People tell me development is too big, too fast

By Bobbi Ann Brady

Norfolk County has many monikers – Ontario’s South Coast, Canada’s Forest Capital and Ontario’s Garden. All these names are associated with the rural aspects of the county, its natural features and its ability to feed the people of Ontario.

What if that was to change?

It’s my opinion that Norfolk has become the county it is based on having one larger urban centre, mixed with smaller quaint towns and villages, surrounded by farms and forests. Planning of these towns and how they expand is a county government function, but when people continually tell me, it’s too much, too fast, I must speak out. Especially, when county actions are mandated by provincial policy.

Boundary expansion in Norfolk is complicated as the county has many urban boundaries — Simcoe, Delhi, Waterford, Courtland, Port Dover and Port Rowan. Norfolk County staff recently recommended focusing on intensification and developing available land within the existing urban boundaries; however, the plan approved includes paving over specialty crop land. Of the proposed development in the county, only one major proposal does not involve paving over farmland.

To build 9,500 new homes, planning staff recommended expanding urban boundaries on 294 acres of new residential land and 129 acres of employment land. However, in a 7-2 vote, council approved an official plan amendment to expand urban boundaries by 1,354 acres. Under the draft Provincial Planning Statement there is mention of specialty crop protection – most of the Norfolk County’s land would fall into this designation.

During public hearings at Norfolk County Council, members of the impacted communities lined up to share their concerns with such an aggressive expansion. Norfolk County would have been wise to wait for the release of the final Provincial Planning Statement in June.

I have two concerns with respect to the boundary changes. One, I see urban sprawl continuing to eat up available farmland while not guaranteeing the types of housing residents need. Secondly, much of the development on the southwest section of Simcoe puts in jeopardy the protection of a major wellhead that provides water to much of the town.

Foods from Norfolk County are shipped across Ontario, Canada, and North America. In Norfolk County, we feed cities. Paving over the world’s most productive farmland would be a disservice to future generations and careful consideration to alternatives must be examined.

During the two hours of presentations against the development, there were also other concerns raised, such as an increase in traffic, impacts on the rural way of life, the costs of infrastructure and access to medical services.

I want to speak on the latter two points, as I have also raised these when talking about Canada’s accelerated immigration rates. More people will mean the need for more roads, more policing, more snow plowing, more recreational facilities and a host of other infrastructure provided by municipalities. I have long maintained that one of the oversights associated with high immigration is the need to provide municipal governments with more funding to expand services.

The decision made in Norfolk is in contrast to what occurred in Hamilton. There, the council didn’t want an urban boundary expansion, saying it could meet housing targets within existing boundaries. The provincial government initially approved a boundary expansion, and then reversed the decision. This will add to the quandary as the province wrestles with a decision on Norfolk’s request.

There is an old saying that you can’t create more farm land. There is also a need to house the additional people coming to Ontario. Instead of creating blanket policies that each municipality must meet housing targets, perhaps a better strategy would be to look at where jobs will be and build higher density housing in those areas. If it can work in Hamilton, Norfolk should be able to pull it off.

Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk.