Response By Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) to the Draft Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) - John Bacher (PhD) November 21st, 2012
1. PALS is in General Pleased with the Thrust of Proposed Changes to PPS
In general PALS is pleased with the proposed changes in the draft PPS, which address many loopholes that in the past have served to legitimate urban sprawl. There is one exception however, to the protectionist thrust of the revisions in the aggregate extraction section , which appears to encourage an approach which provides reduced protection to natural heritage lands where they conflict with aggregate resources.
2. Part IV- Vision For Ontario's Land Use Planning System
PALS is also pleased with the many suggested additions that have been made to Part IV of the PPS, which deals with a vision for the planning system. These are Provisions for the need to reflect the histories and cultures of Aboriginal people and protect water resources, agricultural resources and the maintenance of bio-diversity.
It would be in keeping with the proposed changes in vision if some additional language were to be included in the PPS. These should include specific references to facilitating pedestrian mobility and cycling, a reference to agricultural land as well as resources, and reference to planning direction for the province articulated in provincial plans, such as the Greenbelt Plan and Places to Grow.
3. Policy 1.1. 3. Settlement Areas
Proposed changes to the Settlement Areas provisions of the PPS in the draft are long overdue. It is urgently needed that the land use patterns of settlement areas be, for instance, transit supportive as well as support active transportation.
Regarding Settlement Areas PALS has found that the use of "Special Policy Areas" has been a device used to drain this term of essentially all meaning. In the case of a proposed urban expansion on full services to permit the establishment of the Canadian Motor Speedway in fort Erie, this term was used to justify an urban boundary expansion permitting all normal urban uses except for residential ones.
There needs to be specific language in the PPS to require that extension of an urban service area of a municipality, is indeed expanding the Settlement Area. This is needed to ensure the goal of the policy to ensure that, "Settlement areas shall be the focus of growth or development" and the source of "their vitality and regeneration."
The PPS should recognize the value and legitimacy of natural areas within settlement designations. These existing natural areas are under intense development pressure and the lack of language in the PPS about their presence in settlement areas has been used to legitimate their eradication. Most of these lands are valley lands, karst formations, flood plains and wetland and therefore generally hazard areas which are unsuitable for urban development. Human communities greatly benefit from the presence of these natural areas.
Some of the pressure natural areas within settlement areas are currently under is expressed in a recent report by the City of Niagara Falls. This wrongly claimed that they "consume valuable urban land, reduce the efficient use of land, fragment developing neighbourhoods and under-utilize municipal infrastructure." In reality wetlands and other natural areas serve to better concentrate growth within settlement areas. In Niagara Falls especially, they also serve to have one effect that is sought by changes proposed in the draft policy amendments. This is to protect industrial lands from encroachment of residential development.
A major reform of the PPS, which is carried on in the draft policies, is the requirement that any expansion of a settlement area only take place within a comprehensive five year review of an official plan. Before this, expansions of settlement areas which had been turned down after exhaustive scrutiny, could immediately begin again.
The suggested additions regarding new tests to for the expansion of settlement areas on prime agricultural lands are supported by PALS. The suggested new language requiring that "alternative locations have been evaluated" and that the expansions are in compliance with the minimum distance formula" are additional tools needed to curb sprawl.
An improvement in the PPS would be the adoption of language similar to the Growth Plan to encourage intensification within urban areas. This would include phasing policies for specified targets for intensification and redevelopment.
4. Policies 1.1.4 "Rural Areas in Municipalities" and 2. 3. "Agriculture".
PALS recognizes that the principal difference between "Rural" and "Agricultural" areas in the PPS, is the more permissive attitude towards severances in the former area. While PALS believes that the prohibition of severances in agricultural areas, except for surplus residential lots, to be the greatest achievement of the 2005 PPS, the proposed refinement in this regard appears reasonable.
The proposed change for lot creation and adjustment in Section 2.3.4 of the PPS is that "the new lot will be limited to a minimum size needed to accommodate the use and appropriate sewage and water services." To PALS this is a reasonable change and appears to be the actual practice in the area we are most familiar with the Niagara Region.
The suggested changes to the Rural Policy are all appropriate since they recognize the reality that agriculture is an important land use in this area and needs to be protected. Unfortunately however, there are no suggested additional restrictions proposed on severance activity, which in reality is the biggest threat to agriculture on Rural lands. In actual practise the only control on consents in Rural areas are minimum lot sizes, commonly two and a half acres, which tend to be imposed by public health authorities.
Planning by consents is inherently bad planning. While severances in the Rural Area do not lead to the loss of large blocks of prime Class One to Three Agricultural land, they encourage the removal of Class Four to Six land. These lands when used for pasture are an important and ecologically sustainable feature of Ontario's agricultural economy.
Consents in Rural area harm more than agricultural land. They lead to the loss of archaeological resources. They also damage recharge and discharge areas for water resources. Much Rural land, due to its lower agricultural capability, tends to be forested. Consents in such circumstances caused intact forests to be cut up for the purpose of rural estate development. This results in significant environmental damage, notably to forest interior birds, which depend on intact habitat forest blocks.
If consents in Rural area are not to be abolished, they should at least be further limited. One way to do this is to restrict them to infilling situations, as was done by the PPS on in the Prime Agricultural Area, before they were prohibited under the 2005 PPS. There is encouragement in the draft PPS for more agriculturally related uses within the prime agricultural area. As a safeguard, PALS believes it would be prudent that some additional working qualifications be developed. This would require that, "Such uses shall be limited in scale, and criteria for these uses shall be included in municipal planning documents as recommended by the Province, or based on municipal approaches which achieve these same objectives."
5. Need For Prohibition on Urban Boundary Expansions.
PALS supports , as previously noted, the language in the draft PPS which is intended in essence to make achieving an urban boundary expansion on prime land more difficult. However, we must take this opportunity to make our case that such expansions should not be permitted.
PALS is aware of detailed studies by organizations such as the Neptis Foundation which have looked at the capacity of urban boundaries. Invariably these studies have found that with reasonable population projections urban boundaries have more than enough capacity to contain future growth. What these studies conclude moreover, is that even with a freeze on urban boundaries urban densities would be loo low to be supportive of transit for the next three decade planning framework.
Over-capacity, a serious enough a problem for residential land, is even a greater problem for the other types of urban land uses such as "commercial", "industrial", or what has become a combined designation "employment lands". This problem of over- capacity of such uses by a factor of five or six has been chronic since zoning became widespread, at least in urban areas of North America in the 1920s. We do not see any new trends in Ontario that have altered this situation. One disturbing trend that has emerged is for lands adjacent to expressway interchanges to be designated for such purposes, irrespective of need.
6. Employment Areas (Section I. 3).
The tone of the section regarding Employment Areas treats them wrongly as a threatened resource. As noted in the previous paragraph these areas are considerably over-zoned. The protective attitude towards such over- zonings is a factor which encourages urban sprawl.
7. Horse and Buggy Communities
In attending the Toronto PPS consultation session, PALS was impressed with the presentation by representatives of Horse and Buggy Communities in Ontario. They expressed concern that the minimum distances formula has caused their schools, Churches and cemeteries to be placed in dangerous out of the way locations.
Regarding the application of the Minimum Distance formula PALS has some suggestions. This formula was developed in the past before the restrictions on land use severances imposed in the prime agricultural area through the 2005 PPS.
Since there is no longer the danger of severances in the prime agricultural area through changes in the PPS made in 2005, the need to apply the formula to such lands is much reduced. The minimum distance formula therefore could only be applied to the Rural Area and as a factor to consider in any urban boundary expansion. Another possibility is to exempt the formula from the rather restrictive application to schools, cemeteries and Churches in the Agricultural Area.
PALS would also be supportive of a process under the PPS where there could be explicit policies for Horse and Buggy communities. Such areas could be formally designated in official plans and a requirement would be that the minimum distance formula to livestock facilities not apply to churches, schools and cemeteries.
8. Section 1.5 "Public Spaces, Recreation, Parks, Trails and Open Space
PALS has some suggestions for additional wording that would strengthen the policies proposed in Section 1.5. Policies in a) could be added to include "foster social interaction" and "pedestrian and non motorized movement, including but not limited to walking and cycling, active transportation anc community connectivity."
It is appropriate that a proposed new section (d) recognizes the need to protect provincial parks, conservation reserves, and other protected areas. Some additional wording to strengthen this policy would require that the impacts of planning decisions on provincial parks, conservation reserves and conservation areas would be included in the PPS. . These lands are at risk from urban sprawl on adjacent lands, as is being shown now most vividly by a proposed urban boundary expansion in Midhurst. This threatens to reduce the ecological value of both the adjacent Springwater Provincial Park and a number of tracts of the Simcoe County Forest.
9. Infrastructure and Public Service Facilities
PALS supports the draft PPS's additional language in regarding green infrastructure and climate change. We especially applaud the new recognition that, "the use of green infrastructure should be encouraged, where feasible, to augment infrastructure, and for other associated ecological and hydrological benefits." One improvement that could be made in the above paragraph is the deletion of the phrase "where feasible." It is difficult to comprehend where it is not feasible for green infrastructure to compliment other forms of conventional infrastructure. Consider for instance tree cover as complimenting storm water management systems. Improving tree cover means that less polluted storm water runoff will flow into our surface waters. The phrase "where feasible" seems to throw unnecessary doubts regarding the practical value of green infrastructure.
10. Policy 1.6.5. Sewage, Water and Stormwater Policy 1.6.5 would be improved if some specific language regarding green infrastructure could be provided. This could include the benefits of bio-swales and of tree cover in reducing polluted storm water run off.
11. 1.6.6. Transportation Systems
The proposed changes regarding transportation systems in the draft policy are improvements. It is strange however, that regarding transportation demand management, the term "where feasible" is included. This in practice will be a harmful excuse not to conduct transportation demand management as part of transportation planning.
12. Transportation and Infrastructure Corridors 1.6.7.
It is important that there be language in the PPS regarding Transportation and Infrastructure Corridors. PALS is concerned that many abandoned rail lines are not properly turned into trails or public transit corridors.
The language in the draft PPS however appears to be directed not at protecting rail corridors in transition, but in new expressways, which are frequently disguised as corridors. In this regard, PALS attitude is much the same as we regard urban boundary expansions. Both should not take place if our environment is to be both properly protected and restored.
In reviewing the policies of the draft PPS what is disturbing is the varied measures which will continue to perpetuate automotive dependency in our society. Regarding severances in Rural Areas, all of these severances will create new housing units that will be dependent upon automobiles. The only way that this can be prevented is to have them clustered in an infill method we have suggested earlier in our brief. All urban boundary expansions also will perpetuate automotive dependency by making densities too low to be supportive of public transit.
13. 1.7. Long-Term Economic Prosperity
PALS supports the proposed additions that have been made to the proposed long-term economic prosperity policies, especially that there be provided "opportunities to support local food." The new policy k), which outlines the need to minimize "negative impacts from a changing climate and considering the ecological benefits provided by nature" is also long overdue.
An important new section which is being proposed is (d). This is "encouraging a sense of place, through built form, cultural planning and promoting features that help define, such as cultural heritage resources."
The entire agricultural landscape of southern Ontario is a culturally significant one. It is based on a long agricultural history with its roots in the farming practices carried out by native peoples. This needs to be appreciated since the well being of farmers who are responsible for it is a factor which is very different from the natural landscape. Although management strategies are important for the long term responsible care of natural features, they are not responsible for the creation of the very qualities of the landscape, such as the production of tender fruit in the unique Niagara tender fruit lands, that are being protected. An appreciation of cultural landscapes is also important to protect them from inappropriate intensification. There are very few landscapes in Ontario which have gone through the cumbersome and minute detail necessary for protection as Designated Heritage Districts under the Ontario Heritage Act. These areas however, are subjected too frequently to ill considered efforts at intensification, justified through perverse and misleading applications of the PPS.
14. 1.8 Energy, Conservation, Air Quality and Climate Change
PALS is supportive of the proposed new policy g). This seeks to "maintain or increase vegetation within settlement areas, where feasible." Nevertheless, as with our earlier comments on green infrastructure and traffic demand management, PALS questions the need to add, "where feasible" in the language concerning this policy. Vegetation can be increased significantly even in the most barren of urban conditions through the installation of roof gardens.
Municipalities should be required to develop minimal .standards for forest cover in settlement areas. One basic approach is to mandate a certain percentage of forest canopy, and develop naturalization targets for municipal park systems.
15. 2.0 Wise Use and Management of Resources.
In terms of improving the PPS regarding the wise use and management of resources there is one critical reform that needs to be adopted, which is not recommended in the draft PPS. This is the need for no site alteration and development to be permitted in Significant Woodlands, south and east of the Canadian Shield, in Ecoregions 5E, 6E and 7E. This is the agriculturally fertile area of Southern Ontario, outside of the Canadian Shield. Currently site alteration and development are justified in such areas if, in the words of the current and proposed draft PPS, it can be demonstrated "there will be no negative impacts on the natural features or their ecological functions."
Regions 5E, 6E and 7E, the fertile regions of Southern Ontario since the 1850s, have been characterized by having little forest cover. All the forest cover that is remaining is inherently ecologically significant and important for a variety of ecological functions. These include habitat for forest interior bird species, deer and related coyote habitat and to protect water quality which is important for aquatic bio -diversity. The PPS as it is written currently denies this basic reality of ecological history. Any further erosion of this forest cover in Southern Ontario will inherently cause negative impact on natural features and ecological functions. The loophole "there will be no negative impacts on the natural features or their ecological functions" in the current PPS is a gold mine for irresponsible consultants working for developers. The natural heritage of the forests of southern Ontario need to be expanded so that their ecological functions and features can be further enhanced. The fragmented and small scale of most of these relic forests made them vulnerable to events expected from climate change such as increased summer drought and more intense storms. The best way that the PPS could be adapted to safeguard Ontario from the coming dangers of climate change is to remove the loophole that currently permits forest destruction through misleading consultant's reports. These deny the basic reality that all of Southern Ontario's current forest cover should be retained and significantly expanded.
16. 3.0 Protecting Public Health and Safety
The proposed draft PPS is to be commended for suggested new policies regarding restrictions on development on hazardous lands associated with the risk of wildland fire. Experience in the United States has taught that urban sprawl in such areas increases the risk of such fires, in part because control strategies needed to prevent them, can not be conducted because of the presence of human settlement areas.
17. 2.6 Cultural Heritage and Archaeology
PALS is concerned about the weak nature of the proposed Cultural Heritage and Archaeology policies. The revised draft Policy 2.6.2 in particular is barely comprehensible, appearing to give a green lights to development and site alteration where there are lands containing archaeological resources and areas of archaeological potential.
Regarding the PPS there needs to be a more explicit recognition of the inherit cultural nature of the agricultural landscape. These landscapes and their associated vistas need to be identified and protected as part of the municipal land use planning process. The PPS needs clear language to protect designated heritage districts from inappropriate intensification policies. PALS is concerned that the spectacle of using otherwise appropriate intensification policies for lands that are designated Heritage Districts, will bring intensification into disrepute. These districts are a tiny percentage of the potential area for intensification in Ontario. The PPS needs to explicitly indicate that they will be protected from certain forms of intensification such as high rise development and the division of historic estate lots.
18. Water 2.2
A major weakness in both the water policies and associated ones for fish habitat is that there is no clear recognition of the need to protect headwater features. Other water features such as flood plains and valley lands are relatively well protected in Ontario's land use planning systems. This is not the case for headwaters, despite their great importance to water quality and fish habitat. Municipalities should be require to map and protect stream headwater features.
19. Minerals and Petroleum and Mineral Aggregate Resources.
Regarding Minerals and Petroleum and Mineral Aggregate Resources, PALS comments are informed by long involvement in land use planning in Ontario going back to 1976. In this regard we are familiar with a land use planning system that operated without the use of a PPS. It appears that the first policy statement to be developed by the province, once they were provided for by revisions to the Planning Act, was done to protect aggregate resources.
The main impact of the creation of a Mineral Aggregate Policy Statement was to remove the ability of municipalities to restrict the establishment of new licensed pits and quarries through the establishment of zoning controls. Although this situation before the development of the Mineral Aggregate Policy Statement led to the defeat of a number of proposals for the establishment of new quarries, we are not aware of any studies which documented, as is frequently alleged, that this resulted in a shortage of aggregate in various regional markets of the province. Indeed at the time, unrebutted studies by the Foundation for Aggregate Studies showed an abundance of supply in existing licensed operations.
In general PALS finds that the draft PPS we are currently reviewing is depressingly familiar to other revisions to the planning system in Ontario since 1976. In this regard what is most disturbing is the suggestion in the draft PPS under Policy 18.104.22.168, that "significant areas of mineral potential" and "known petroleum resources" "shall be identified." This appears ominously similar to changes in the planning regime in Ontario in the early 1980s which negated policies for forest and agricultural protection through extensive mapping of potential aggregate resources. That this proposed change is now being circulated is disturbing , what with the new potential conflicts between fracking for natural gas and protection of ground water resources.
PALS is supportive of the tougher requirements for rehabilitation on speciality crop lands for aggregate extraction. Even here however, the draft PPS would waive these requirements if aggregate resources are below the water table. This policy is quite inappropriate considering the limited extent of lands which are now designated for Specialty Crops. These are restricted currently, (although this situation should be remedied through a consultation long overdue of other areas) to the Niagara Fruit Belt and the Holland Marsh. Priority for such additional mappings should be in Niagara on lands in Niagara Falls immediately south of the currently designated Good Grape area below Mountain Road. This policy appears to be directed solely to facilitate deep excavation in the Town of Pelham.
While it is understandable that lands that are not Speciality Crop could be rehabilitated into a natural environment condition, there are challenges to the best designed rehabilitation projects which are not considered in the PPS. Rehabilitation will be more difficult because of the unpredictability caused by climate change.
The Aggregate Resources Section is made more problematic because of the clearer relationship in the proposed draft with other policies. Under such circumstances if a municipality were to chose to prohibit development and site alteration in Significant Woodland, the impact of such a Council decision would be negated in circumstances where there was an identified aggregate, mineral or petroleum resource that was identified for protection.
20. PALS Hopes a Stronger Planning Framework Will Emerge From PPS Consultations.
In summary, PALS hopes that a stronger land use planning framework will emerge out of the consultations regarding the PPS review. Many of the issues identified in the review are related in subtle ways. Urban sprawl for instance encourages expressways which consume large amounts of aggregate. It is to be hoped that a holistic vision will guide those who make the final decisions in this process.