The new Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe has now been released and will come into effect on July 1, 2017. Among the most critical changes to the Growth Plan is the addition of a number of new policies to guide growth and change along identified Priority Transit Corridors and within Major Transit Station Areas (areas within 500 metres or approximately 10-minute walking distance from higher-order transit stations).
While the 2006 Growth Plan offered some policy direction regarding Major Transit Station Areas, these policies have been substantially refined and strengthened, with clear and specific targets now established as Provincial policy. Most of the new policies are found in Section 2.2.4 of the Growth Plan. The key changes include:
- Identification of Priority Transit Corridors on Schedule 5 of the Growth Plan. These corridors must be identified in municipal Official Plans, and generally include planned higher-order transit corridors and primary Regional Express Rail (RER) routes;
- A requirement for municipalities to prioritize planning for Major Transit Station Areas along Priority Transit Corridors, including introducing transit-oriented zoning;
- New minimum density targets for Major Transit Station Areas along Priority Transit Corridors or subway lines:
- 200 residents and jobs per hectare for areas served by subways;
- 160 residents and jobs per hectare for areas served by LRT/BRT; and
- 150 residents and job per areas served by the GO Transit rail network;
- Opportunities for municipalities to develop alternative density targets through a Municipal Comprehensive Review process, based on the satisfaction of a series of criteria and subject to Ministerial approval;
- An emphasis on ensuring that land uses and built form within Major Transit Station Areas are transit supportive and do not adversely affect the achievement of the minimum density targets;
- A renewed emphasis on planning and designing all Major Transit Station Areas to support multimodal access, a mix of land uses, transit-supportive densities and alternative development standards;
- A new emphasis on lands adjacent to or near existing and planned Frequent Transit service, which should be planned to be transit-supportive; and,
- A more robust policy framework to ensure that lands around transit stations or near frequent transit service are supportive of active transportation networks.
What Does This All Mean?
The new transit corridor and station area policies will change the way that planning and development occurs around transit. The policies are clearly intended to strengthen the integration between land use development and transit infrastructure planning. By focusing growth in areas that are supported by existing and planned transit services, the Growth Plan will help make more efficient use of transit infrastructure by achieving higher densities and driving ridership in locations that are well-served by transit. While the original Growth Plan policies set a context directing growth towards intensification, the new policies will work to focus intensification around designated Major Transit Station Areas.
For municipalities, the Growth Plan will require updates to their Official Plans and zoning bylaws to achieve conformity with the new policies. Through the next Municipal Comprehensive Review process, municipalities will need to identify Priority Transit Corridors, and then delineate and update the planning framework for Major Transit Station Areas. Municipal zoning bylaws will also need to be updated to ensure that the zoning will implement the Growth Plan policies for Major Transit Station Areas.
Context-specific research and analysis will be needed to implement the new density requirements, as municipalities will need to understand existing densities within Major Transit Station Areas and determine their capacity to accommodate new requirements. In instances where municipalities will be seeking alternative density targets, municipal planners will be responsible for developing a comprehensive and defensible rationale to demonstrate why the targets cannot be achieved in some locations, and how the alternative density targets conform with identified criteria. This conformity exercise is intended to be completed through the next Municipal Comprehensive Review process for respective municipalities, to be completed by upper tier and single tier municipalities by 2022.
For developers, the Growth Plan policies reinforce the shift towards transit-oriented development and higher-density urban form. The more rigorous Growth Plan policies and targets provide a stronger rationale to support increased densities in Major Transit Station Areas. However, in the interim, conformity exercises will require proposed developments around Major Transit Station Areas to be individually evaluated against the Growth Plan targets while municipalities work through the Official Plan review process.
In more suburban contexts, municipalities and developers alike may struggle to meet the new density targets. In the Toronto context, the experience will vary widely depending on location. A number of subway stations have already achieved well above 200 people and jobs per hectare, whereas others are significantly constrained and will struggle to achieve this density. A key criterion where alternative density targets are sought for four or more Major Transit Station Areas indicates that the average of the targets established for those areas should meet or exceed the applicable minimum density targets, which may help municipalities justify lower alternative targets for some subway station areas. Another strategy municipalities may consider will be the advancement of transit corridor planning studies for multiple stations, similar to approaches being taken along the Waterloo ION corridor, Mississauga’s Hurontario and Dundas corridor, and Toronto’s Eglinton corridor.
Finally, the effect of these policies must also be considered in relation to the reform of the Ontario Municipal Board, as outlined in the recently-released Bill 139. While this new legislation will be covered in more detail in our next blog post, it will be interesting to see how the reform will impact the appeals process for new development proposals around transit.
Remaining Questions and Considerations
There is no doubt that the new transit corridor and station area policies will impact how planning and development unfolds within Major Transit Station Areas. The Province appears eager to strengthen the integration of land use development and transit, while also providing municipalities with a stronger policy basis to advance transit supportive development around transit. Yet, there remain a number of questions that planning professionals and the development community will need to consider:
- How strict will the Province be with municipalities in regards to delineating appropriate boundaries for the Major Transit Station Areas, and implementing the new density targets or permitting alternative targets?
- What methodology will be used to calculate existing residential and job densities within the station areas? How will municipalities monitor whether the density targets are being achieved?
- While the new density targets are minimums, no maximum targets have been set. Will municipalities be able to set their own maximum targets as a way of preventing over-development within a specific station area or community?
- How long and contentious will the municipal conformity exercise be? How will municipalities and the new Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (former OMB) respond to proposed development in these areas in the interim?
- How will the development industry and surrounding communities respond to new requirements and opportunities created by the increased focus on transit-oriented development and density? How will this impact land values, and the location, shape and form of new development over time?
Our team will continue to explore these questions and more through a series of blog posts over this summer, as we work to share our observations and understanding of the most salient components of the suite of new provincial legislation. Look for future blog articles throughout the summer, which will cover more detail on the following topics:
- Bill 139: and overview and implications for local planning process
- Climate Change and Resiliency
- Protecting Natural Heritage and Agricultural Systems
- Increasing the Housing Offering
- Planning for Inclusive Communities
- Promoting Employment and Economic Competitiveness
- Advancing Growth Management – the targeted approach
- Green and Sustainable Infrastructure
There is no doubt this is a complex and complicated suite of policies and legislation. At Urban Strategies, we are here to help you. If you need to know more about these Plans and what they mean for you, your land, or community, please contact us:
Melanie Hare, Partner, firstname.lastname@example.org, 416-340-9004 x 215
Pino Di Mascio, Partner, email@example.com, 416-340-9004 x 210