On April 6, 2023, the Province published a proposal on the Environmental Registry of Ontario seeking input on the creation of an integrated Province-wide land use planning policy document, the Provincial Planning Statement (the “New PPS”). The New PPS proposes to take policies from the Provincial Policy Statement (the “PPS 2020”) and A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Horseshoe Area (the “Growth Plan”) in an effort to support the achievement of housing objectives, while balancing the need to protect the environment and agricultural lands. The comment period is open until June 5, 2023.
The New PPS would be considered a policy statement for the purposes of subsection 3(1) of the Planning Act. In accordance with paragraph 3(5)(a) of the Planning Act, decisions of approval authorities would be required to be consistent with this document.
The significant highlights are summarized below and include policy direction to:
- Generate Housing Supply and Make Land Available for Development.
- Provide Infrastructure to Support Development.
- Balance Housing with Resources.
Generating Housing Supply and Making Land Available for Development
Consistent with the Province’s direction to build 1.5 million homes, the New PPS includes policies that identify large and fast-growing municipalities, eliminate intensification targets and broaden a municipality’s ability to expand settlement areas. Below are details on some of the highlights.
New Definition: Large and Fast-Growing Municipalities
The New PPS defines “large and fast-growing municipalities” as municipalities listed in Schedule 1. Certain policies of the New PPS will only apply to the 29 listed municipalities. For example, large and fast-growing municipalities:
- Will be encouraged to plan for a minimum density target of 50 residents and jobs per hectare;
- Will identify and focus growth and development in strategic growth areas (“SGA”); and
- Will delineate the boundaries of Major Transit Station Areas (“MTSA”) on Higher Order Transit corridors through a new official plan or an official plan amendment.
Growth Forecasts and Planning Horizons
Municipalities will no longer be required to plan for specific population and employment forecasts for an identified horizon year, as is currently the case pursuant to Schedule 3 of the Growth Plan. Instead, municipalities will be expected to complete their own forecasts, with the 2051 forecasting targets set as a minimum. Additionally, municipalities will be required to have enough land designated for at least 25 years (whereas the current requirement is to have enough land designated for up to 25 years) with planning permitted to extend beyond this horizon for infrastructure, employment areas and SGAs.
The PPS 2020 housing policy requirements to maintain lands designated and available for residential growth for a minimum of 15 years, and to maintain zoned lands with servicing capacity sufficient to provide at least 3 years of supply of residential units are maintained.
Removal of Municipal Comprehensive Review
Currently, the Growth Plan contains various policies that generally only permit conversion of employment lands and the expansion of settlement areas through a municipal comprehensive review (“MCR”). The concept of the MCR has been removed in the New PPS, and as a result, the conversion of employment lands to non-employment lands and the expansion of settlement areas will be able to occur at any time.
Settlement Areas and Settlement Area Boundary Expansion
The policies relating to settlement areas and settlement area boundary expansions are proposed to be revised substantially. Under the new policies, a new settlement area or expansion may occur at any time provided that planning authorities consider the following criteria:
- There is sufficient existing or planned capacity of infrastructure and public service facilities;
- The lands are not specialty crop areas;
- There is compliance with minimum distance separation formulae;
- Any impacts on agricultural lands are minimized or mitigated; and
- Whether there will be phased progression of urban development.
In addition, there will no longer be any prescribed density targets for new settlement areas; however, as noted above, large and fast-growing municipalities will be encouraged to plan for a minimum density target of 50 residents and jobs per gross hectare.
Strategic Growth Areas
SGAs are a concept previously introduced in the Growth Plan and include MTSAs, Urban Growth Centres and other areas where growth or development will be focused. The New PPS would require large and fast-growing municipalities to identify SGAs and would permit other municipalities to do so at their discretion. This involves identifying an appropriate minimum density target and the appropriate type and scale of development for each SGA, as well as identifying appropriate transition of built form to areas adjacent to an SGA.
A new policy is also proposed that would require any reduction in size or change of location of an Urban Growth Centre that is identified in an official plan as of a date to be announced to occur only by way of a new official plan or an official plan amendment adopted under section 26 of the Planning Act.
Major Transit Station Areas
The New PPS would incorporate the Growth Plan’s concept of MTSAs with some modifications. The proposed policies direct large and fast-growing municipalities to identify MTSAs and permit other municipalities to plan for MTSAs by delineating their boundaries on higher order transit corridors (i.e. GO Train and LRT stations) and establishing minimum density targets. The specified density targets and 500m to 800m radius delineation area remain unchanged.
Increased Residential Development in Rural Areas
Currently, the PPS 2020 promotes development in rural areas that is compatible with the rural landscape and that encourages the conservation of existing rural housing stock on rural lands. The New PPS proposes to remove these policies to facilitate more development on rural lands. In addition, the New PPS proposes to permit increased residential development on rural lands by permitting multi-lot residential development where the site conditions are suitable for the provision of appropriate sewage and water services.
The New PPS also proposes to modify the agricultural policies of the PPS 2020 to facilitate more residential development in prime agricultural areas. The New PPS would permit a principal dwelling associated with an agricultural operation with some limited exceptions as well as up to two additional residential units provided the proposed units meet certain conditions. In addition, the New PPS would introduce policies permitting residential lot creation in prime agricultural areas in accordance with specific conditions.
The definition of an employment area is proposed to be amended to be consistent with proposed amendments to the Planning Act introduced by Bill 97, Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act, 2023. The amendments propose to exclude office, institutional and commercial (retail) uses from the definition of employment area, unless associated with a primary employment area use.
Through the deletion of the MCR, employment conversions may occur at any time, subject to the conversion criteria, which are mostly the same as those in the PPS 2020 with some clarification added.
The Growth Plan concept of Provincially Significant Employment Zones (“PSEZs”) is also proposed to be removed. PSEZs are currently protected from conversion to non-employment uses unless it has been demonstrated to be appropriate in the context of an MCR. However, the Province has indicated that it is considering implementing the PSEZ concept through Ministerial Zoning Orders.
While the New PPS still requires the development of major facilities and sensitive land uses to avoid or minimize and mitigate any potential adverse effects and impacts to major facilities, there is no longer a requirement to demonstrate that there is an identified need for the sensitive land use or that there are no reasonable alternative locations.
The New PPS also directs planning authorities to protect and preserve employment areas located in proximity to major goods movement facilities and corridors, including facilities and corridors identified in provincial transportation plans.
Infrastructure to Support Development
The New PPS would prioritize planning and investments in infrastructure and public service facilities to support SGAs as focal areas for growth and development.
It would also encourage planning authorities, in consultation with school boards, to consider innovative approaches in the design of schools and associated childcare facilities in SGAs and other areas with a compact built form (i.e., schools integrated in high-rise developments).
Balance of Housing with Resources
Expanded Housing Options Definition
The New PPS would expand the definition of ‘housing options’ to include laneway housing, garden suites, rooming houses, low- and mid-rise apartments, additional needs housing, multi-generational housing, student housing, farm worker housing, culturally appropriate housing, supportive housing, community housing and transitional housing.
Removal of Affordable Housing Definition
The New PPS proposes to remove the definition of “affordable”, which currently exists in both the PPS 2020 and the Growth Plan. It also proposes to remove references to “market based and affordable housing” in the new housing policies as well as the current policy in the PPS 2020 that requires planning authorities to establish and implement minimum targets for the provision of housing which is affordable to low- and moderate-income households. Instead, the New PPS proposes a policy requiring planning authorities to co-ordinate land use planning and planning for housing with Service Managers to address the full range of housing options including housing affordability needs.
Conversion of Existing Commercial and Institutional Buildings for Residential Use
The New PPS proposes to add a policy that planning authorities shall provide for an appropriate range and mix of housing options and densities by, among other things, permitting and facilitating the conversion of existing commercial and institutional buildings for residential use, the introduction of new housing options within previously developed areas and redevelopment which results in a net increase in residential units.
The New PPS encourages planning authorities to enhance a geographically continuous agricultural land base and maintains many of the PPS 2020 agriculture policies. However, it would no longer require municipalities to use the Provincially mapped Agricultural System, but it would still encourage municipalities to use an agricultural system approach based on provincial guidance. It is unclear whether this guidance will be based on the existing Provincial Map of the Agricultural Land Base, or other provincial guidance.
The Natural Heritage policies and related definitions which currently exist in both the PPS 2020 and the Growth Plan are still under consideration by the Province.
On the same day the Province released the draft New PPS, it released its Proposed Approach to Implementation of the New PPS (the “Implementation Document”), which outlines the approach to determining the effective date and transition of the New PPS; the timing for official plan updates; employment area changes; and other Growth Plan specific transition matters.
In terms of the effective date, the Province is targeting fall 2023 for the New PPS policies to take effect. However, Bill 97 provides the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing with the authority to make transition regulations, which, if enacted, could change this date in prescribed circumstances.
In terms of official plan updates, the Province is proposing that official plans be updated as necessary to implement the New PPS policies at the time of their ordinary review cycle (i.e. every five years for existing official plans and every ten years for new official plans), with the exception of the revised definition of “area of employment” and employment area policies.
If Bill 97 is passed, many municipalities’ existing employment areas may permit uses which no longer meet the definition of an “area of employment”, and as a result, time-sensitive official plan updates would be required so that the permissions in designated employment areas comply with the permissions outlined in the proposed Planning Act amendments. In addition, to maintain the integrity of employment areas that are intended to remain protected, municipalities will be encouraged to explicitly authorize the site-specific permission of any existing employment uses that do not align with the new definition. Once/if the proposed legislative changes take effect, areas that do not meet the definition of “area of employment” and are not granted site-specific permission by a municipality, will no longer be subject to policy requirements for “conversions” to non-employment areas.
The Implementation Document also provides an update on the Bill 23, More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022 amendments which propose the removal of 7 upper-tier municipalities from being statutory approval authorities under the Planning Act, indicating that these amendments would not take effect until winter 2024 at the earliest.
Davies Howe LLP will continue to monitor the changes proposed to Ontario’s land use planning framework. Please reach out with any questions as to how these changes may impact you.
 Large and Fast Growing Municipalities include Town of Ajax; City of Barrie; City of Brampton; City of Brantford; City of Burlington; Town of Caledon; City of Cambridge; Municipality of Clarington; City of Guelph; City of Hamilton; City of Kingston; City of Kitchener; City of London; City of Markham; Town of Milton; City of Mississauga; Town of Newmarket; City of Niagara Falls; Town of Oakville; City of Oshawa; City of Ottawa; City of Pickering; City of Richmond Hill; City of St. Catharines; City of Toronto; City of Vaughan; City of Waterloo; Town of Whitby; and City of Windsor.