The City of Vaughan is set to release a draft of its new Official Plan May 3rd and council will vote on adoption of the plan on September 7th. This leaves citizens the summer to study the document and voice their concerns about the future growth of their city. The Official Plan is the document that will direct where and how the city grows for the next twenty years. Among the highlights of the draft Official Plan being released is for the city to accommodate an additional 170 000 new residents by 2031.
Intensification is already a reality in Vaughan. Proposals from developers are bold in their density and this trend will only increase once the Spadina Line Subway Extension and the Viva rapid transit lines are in place. The municipality, under the direction of the Places to Grow Act, must comply with the provinces growth numbers stated above. Increased density is inevitable, but will the new Official Plan put an end to sprawl? Not according to the contents of the plan to be released. The draft Official Plan will allow the option for expansion of the city north into what is known as the White Belt.
White Belt lands are rural lands not protected under the Green Belt or Oak Ridges Moraine conservation legislation. Located just below the Greenbelt these lands were once predominately farm land but most have been bought up by developers for speculative purposes. These lands can be made available for development under strict rules set out by the province only if the city agrees to extend its urban boundary to include them for development. Currently White Belt lands have a moratorium on development.
By opening up development onto White Belt Lands the city would be giving the green light to suburban sprawl. According to documents already available on the city’s website and endorsed by council, all the growth that the province is asking of Vaughan can be accommodated without expanding into the White Belt.
During the past two years I’ve participated in community workshops where the consensus among citizens was clear, no more suburban sprawl and no more sprawl induced traffic congestion. What the majority of citizens consistently asked the city for during this process was for vibrant, pedestrian oriented development and less reliance on the automobile, in other words, sustainable growth. At no time during the public consultation phase did citizens ask for growth to expand into the White Belt lands.
Recently in Markham, two progressive councillors have brought forward a proposal to protect the White Belt lands north of that city by designating them Food Belt lands. These lands would be spared from development by continuing to be farmed. The visionary proposal and the subsequent negative reaction by developers have captured the attention of the GTA.
Does Vaughan require a foodbelt? At this time we don’t know. What we do know is Vaughan doesn’t require more sprawl. Opening development to White Belt lands now will result in the type of sprawl citizens of Vaughan have stated they no longer want. The type of development proposed on these lands today is low rise, single family homes . Explicitly the type of unsustainable development we no longer can afford and the city should no longer endorse. This isn’t to say there should never be development on White Belt lands. These lands may need to be developed in the future and if so they should be the very last lands to be developed. What shape that development should eventually take and when would it be necessary is hard to predict. What we do know is that all the projected growth for Vaughan required by the Places to Grow Act for 2031 can be accommodated outside of the White Belt.
If you do not want the sprawl and traffic congestion that is already hurting your quality of life to increase let your politicians know about it. A five year moratorium on the expansion of the urban boundary into the White Belt lands.