June 7, 2004

OMB, land use planning reforms will promote cleanup of brownfields

Reforms to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) and Ontario's land-use planning systems will place heightened emphasis on brownfields. John Gerretsen, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, told a breakfast meeting of the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) last week that one proposed change in the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) will be to "revitalize communities by promoting the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields."

Gerretsen announced plans for public consultations on reforming the OMB. The government will seek public input on OMB, including its mandate and accountability, how the OMB can be made more accessible to the public and board members' qualifications and length of tenure. The province is also consulting on the Planning Act and the revised draft Provincial Policy Statement, which sets out Ontario's overall vision of growth and priorities for land use. Public information sessions will be held throughout Ontario during June and July, with the first session scheduled for this week in Windsor.

The government took the first step toward implementing its comprehensive vision for land-use planning reform last December with the introduction of Bill 26, the Strong Communities (Planning Amendment) Act, 2004. The proposed act would bring greater accountability and transparency to land-use planning by putting planning decisions back in the hands of municipalities.

"We were particularly pleased that the Minister emphasized a strong role for brownfields redevelopment in the reform agenda," said David Crombie, president and CEO of the Institute, a co-founder of the Canadian Brownfields Network (CBN). "Shifting the focus of investment towards reurbanization in cities and towns across Ontario will require all sectors to work together towards common goals."

"It was great to hear provincial and municipal support for reforms that will encourage intensification of existing built-up areas prior to expansion into greenfield areas," said Todd Latham, a director of CBN. "We welcome any new policies or incentives that governments offer to rehabilitate brownfields in Ontario communities."

The PPS is issued under section 3 of the Planning Act and is intended to guide municipalities, the OMB and other decision-makers as they make land use planning decisions affecting Ontario communities. Bill 26 proposes to strengthen the Planning Act's requirement that decision-makers "have regard" to the PPS by requiring that all land use planning decisions "shall be consistent with" the PPS.

In addition to encouraging brownfield cleanup and redevelopment, the changes proposed to the PPS would:

protect greenspace by requiring municipalities to set targets for redevelopment, intensification and infill on already-developed lands before considering expansion onto farmlands and natural areas;

direct development into areas already served by public transit, and promote transit-friendly development - measures which would help reduce both traffic congestion and air pollution;

recognize that healthy, livable cities need green spaces, such as urban parks and green roofs, for better air quality; and

preserve water resources through stronger policies to safeguard watersheds, rivers and lakes.

The CUI breakfast session was attended by more than 200 practitioners from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. In addition to the reform announcement, it featured an panel discussion with Gerretsen, Ann Mulvale, president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, Chris Winter, executive director of the Conservation Council of Ontario and Julie DiLorenzo of Diamante Development Corp.

Planning reform is an important component of the government's plan for managed growth and sustainable development. "Ontario's success depends on building strong communities, a robust economy and a healthy environment," Gerretsen noted.

CUI, in partnership with the CBN, will be presenting Brownfields 2004, the 5th annual conference on brownfields, on October 21 in Toronto. This year's event will be held at the Liberty Grand on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds. A highlight of the conference is presentation of the CUI Brownie Awards, which recognize excellence and innovation in brownfields redevelopment.

More information is available from Glenn R Miller, vice-president, education and research for the CUI, 416/365-0816, ext 284, Web site www.canurb.com; or Todd Latham, director, Canadian Brownfields Network, 416/442-2185, Web site www.canadianbrownfieldsnetwork.ca.

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