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Coalition urges municipalities to resist Zoning Orders

December 4, 2020   ·   0 Comments

A regional environmental group is urging municipalities to resist some kinds of development that are being pushed through by a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO).

The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition says that changes to the provincial Planning Act, by Bill 197, have turned a once “rarely used tool” into a “fix-all that expedites development applications and changes to zoning.”

The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition is a regionally-focused environmental organization that advocates for expanding Ontario’s Greenbelt.

The group believes “better land-use planning is one of the best ways we can enhance our environment and build equity in our communities.”

“The concern we have is the use of such a tool in places like Simcoe County where there are robust local planning controls and bylaws and where the application of it reduces or eliminates the open and accessible goals of the planning process,” the Coalition said in a statement, adding, “We believe that municipal councils need to be fully aware of how this blunt tool impacts key issues such as municipal control, public consultation and impacts to existing economies. MZO’s essentially take a short cut by imposing zoning controls that override any municipal policy that could conflict with new zoning.”

The Minister’s Zoning Order was originally intended to be used in remote unincorporated areas where projects needed some help to get underway.

“Minister’s Zoning Orders have been around for decades,” explained Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition Executive Director Margaret Prophet. “But it’s like an old tool that has been re-fashioned. For a long there were more rural jurisdictions up north where they really didn’t have a government in place that had a real strength in how their land gets used and how it is zoned.”

In these jurisdictions, the provincial government would step in and make decisions when there was a lack of leadership or local government.

“What happened under Bill 197 is they changed the Minister’s Zoning Orders as a once-in-a-while used tool, to a tool that they can use any time they want,” Ms. Prophet said. “Now, the Minister can override any local policies to bypass and circumvent planning policy as it is. In some places, they (developers) are asking for Minister’s Zoning Orders to allow housing to go where they aren’t supposed to be going.”

Ms. Prophet referenced a proposed development in the west end of Beeton that takes up space between a current approved development and the CP rail line tracks.

“In Beeton, (the development) will be infringing on a flood plain that is already managed by the Nottawasaga Conservation Authority. The province is using a Minister’s jurisdiction to override local planning policies. Town Council had passed a bylaw saying they weren’t going to allow development in Beeton because that had a lot of issues with flooding.”

With this type of development, Ms. Prophet said there are shovels in the ground in only a couple of years because they aren’t doing “environmental technical studies, and public consultation.”

The Coalition states that if a MZO involves a settlement boundary expansion, normal studies to determine if the process is feasible do not take place until after the MZO is granted, meaning municipalities are making a decision ‘in the dark and are hoping for the best.”

The statement goes on to say that “MZO’s are not conditional – they are either approved or not.’

They list concerns with wetlands being destroyed along with farmland as well as economic issues that will affect small towns.

The Coalition is asking municipalities to not approve any MZOs that come before any Town Council citing “the cost to local democracy, regional planning, environmental protection and smart growth is too great.”

However, they concede that municipalities are limited in their power with regards to resisting the Orders.

By Brian Lockhart
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


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