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Review underway of key regional plan

Regional official plan getting overhaul for the first time in more than 25 years

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The time is now to look to the future.

With council’s backing, preparation of the first major overhaul of Durham Region’s official plan in more than two decades has commenced.

At the latest committee of the whole meeting, regional director of planning Garry Muller laid out plans for a comprehensive review of the official plan, also known as “Envision Durham.”

Changes made under the Envision Durham initiative are set to map out the region’s long-term vision through 2041.

Durham’s official plan was first adopted in 1976 and approved by the province in 1978.

An update took place in June 1991, receiving official approval in November 1993.

According to Muller, the basic framework of the plan has not changed in the past 25 years.

However, this is not the only motivation to update the plan.

Analysts predict by 2041, Durham will grow to 1.19 million residents, and 430,000 jobs, doubling current figures.

Updated provincial policies have increased the region’s requirements to address issues such as an aging population, climate change, accessibility, housing intensification and developing high-quality job opportunities.

In 2016, the Liberal government enacted Bill 73, the Smart Growth of Our Communities.

With it came sweeping changes such as a two-year ban on applications seeking an amendment to a new official plan and removal of the ability to appeal an entire official plan.

Other major changes to provincial policy include the transition from the Ontario Municipal Board to the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal for the province’s land-use planning appeals system.

Updates to the Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, Ontario Planning Act, growth plans for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and new Source Water Protection Plans will also play a role in crafting an updated official plan.

The region must conform its document with provincial policies by 2022.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to forge a new vision,” Muller said.

The review will also integrate several regional initiatives completed since the last revision of the official plan.

These include the Transportation Master Plan, Health Neighbourhoods study, Affordable and Seniors’ Housing Task Force and Housing Plan for 2014 to 2024.

With the review in the early stages, Muller says the first priority is communication.

“Robust community engagement will be critical to this process,” he noted.

This engagement will be achieved via modern and traditional means, such as an official website, social media surveys and in-person community events.

Identified stakeholders include local councils and staff, conservation authorities, regional committees and staff, school boards, First Nations communities, local industry leaders and the general public.

With a deadline of 2022, the project comes with an extensive timeline.

Initial studies and data analysis will occur over the next two years, followed by the first round of public consultation.

No cost estimates for the review have released.

In his report, Muller noted $500,000 in “non-departmental funds” are available for the review.

To complete the review, the region will need to hire consultant services, he added.

When Clarington Councillor Joe Neal questioned why they need “outside help”, Muller said regional staff has “limited expertise” on areas such as development, and long term forecasting for employment and “the broader economy.”

With the possibility of a new party in power at Queen’s Park within a month, Ajax Mayor Steve Parish was unsure how far the region should wade into the official plan waters.

“With a change of government, you could have a significant change of overarching policy. How do you react to that?” he asked Muller.

The director of planning explained, for now, the region should act on the basis that current policies will continue, and adapt to possible changes as necessary.

“We’ll have to keep our fingers on the pulse, and that’s the best answer I can give at the moment,” he stated.