The population of the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) in Ontario, currently approximately 9 million, is forecasted to grow to about 13.5 million by 2041. The Outer Ring municipalities within the GGH (which Springwater is part of) are anticipated to grow from 2.29 million in 2016 to 3.35 million in 2041. Originally established in 2005, Ontario’s Greenbelt permanently protects roughly 810,000 ha of green space, farmland, vibrant communities, forests, wetlands, and watersheds. Protecting water is a key theme of the Provincial Government’s Co-ordinated Review, including the Greenbelt Plan. The updated Greenbelt Plan (2017) and 2017 Growth Plan now contain stronger policies for protecting water resources across the GGH. The updated Greenbelt Plan (2017) identifies that the Province shall continue to explore opportunities to grow the Greenbelt as part of the Province’s growth management strategy and will protect sensitive areas, including the agricultural land base and ecological and hydrological features, areas and functions within the areas being considered. These include moraines, cold water streams and wetlands.
The Provincial Government is looking at potential study areas to possibly include in expanding the Greenbelt boundaries. Two of the proposed identified areas/features are partially located within Springwater including: Area 4 – Oro-Moraine and Area 5 – Nottawasaga River Corridor (includes Minesing Wetlands). Staff estimate that the Greenbelt Study Area encompasses roughly 55% of total Springwater Township area. The proposed study area, along with the in-effect Greenbelt Plan (2017), do not apply to existing and identified Settlement Areas.
Public stakeholders are encouraged to make comments regarding the proposed Study Area to the Province through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs EBR website by no later than March 7, 2018, at https://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/. EBR posting #013-1661. Press “Submit Comment” once finished.
On February 21st, the Council meeting will include a 7pm presentation and opportunity for public comment and questions regarding the Greenbelt Expansion Study Area. The comments arising from this will be attached the Springwater official submission, which will include comments of Staff and Council. As mentioned above, comments from the public should be directly submitted to the EBR website.
Subject to Council approval this week, the following comments are recommended to be included in the Springwater submission regarding this:
- Springwater is supportive of the Province’s efforts to protect, maintain and enhance water resources in the Outer Ring;
- Staff anticipate and request that once, the Study Area is refined, and an updated Greenbelt Boundary is proposed, the Province provide an opportunity for additional comments related to implementation policies;
- Staff requests clarification regarding how the Study Area and anticipated future Greenbelt expansion would interact with and compliment the Province’s Agricultural and Natural Heritage System mapping. Similar considerations should be given to the County’s Greenland’s system. Staff appreciate the benefits of a multi-layer approach to the protection of water resources, but duplication of work and layers of regulation, where unnecessary, should be avoided;
- Given the area east of Centre Vespa, south of Snow Valley and north of the City of Barrie is surrounded on three sides by identified settlement areas, Staff requests the Study Area boundaries be reviewed within this area, to confirm whether their inclusion is representative of the stated objective to protect hydrological systems and river corridors;
- Existing rural business parks, rural businesses and active aggregate operations should be reviewed for potential exemption from the Greenbelt Study Area where ecological/ hydrological impacts have already been determined through Planning Approvals. The Province will need to balance the directives within the Growth Plan regarding economic development and the protection of key hydrological features;
- While it is recognized that existing settlement areas are not included within the Greenbelt Study Area, careful review of ecological/hydrological functions surrounding Settlement Areas is needed to ensure that responsible growth and expansion is considered. The Greenbelt Plan 2017 establishes a limitation of 10 ha (25 acres) of land that can be expanded into the Greenbelt area. This may not be large enough to ensure the long-term viability and rural character of smaller settlement areas and those without full municipal services. A draft boundary for the Greenbelt should reflect this review prior to its implementation. I believe that the population increases which Springwater is committed to are more than enough to be contained within the existing settlement boundaries and therefore it is not likely that settlement boundaries will need to be expanded before a future municipal comprehensive review after the current one being commenced;
- The completion of the County’s Municipal Comprehensive Review (MCR) should be completed prior to finalizing the Greenbelt Study Area, as local knowledge and resources provided through the County’s MCR process would better inform the Study Area. This is particularly important to determine the impact that the Study Area and a future Greenbelt expansion might have on rural settlement areas and rural land uses;
- Staff requests a review of the northwestern portion of the Midhurst settlement area boundary for accuracy and potential refinement of the Study Area to match the borders of the existing settlement areas.
Additional thoughts which I support concerning Greenbelt expansion include:
- The Greenbelt Plan 2017 introduces a set of checks and balances that no other planning legislation provides, which will limit negative impacts to watersheds, natural heritage and agricultural systems. As a result, the Greenbelt Plan it is not redundant – rather, it requires conformity and adds more control related to these aspects than is offered by the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) and the Growth Plan 2017;
- The Greenbelt Plan will enable more effective planning controls and rigor in the Official Plan review for municipalities which are currently underway, to incorporate Greenbelt Plan provisions;
- Agricultural, agriculture-related or on-farm diversified uses are allowed and encouraged by the Greenbelt, which provides more protection and strength to maintain farmland;
- Statistics demonstrate that farmland prices do not decrease by being included in Greenbelt areas;
- Greenbelt regulations increase obligations for any aggregate mining to be more accountable for the impact they have on water systems, natural heritage and agriculture features and obligations to for them to rehabilitate;
- The Greenbelt will permit planning based on better long term certainty regarding where growth will and will not occur;
- The Greenbelt regulations provide further protection to what is available through Source Water Protection Plans and will help to protect private well owners;
- The Greenbelt will contribute to protecting significant recharge areas, as mapped in Source Water Protection Plans;
- The Greenbelt has a stronger policy framework which can assist to safeguard threatened or rare habitats, water systems and sensitive natural heritage features;
- Considering climate change projections and technical limitations, the time to protect our water is now.
It appears that the Province’s process going forward entails the following and an estimated timeline has not been provided:
- Consider Comments received through the Study Area Process;
- Establish a Study Area;
- Study and Determine an appropriate Greenbelt Boundary;
- Release a Draft Greenbelt Boundary for review and comment;
- Consider comments on the implementation of an expanded Greenbelt Boundary;
- Prepare and release formal Provincial policy to implement an expansion of the Greenbelt.
It is important to be informed and provide your input to this, as it will impact our way of living for the next 25 years and beyond.
These are my thoughts and interpretations of these topics and not necessarily those of Council.
If you have any questions or comment, please feel free to reach me at the contact info listed below: