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Residents question housing targets in York Region official plan

'Not sufficiently addressed,' resident says of affordability in new plan to guide next 30 years; final public meeting scheduled May 18
condos
File Photo/Dan Toulgoet

York Region residents grilled the municipality May 12 on its ideas for the next 30 years as it nears the end of its official plan process.

More than 70 people attended the region’s second virtual open house on its 2021 official plan, which lays out projections and land use as it prepares to expand to 2.02 million in population by 2051. The plan includes urban expansion into some agricultural areas, density around transit corridors and other future development.

But some attendees remained concerned about the plan's urban expansion, potential environmental impact, transit planning and affordable housing. 

“I am struggling to understand how any feedback other than specific landowners and industry requests have been incorporated,” a resident named Sebastian said. “Urban expansion kept growing, roads are still expanding … Landowners are seeking to reduce environmental protection that comes with the agricultural designation.”

The plan is getting close to passing for a provincial deadline, with a statutory public meeting May 19 and an expected approval by regional council in June. It lays out how the region will accommodate a projected 900,000 increase over the next 30 years. It still features a phased 50 to 55 per cent intensification rate —meaning building within urban boundaries — and the remaining growth to expand outside of settlement areas in places like East Gwillimbury and Stouffville.

Director of long-range planning Sandra Malcic said changes in the plan include clarifications, adjusting intensification targets to be more locally based and some site-specific adjustments. However, she said some feedback was not incorporated due to going against provincial policy or council direction, such as scaling back on the urban boundary expansion.

She added that boundary expansion has differing opinions.

“While many support minimizing outward expansion of growth in rural and agricultural areas, other people are concerned about the level of intensification and the evolution of the regional centres into significantly higher density urban form,” Malcic said.

She said the region also refused some requests to convert properties from agriculture to rural use, as they might create holes in otherwise agricultural lands.

Housing was a dominant point of discussion and feedback. In surveys,  65 per cent or more agreed with regional direction in most categories, but the most disagreement came regarding housing, with only 57 per cent agreeing with the plan.

The official plan has targeted 30,000 purpose-built rentals by 2051, but Claire Malcomson questioned the region’s ability to meet that goal, as it has not in recent years. 

“Your own reports outline the affordability is the main reason why the anticipated growth has not been met,” she said. “Affordability is not sufficiently addressed in this plan or provincial plans.”

Malcic said the region is working on a private-sector affordable housing implementation plan to dig into the challenges on a deeper level.

“Addressing the housing challenge does not stop here,” she said.

Inclusionary zoning is also excluded from the plan. Malcic said the region opted for that as local municipalities felt they had been getting better deals negotiating with developers for a certain number of affordable units, rather than mandating it. 

“It's a hard thing to mandate at the regional level,” she said. “It’s a very onerous process. It has varying levels of success.” 

Malcic said feedback would be provided to the council, who could still change direction if it chooses.

The region will host the public meeting for the plan May 19 at 9 a.m. You can view the meeting at york.ca/live or submit a letter or request a deputation by messaging regionalclerk@york.ca or 1-877-464-9675 Ext. 79000. Deputation requests must be received by May 18 at 12 p.m.

Editor's Note, May 15, 2022: This article has been edited to correct the housing target. The target is for 30,000 units by 2051, not per year.