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'The balance is off right now': Residents grill York Region on growth plan

More than 150 attend open house to question sprawl, housing affordability, transit
2022-01-25-Newmarket growth-JQ
A map of urban growth centre in Newmarket, part of York Region draft official's plan.

York Region residents sought answers about the regional municipality's draft official plan and how it will address future intensification, transit, housing and more. 

More than 150 attended an open house highlighting the plan last night, with approximately 20 per cent of the audience from Newmarket. The online event offered citizens the chance to question the plan and give feedback as part of a consultation process.

The region’s 30-year plan aims for 50 per cent of development to occur within built-up lands, phasing to 55 per cent, with the remainder of development to use open rural space. But that was a point of criticism for several commentators and environmentalists, who sought more intensification. 

“Intensification of existing neighbours can provide near immediate solutions to the absolutely desperate needs of seniors, single adults, and anyone with physical challenges in a coveted community environment,” Hugh Barnsley said.

The draft official plan charts the course for the region’s growth in the next 50 years, with the population booming from 1.2 million to 2.02 million in 2051. Staff is collecting public feedback until March 31. The region expects to adopt the plan in June.

The region’s intensification rate has been a point of contention at the council table and throughout the process. Environmental groups, also represented at the meeting, have argued for developing in built-in communities and avoiding the harms associated with sprawl. But communities have argued using undeveloped rural and agricultural land is needed to accommodate the growth to come.

Urban planner Paul Bottomley said the region is considering the need to build dense developments throughout the plan, including on major corridors. But he said he believes the region is striking the right balance between that and single detached housing that others will want. 

“Not everyone wants to live in a condominium,” he said. “We can’t forget about that or lose sight of that when we talk about prioritizing intensification.”

Another point of concern was transit improvements. Newmarket student Sami Alhab said transit wait times are too long, in addition to it taking 20 minutes to walk to a bus stop in some parts of town.

“How can you expect people to reduce greenhouse emissions?" he said. “Especially with this weather, it’s very inaccessible for many people.”

Bottomley responded that transit-supported development and providing transit is a key theme of the plan. He said the region is taking steps like planning out bus rapid transit routes and dense development along transit corridors.

“A fair amount has been done,” he said. “It just does take time to try to convince people to ... park their car in their driveway and take transit.”

Many questions also related to housing affordability as a key issue. Region staff noted a new affordable housing implementation plan in the works for the next few years. 

Director of long-range planning Sandra Malcic said that is a key point of feedback heard throughout the consultation.

“A good variety of housing options, including affordable options, is essential,” she said.

Citizen Susan Lloyd Swail said she appreciated the open house opportunity, but added the regional balance is off on housing, with about 70 per cent single and semi-detached.

“The balance is off right now, and we need to address that going forward. That’s going to help us address the affordability issue.” 

Several respondents offered praise for the open house and the chance to provide feedback. 

“I’m blown away by the participation, the thoughtfulness of the comments, the civility,” consultant Sean Hertel said. “It does renew my faith in the future.”

You can provide feedback on the plan through The region said it will post a recording of the open house there at a later date.