Letters & Opinion

Public Pressure = Vote on 12 Rezoning By-laws now Removed from Tuesday’s Agenda

Field with hay
Written by Dan O’Reilly

Editor’s note: Dan O’Reilly attended the April 25th meeting in person and also delegated his concerns to Council. See note at end of article regarding tomorrow’s Council meeting.

Despite very steep obstacles, grassroots movements whose mission is democracy and good planning can succeed. That has been very much on display in Caledon in a very short—and whirlwind—time period.

Just one day after a very long and sometimes heated (but for the most part civil) April 25th planning and development committee public meeting, Caledon Mayor Annette Groves announced “the 12 zoning items have been removed for the agenda” for the April 30th Council meeting.

Under the Special Mayor Powers granted to her by the provincial government, the mayor could have achieved approval of the amendments with just over one third support of council had it continued to Council for vote.

The mayor had previously announced her intentions to “advance” the applications to expedite 35,000 housing units in the town. The Town of Caledon had already agreed to the province’s housing pledge of 13,000 homes by 2031.

That rezoning would have come before some of the necessary secondary plans, which are comprised of series of in-depth traffic, fiscal, environmental, sub watershed and other studies.

In social media post around supper time on Friday April 26th, the mayor wrote: “Your voices have been heard, and your concerns respected.”

She also wrote she would be further addressing the issue in a statement at Tuesday’s (April 30) council meeting.

The mayor deserves credit for listening to the opposition and voices of concern raised at the public meeting as well as at a public forum organized and hosted just a week before by Democracy Caledon, a new citizens’ group. But what will be her next steps?

Concerns have been raised by Democracy Caledon co-founder Debbe Crandall. “What does ‘removing’ them from the agenda really mean? Is removing them from the agenda the same as removing them from further consideration?”

Perhaps ‘removing them’ only speaks to delaying the process, which is what a number of last week’s speakers requested. But delayed for how long?

The truth-to-be-told is that these 12 amendments could have slipped under the radar and passed if Democracy Caledon hadn’t taken almost-last-minute action.

Under the public consultation process, the town had allocated only one meeting (the April 25th one) to receive public input before the amendments were scheduled to proceed to council for approval.

At the public meeting several speakers questioned the urgency for passing the bylaws, the short public comment period, and why a housing target almost three times the amount of Caledon’s housing pledge was being considered.

Others slammed the amendments as simply the municipal equivalent of Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs). The mayor took issue with those suggestions more than once during the night.

If there was a pivotal or watershed moment in the seven-hour meeting that went on until almost 2:00am, it came very early in the evening when Crandall questioned why the Town would proceed with the rezoning when the Region of Peel considers all 12 applications ‘premature’.

When challenged on that point by acting committee chair, Councillor Mario Russo, Crandall explained the Region’s conclusions are outlined in a series of reports which have been filed with the town. That seemed to take Councillor Russo by surprise.

Dated April 19th, the reports were addressed to Caledon planning commissioner Eric Lucic who, later in the meeting, acknowledged the town had received them.

This begs two pertinent questions: Why weren’t the Region’s planning reports available at the meeting? And why didn’t Councillor Russo know the town had them? He is, after all, one of the Town’s two regional councillors.

Another notable moment came, when Councillor Lynn Kiernan divulged who the owners of some of the parcels were. More than one delegate had asked the question only to be told that information would not be available until the April 30th meeting. Kiernan asked to speak and then shared information she said she had received from the Town’s planning department. While she said she had not yet discovered the information for all 12 she went on to name the ones she had been informed of to date, which primarily were companies named Solmar and Argo.

A consistent point, at least for many of the speakers, was the need for more thoughtful and thorough study.

That was certainly the recommendations of Caledon residents Nicola Ross and Linda Pim, as well as former Caledon Councillor Ian Sinclair.

In her presentation, Ross said the “proposed bylaws jeopardize the long-term planning of these lands to achieve the best, forward looking detailed design and implementation of modern, fiscally and environmentally sustainable complete communities.”

She also went on to say that the “anti-democratic and premature” bylaws would put the town, Peel Region and a myriad of agencies at risk by pre-zoning thousands of acres of land in one fell swoop thereby removing the ability to use more detailed zoning—informed by extensive studies and detailed planning.

Additional issues raised by other speakers were the fact the rezonings would generate tremendous profits for developers and that they lacked any assurances that they would  create affordable housing.

There were approximately three dozen delegations and it should be acknowledged that about 10 spoke in favour of the bylaws, including a couple of realtors and mortgage brokers. Appearing via a virtual connection, one supporter read what sounded like a developers’ new home brochure.

“I am very proud of our residents who showed up and stopped this irresponsible planning of 12 MZOs!! Had this passed it would have given 12 developers a golden ticket and our future communities would not be planned to Caledon standards,” said Councillor Christina Early, when asked for a comment after the meeting.

I believe, as do many, that Caledon residents need to stay extremely vigilant, especially as the town and all other Ontario municipalities are extremely vulnerable to the provincial government’s pro-sprawl and anti-environmental policies. Some examples include the excessive use of Ministerial Zoning Orders, limiting the mandate of conservation authorities, and forcing municipalities to expand their urban boundaries.

We can criticize Mayor Groves, and rightly so, for trying to exercise her Strong Mayor Powers. But it is Premier Doug Ford who gave her and other Ontario mayors those powers.

Note: A “Statement by the Mayor regarding the proposed zoning by-law amendments” is listed twice on tomorrow’s (April 30th) Council meeting Agenda – once as item 4.1 during the 3:00pm afternoon session and again, as item 11.1, during the 7:00pm evening session. Between the two the Agenda indicates Council will be going into Closed Session. You can view the Agenda HERE

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About the author

Dan O’Reilly

Dan O’Reilly is a freelance writer specializing in design and construction, the environment, and historical preservation. He is also a regular contributor to the Daily Commercial News and Ontario Home Builder, the official magazine of the Ontario Home Builders Association.

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