June 9, 2011 WatchFile Guest Column by Lou Pompilii, City of London.

Well planned communities attract investment, innovation, economic opportunities and sustainability that lead to vibrancy, vitality, and a high quality of life.

WHY PLAN? The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH), the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and the Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) have banded together in forming an Education Planning Partnership to develop an education and awareness campaign for Planners and Municipal Leaders on the importance of land use planning.

So…WHY PLAN?…The answer is quite simple…

This paper briefly highlights the new planning tools available to local communities and provides anecdotal evidence from the City of London on how these tools can provide tangible benefits to the local planning process.

In an effort to make Ontario’s communities stronger, more liveable and sustainable, the Ontario government has made reforms to the province’s land use planning system. Through two key pieces of legislation; the Strong Communities Act (Bill 26) and the Planning and Conservation Land Statute Law Amendment Act (Bill 51), municipalities were provided the tools to foster more effective land use management within their jurisdiction. Opportunities for municipalities to add these tools to their local planning documents; official plans, zoning by-laws, community improvement plans, site plans, etc., have, unfortunately, not been seized. A recent survey conducted by AMO, revealed that one-third of respondent municipalities either didn’t anticipate implementing the planning reform tools or were only considering implementing them. This has the potential to leave in the upwards of 150-plus Official Plans out-of-date in this province. The message from this is clear: Municipal Planners need to step-it-up and start raising awareness about the new land-use planning tools and the benefits they can lead to in their communities. Action is required to encourage municipalities to implement changes to their Official Plans and other local planning documents, using these new Planning Act tools.

Why have a majority of municipalities not taken steps to implement these new planning tools?  A reasonable assumption is that many municipalities in Ontario lack an awareness or understanding of these planning tools and their capabilities, opportunities and benefits. Other explanations may include the realities of limited resources, mainly in the form of staffing and finances, which are needed to amend most local planning documents.

How do you begin a process to overcome these barriers or deterrents?  Options include, developing a strategy to educate municipal staff and councillors about the new planning tools, and more importantly, demonstrate evidence that these new planning tools have successfully aided municipalities that have taken steps to implement them into their official plans and other local planning documents. Initiatives to increase awareness are being launched by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Ontario Professional Planners Institute, together with local municipalities and provincial agencies. This represents only a start; municipal planners need to demonstrate leadership and begin the process of implementing these new planning tools into their local planning documents.

What opportunities are available? The following lists provide a brief summary of some the opportunities available to Ontario municipalities through recent Planning Act changes. Implementation of the following opportunities, however, requires up-to-date municipal planning documents, which are the responsibility of individual municipalities and/or local planning jurisdiction:

  • Shift engagement to front end of the planning process 
  • Clearer rules for Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) 
  • More transparent, accessible and effective land-use planning process 
  • Provide the tools to address intensification and sustainable development
  • Appeal rights restricted for applications for  new or expanded settlement areas 
  • Appeal rights restricted for applications for  conversions of employment lands 
  • Stronger complete application provisions 
  • Allow prescribed upper tiers to prepare Community Improvement Plans (CIP) programs 
  • Allow upper and lower tiers to participate in each others’ CIP programs 
  • New authority for architectural control 
  • New authority for boulevard enhancements to facilitate urban design 
  • Enhance municipal authority to permit accessory apartments 
  • Ability to establish Local Appeal Body for minor variances and consents 
Implementation of the following opportunities requires enactment of municipal by-laws, which are also the responsibility of individual municipalities and/or local planning jurisdiction:
  • Provisions for pre-consultation on official plans and planning applications  
  • Municipal ability to regulate minimum and maximum density and height 
Implementation of the following opportunities requires specific official plan policies and enactment of municipal by-laws, which are also the responsibility of individual municipalities and/or local planning jurisdiction:
  • Development Permit System which combines zoning, site plan and minor variance thereby streamlining the approval process 
Finally, the implementation of the following opportunities requires municipal decisions, which is also the responsibility of individual municipalities and/or local planning jurisdiction.
  • Stronger recognition and regard for municipal decisions and information 
  • Significant new information at OMB could be sent back to council for reconsideration 
  • Restricting appeals for those who do not participate in the process 
  • Authority for OMB to dismiss appeals for substantially different applications 
What evidence is there that uptake of some of these tools will lead to benefits? Municipalities are beginning to see the benefits from implementing these new tools. The City of London, like many progressive municipalities in Ontario, has recently taken steps to implement some of these new tools in their official plan and other planning documents and processes.  

Some of the recent amendments to the Planning Act emphasized a broadening of the range of information available for approval authorities to consider when reviewing an application and shifting the requirements for the submission of supporting information to the front end of the planning process.

These amendments have been referred to as the notion of a complete application. 

An additional amendment to the Planning Act introduces the concept of pre-consultation, which allows municipalities to require applicants to consult with them prior to submitting a planning application so that all the necessary information required before an application can be deemed complete can be identified at the outset.

The City of London has fully implemented these new tools into its Official Plan. These new policy tools have been instrumental in improving the quality of information provided in assessing planning applications, as well as the interaction and facilitation between the development community, residents, local agencies, municipal council and the approval authority in London. These new policy tools have ultimately led to resource savings and a more engaged, transparent and effective land-use planning process in the city.
In addition, municipal staff in London continue to update the City’s Official Plan and some of its other local planning policy and guidelines documents with enhancements that are intended to create a more sustainable and responsive planning process in the community. Current and on-going initiatives that planning and municipal staff are striving towards should lead to the introduction and implementation of some of the same new planning tools introduced by the province.

A leading new initiative promoted in London is one directed towards placing a stronger emphasis on architectural control that will facilitate positive urban design as a priority in all new development and redevelopment projects throughout the City.  Other new planning tools that are receiving considerable attention as potential priorities to new local planning policy development include initiatives targeting intensification and sustainable development, boulevard and transportation enhancements, and environmental and economic sustainability.

The City of London is recognized as a leader in implementing Community Improvement Plans (CIP) to address neighbourhood and community challenges. The City’s track record in facilitating and adopting CIP’s in its downtown, heritage district, mainstreets and other distinct neighbourhoods has achieved measureable results and been adopted by other municipalities.  The new planning tools introduced by the province include opportunities to further promote a municipality’s ability to prepare and participate in a CIP program. The City of London has demonstrated many of the benefits of adopting a CIP program and these new tools provided by the province should be evidence to municipalities throughout the province that these programs work.

There are ‘real opportunities’ present for municipalities if they implement these new planning tools.

Evidence of the linkages between adopting good land use planning policy and tools in official plans and other municipal instruments, and a community’s ability to be sustainable and attract people and investment, while remaining healthy and resilient, do clearly exist in Ontario. Updating local planning documents and policy with new land use planning tools that support initiatives like Brownfield redevelopment, urban design, conservation, transportation and infrastructure planning will better position your community, in these diverse and challenging times, to be investment ready, environmentally and economically viable.  They will also provide the leadership that local residents and businesses need from their municipal planners.

The time is now for Municipal Planners to step up and lead the way. Help raise the awareness of your local residents, businesses, councillors and other municipal staff members on the benefits that the community can enjoy by updating their official plan and other planning documents with the new planning tools available to promote effective land-use planning in this province. Plan now so your municipality does not have to pay later...

Lou Pompilii, City of London, Member of the Education Planning Partnership, Why Plan Committee.