After months of debate and backlash, York Region council formally passed a new official plan June 30.
The plan passed 14-7 and will see the settlement area in the region expand to accommodate projected growth over the next 30 years. The day’s decisions included bringing more lands into the settlement area, including protected Oak Ridges Moraine lands in Whitchurch-Stouffville, subject to provincial approval.
York Region chairman Wayne Emmerson said it was a difficult process.
“This has been long and hard to go through an official plan during a pandemic,” he said. “Have we got it perfect? No, I don’t think we'll ever get perfect with everything happening. But things change every five years.”
The plan includes a phased 50 per cent intensification rate, ramping to 55 per cent starting in 2041. But that has garnered criticism from environmental advocates and some members of council, who have argued against urban sprawl and expansion into protected agricultural lands.
“We have incursion into the Greenbelt, the Oak Ridges Moraine,” Newmarket Mayor John Taylor, who voted against the plan, said. “This is not a financially, environmentally, or socially sustainable plan, and there's a lot of issues.”
After hours of back and forth, Georgina Mayor Margaret Quirk, who also opposed the plan, said she has never seen a meeting like this since she started on council in 1994.
“Lawyers will love this. I’m sure they’re sitting here, salivating. The media is probably enjoying this circus,” she said. “There is so much wrong here that I can’t even begin to unravel it.”
But other members of council backed the plan, with several further settlement expansions proposed in different communities. Newmarket Deputy Mayor Tom Vegh voted in support of the plan, addressing his vote at a Newmarket council meeting earlier this week.
“Each municipality faces their own challenges … York Region is going to experience the largest housing boom since World War II,” he said. “I personally am not going to agree with everything that’s in it. But I’m also understanding municipalities, they need to chart their own destiny, much the same way Newmarket needed to chart its own destiny.”
The plan passes ahead of a provincial deadline for new plans to come into place July. The province will still need to review and approve it, including the parts requiring provincial plan changes, such as expansions into the protected Oak Ridges Moraine.