Ontario to curb urban sprawl
Province to protect huge swath of land around Toronto from development
By RICHARD MACKIE
Friday, October 29, 2004 - Page A8
E-mail this Article
Print this Article
Residents of Canada's largest urban region, the Greater Toronto Area, will find it increasingly difficult to obtain single-family homes and instead are expected to turn to condominiums and townhouses under plans to control urban sprawl that were released by the Ontario government yesterday.
Key to the strategy is the creation of a 1.8-million-acre greenbelt where farms, small communities, lakes and forests will be protected from development, Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday.
"This means no new subdivisions paving over our valuable farmland. It means no new shopping malls carved out of our forests," he told reporters at Queen's Park.
Including the 800,000 acres now protected in the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Niagara Escarpment, the greenbelt will include 1.8 million acres, an area the size of Algonquin Park. It will run from Rice Lake, which is southeast of Peterborough, to the Niagara Peninsula.
Along with protecting the greenbelt, the government plans to use the locations of sewer and water lines, highways and transit routes along with electricity transmission lines to direct growth into specific centres rather than following growth where developers choose to build homes and businesses and shopping centres.
The strategy to control and direct urban growth has national implications, partly because federal money will help build the transit corridors and partly because it follows a similar strategy that has shaped the growth of the Vancouver area.
Within 25 years, about 10 million to 12 million people are expected to live in the area around Toronto and the western end of Lake Ontario, up from about 7.5 million now. That accounts for about one-quarter of Canada's population.
But the plan to control urban sprawl and reduce expressway gridlock will have its costs, said a representative of the region's booming development industry, Mark Parsons, president of the Greater Toronto Home Builders Association.
"It's going to make it harder for people who don't have houses. And not only that, they're not going to have the choice of the type of house that they want. Sixty-six per cent of the people in the GTA want a ground-related house, be it a townhouse or a single-family house," Mr. Parsons said.
"People who want to buy a starter house are going to pay a lot more money. It's going to be increasingly difficult for young Torontonians to own single-family houses. . . . The government is trying to push everybody to live in condominiums," Mr. Parsons argued.
The president of the Toronto Real Estate Board, Ron Abraham, also warned that restricting the supply of land inevitably will push up housing prices, especially for fully detached homes.
One of the key players in designing the greenbelt strategy, Burlington Mayor Rob MacIsaac, acknowledged that it will leave many people unhappy.
"You can't do something this bold and have everybody absolutely delighted by what you are doing."
He stressed that people will not lose their properties but merely will have to continue to live with existing zoning that limits development.
Mr. MacIsaac, who chaired a task force on the strategy for the greenbelt, added, "Certainly there will be some people who were speculators or some people who were counting on turning their farms into big subdivisions. Those people will be disappointed. But they never really had the right to do that."
He acknowledged that he and his family live in a single-family house. But he said people in the Greater Toronto Area will tailor their housing to their needs, and not stay in a single home for their entire lives.
Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretsen said he expects developers will turn to redeveloping currently unused land within urban centres to balance the limits on expanding beyond the greenbelt.
"Areas that are currently zoned for urban use will be allowed to expand that urban use. . . . We will not allow an expansion beyond the currently designated urban areas."
David Caplan, Minister of Public Infrastructure Renewal, said the government wants to see future urban development "on existing grey fields, strip malls, surface parking lots, brown fields [and other] areas that can handle additional development."
Mr. McGuinty said the province is not opposed to growth. "What we're talking about is introducing responsible growth into the way we develop," he said. "Sprawl is expensive for all of us. It strains our infrastructure. It strains our transit. It gobbles up our farmland."
The plan won widespread support, largely from those who have been consulted in its development.