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City eyes next steps for growth in Columbus

The Columbus Planning Area generally lies between Howden Road to the north, Winchester Road to the south and bound by the Oshawa Creek and greenbelt to the east and the Oshawa-Whitby boundary to the west. (Graphic courtesy of the City of Oshawa)

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The City of Oshawa is partnering with developers to take the next steps for developing the area around the hamlet of Columbus.

The Columbus Builders Group, a group of approximately seven different developers representing approximately 60 per cent of the land within the Columbus planning area, approached the city with an arrangement that would see the group fund studies needed to move the planning process forward.

According to Paul Ralph, the city’s commissioner of development services, this type of arrangement is not new, having taken place in the city’s Kedron and Taunton development areas.

The agreement will see the developers float the cash for the studies with the city keeping control of the consultants.

“We want to make sure they pay for all the studies, but we want to make sure that we have control over the consultants. We want to make sure it’s an objective study,” he says.

The development area in question are lands outside of the existing hamlet of Columbus and are the next logical step for development, Ralph says, especially after development in the Windfield area, south of the 407 has boomed in recent years.

“Growth has taken off exponentially there, so we’re running out of land supply in that particular corridor. So what we’re looking at now is expanding our land supply in terms of developable area,” he says.

The lands in question were the subject of an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board when they were originally changed to be included as developable for the City of Oshawa.

A northern portion of the lands remains under an appeal at the OMB.

“The province believes that the region has not justified that there’s a need for that land to accommodate the 2031 provincial growth plan population targets,” Ralph explains. “We don’t agree with the province, we agree with the region that we do need it to meet those requirements.”

In other words, the OMB appeal is a crucial aspect for just how intensified the lands will become in the future.

The current portion of approval lands were grandfathered into the province’s previous system, which requires the city to have 50 persons and jobs per hectare in these areas. If the OMB appeal sides with the city and Region of Durham, those lands will fall into the same category. However, if the appeal is successful, those lands would fall into the new system. It means that whenever those lands are added to the city’s developable area in the future, they will be much more intensified.

The OMB appeal creates a few issues when it comes to planning.

“The Columbus planning area is very important to Oshawa,” says Councillor John Aker, chair of the development services committee. “It will be our next major growth area. We are disappointed that it’s been appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, but we do have time.

“The difficultly is we have to wait for the board decision because we have to know if our planning is going to be for all of Columbus or the majority of Columbus excluding the deferred area.”

The work to be done includes a laundry list of studies on the lands, which generally lie between Howden Road to the north, Winchester Road to the south and bound by the Oshawa Creek and greenbelt to the east and the Oshawa-Whitby boundary to the west. The studies consider factors such as transportation infrastructure, environmental impacts, potential land uses, impacts on the existing hamlet and potential locations for schools and parks.

For Aker, he foresees a large majority of the lands being used for residential housing, while sections along the Highway 407 expansion being employment lands.

“I truly believe Oshawa city council knows what’s best for the community, rather than the province of Ontario or the Ontario Municipal Board,” Aker says. “We are positive we will be successful in the OMB hearing and then we can plan for the entire area.”

Part of the process will also include public consultations, however, being still early in the process, Ralph says no timeline has been cemented as of yet.