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Mayor, chair slam growth plan

Henry: Unfair for province to lay out new density targets then lay costs on municipalities

Development like that seen in the city’s north end could become a thing of the past thanks to a new growth plan from the province. Under these new guidelines, municipalities will have to construct more high-density housing, moving away from single-family structures. Both Mayor John Henry and Regional Chair Roger Anderson say the plan will have a negative effect on growth in Oshawa and Durham Region. (Photo by Graeme McNaughton).

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

The province has released its new plans to combat urban sprawl – but Oshawa Mayor John Henry says it’s a plan better suited to the big city to the west rather than everywhere else.

“I understand what the province is trying to do, but what the province needs to realize is that we’re not Toronto,” he tells The Oshawa Express.

“The density numbers that they’re trying to make work work in areas where you have great transit, that you have the infrastructure in place to do what you need to do. When you get outside of Toronto, it’s a struggle. We don’t have that transit portion. So for us, trying to build to the density numbers that they think we can build to, we don’t have the underground infrastructure, we don’t have the capacity in our hospitals, and that’s going to be a challenge.”

Under the new plan, the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, municipalities will have to dedicate a majority of new residential construction to areas that have already been developed, reaching 60 per cent by 2031. Currently, that number is 40 per cent.

Vacant land will also be denser, with requirements to have 80 residents and jobs per hectare by that same deadline – up from the current 50. And when it comes to areas served by public transit, that numbers gets even higher, going as high as 200 residents and jobs per hectare for areas served by subways, 160 for those served by light-rail transit or bus rapid transit, and 150 for those served by a GO Train.

According to a news release from the province, these changes are needed to accommodate the booming population in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, which reaches from Niagara to Peterborough, with an expected 13.5 million people, up by 4 million, by 2041.

“This region will continue to experience a lot of growth in the coming years, so we need to be wise about the way we plan and build our communities,” states Bill Mauro, the province’s minister of municipal affairs, in that release.

“These revised plans provide a smarter approach — by making more efficient use of land, resources and infrastructure — so that we can protect our environment, preserve precious farmland, boost our economy, address climate change and develop smart, sustainable, transit-supportive communities.”

Henry says that it is unfair for the province to create these higher density targets, changing how new developments would be implemented, but then expect cities and towns to foot the bill.

“If you’re going to create a density at the numbers that they’re creating, then you need to be able to fund it, and I don’t think it’s fair to go on to the municipalities like Oshawa…and go to towns and say, ‘This is what we passed, accept it, now deal with it,’ and then try to find the money within our budgets. That’s impossible,” he says.

“We have a tough enough time keeping up with the infrastructure needs of our communities now, whether it be roads, water, sewer, keeping the grass cut. Right now, you’re seeing challenges in municipalities related to water – we have to deal with that and we’re stretched to capacity and it comes to a point where the province either has to ante up or get out of the issue altogether.”

Regional Chair Roger Anderson says that the province did not take into account the fact that while some people are OK with living in apartments and condos, some want a bit more space.

“The fact is growth costs money. No growth costs money. It’s like we can just stop growing – we still have to maintain what we have. Doesn’t matter what it is, it’ll cost money,” he says.

“The province should’ve been a little more flexible on areas where there is a potential for growth. Not everyone wants stacked townhouses and condominiums.”

Henry agrees, saying that these plans will have a big effect on developments in Oshawa moving forward, and that these changes will only make life more expensive.

“If you think you have difficulties now with the cost of housing, imagine what’s going to happen down the road to the cost of housing because you’re going to have to build an entirely different model,” he says.

“I think people live in Oshawa and Durham because they want a backyard, to be able to go to a park and play. You want all those things that give a quality of life for your family.”

Anderson says a report and response from the region will be coming to regional council.