Region, Vaughan need to curb insatiable sprawl

The City of Vaughan recently voted to backtrack on a key piece of legislation that would have provided an orderly phasing of development on the City’s whitebelt lands over the next twenty years. In doing so, the city green lighted and acelerated the type of development model the province has been trying to curb for the past decade. However, the province seems content on sitting back while its own legislation is undermined.

Vaughan Official Plan Policy “ – Timing of New Secondary Plan Areas,” required that five of the six missing secondary plans within the city’s existing urban boundary had to be substantially complete before development of lands outside the city boundary (whitebelt) could proceed. After the vote, only two of these secondary plans are required.

What precipitated this revote was a report crafted by York Region (Ground Related Housing Demand/Supply Analysis) arguing there is a looming deficit of single and semi-detached homes within the Region. Unfortunately those Vaughan councillors who voted in support of the revised policy did so based on flawed information.

One of the major flaws in the Region’s report is that it excludes all future townhouse developments within the City’s existing urban boundary. Leaving these townhomes out of the report artificially creates a deficit of ground related housing which further helps to substantiate the Region’s argument for accelerated sprawl.

The city hired a consultant (Hemson) to look at the housing supply potential in Vaughan as part of creating its new Official Plan. The consultant found that there is the potential for 6720 new townhouse units through intensification in the existing urban boundary. This number was excluded from the Regions report. The number of single and semi -detached housing units that the Region is desperate to develop in the whitebelt totals 6260.

The Region’s report also excludes the future townhomes that will be built within the six missing intensification areas. These would also number in the thousands once secondary plans are complete.

In fact the consultant has stated in the same report;
“One of the advantages that the City of Vaughan has…is the potential for a relatively large supply of rowhouse (townhouse) units, which are somewhat better suited for families than apartment units.”

Vaughan is fortunate enough to be receiving the type of public transit infrastructure that will help support higher density development; a future subway and bus rapid transit line within its existing urban boundary. The city is also well suited, as stated by the consultant’s report, to develop ground related housing in the form of townhomes. The Region can have both development levies and intensification, so why the aggressive need to develop more houses outside the city’s boundary?

York Region is in debt by approximately one billion dollars. This debt is mostly due to the York-Durham Sanitary Sewer Southeast Collector, more commonly referred to as “The Big Pipe”. York Region’s entire debt financing model is based on recuperating costs through development fees collected from the urban boundary expansion. In fact, the Region was planning the urban boundary expansion as far back as 2008, before the creation of the Vaughan Official Plan had begun.

York Region has managed to dig itself into a financial burden by building infrastructure in one area of the Region and gambling that money from development levies in another part of the Region will offset these costs. In order to pay this debt down, the region is using the white belt lands within Vaughan as collateral.

Those who believed the Provinces Places to Grow Act would help to place limitations and controls on this type of growth have been severely disappointed. If the Province is willing to stand back and allow Vaughan and York Region to undermine the Places to Grow Act and accelerate development of single and semi-detached housing for the sake of recuperating development levies, how soon can we expect the Region to begin going after the Greenbelt? York Region’s insatiable appetite for sprawl has not been abated by provincial legislation.

With traffic congestion the worst in North America, can the GTA handle thousands of new single and semi-detached homes along the edge of the Greenbelt? With the Province and Federal governments in deficit, there will be little chance of increased funding for public transit. These developments will be car dependent and will exacerbate the problems of congestion on GTA roads.

Your council’s short sighted decision was based on flawed information. Thanks to a lack of Provincial oversight, citizens of Vaughan will have to deal with the headache for decades to come.

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