the refinements might need to be made.” 

Mayor Currie pointed out that development in rural areas was currently occurring on lands previously designated as prime agricultural in Dufferin’s more urban municipalities. 

“As I speak, there are houses being built on ‘prime ag’ in these three municipalities,” asserted Currie. “You’ve got to readjust your sights and look at the rural municipalities, we need some growth too.”

Bender explained that the issue of urban municipalities developing on farmland derives from development being optimized in terms of municipal servicing when it is contiguous to existing infrastructure. He also reiterated that growth is prioritized toward urban municipalities according to provincial policy. The planning consultant emphasized how the quality of agricultural land selected as a prospective site for development would need to be examined to ensure the ‘worst type’ was chosen for towns to expand into.

“There’s a very good chance that in some of the municipalities outside of the urban areas, there are prime lands,” answered Bender. “The difficulty is that municipalities will expand over time. It will happen, it is going to happen, and it has happened.” 

Bender noted that the land needs assessment incorporates existing county-wide residential intensification and employment density targets, in addition to known environmental and servicing constraints. Land needs could be reduced if the county established and realized higher intensification and density targets. Bender told council he believes that it would be a significant challenge if the county attempted to raise them. 

“If we were to increase density targets, none of the municipalities would need land,” told Bender. “I’m not sure if each of the municipalities are necessarily supportive of increasing various targets for density and intensification.”

According to a staff report submitted to council in 2019, Dufferin County’s municipal comprehensive review began in 2020 and is expected to last two years. The county is required to implement the MCR through a council-adopted official plan or official plan amendment and submit it to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing for approval by 2022. 

On a separate but related note, Dufferin County is progressing through the production of a Transportation Master Plan (TMP), which defines long-term transportation intentions as a complement to transportation needs recognized through the official plan development process. The TMP integrates current and future land-use planning and the planning of transportation infrastructure. WSP listed reasons for developing a TMP, including that it proactively plans for all forms of travel, provides options for people to get around, supports goals for connected communities, and accommodates future generations’ needs.

References – Dufferin County Planning for Growth & Urban Expansion

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