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Region to appeal OMB land decision

Bob Vrbanac
Kitchener Post staff

The Region of Waterloo is seeking relief in divisional court from an Ontario Municipal Board decision that would open up more developable land. Regional council also requested the OMB conduct a rehearing on the matter.

The provincial planning body sided with local developers who want to open up to 1,053 hectares of land for development by 2031.

That’s more than 10 times the 80 hectares the region had allotted for development in its official plan, adopted in 2009, and puts in doubt the work done to preserve the countryside.

“Council sees that the board has made a fundamental flaw in its application and interpretation of the growth plan,” said Rob Horne, the region’s commissioner of planning.

Horne also said the region is starting negotiations with developers.

The region’s concern is that the OMB judgment puts into jeopardy the work already done to promote intensification, including the light rail transit plan meant to service higher population concentrations in city cores.

“We’re going to be meeting with the appellants and with the developers, and certainly a negotiated solution would be preferable,” said Horne.

“But the nature of this decision has compelled regional council to keep its other legal avenues open.”

Horne said the official plan was one of the key tools the region had to contain development within the current built-up area.

There are no timelines as to when the matters might be heard before Ontario Divisional Court or at the OMB. Horne is hoping the process is expedited and that some solution, either court-ordered or negotiated, is achieved.

“My understanding is that the property owners would like to get together sooner than later,” said Horne. “I find that encouraging.”

In the meantime, a couple of environmental groups have come out in support of the region’s appeal of the OMB decision.

“We see this as a huge slap on the wrist for a municipality that is basically doing what it was told to do by the province in implementing Places to Grow,” said Erin Shappero, Environmental Defence’s land and water program manager.

“A lot of people are shaking their heads over this ruling and, if left unchallenged, it could have significant impacts across the Greater Golden Horseshoe for how municipalities make decisions about how they accommodate the growth targets they’ve been assigned by the province.”

The Ontario Greenbelt Alliance has also offered its strong support to the region’s appeal.

Kevin Thomason, a local environmentalist involved and a member of the Greenbelt Alliance, said he hoped all levels of government would work together for smart growth solutions and not have the OMB going against those efforts.

“To think that we’re going to have to plow under two-dozen-plus farms and thousands of acres of our pristine green space to accommodate more urban sprawl housing — (that) is not something anybody wants,” said Thomason.

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