IDA has always focused on efforts and policies that encourage sustainable development and continue to enhance and protect Lake Simcoe. On March 15, town staff presented a recommendation to Council to change zoning on 133 properties, calling them “Mapping Amendments”, on or in close proximity to the lake from Agricultural (AG) to Environmental Protection (EP). When we discovered that many of the affected property owners were either unaware of the proposal or did not understand the purpose and benefit, we asked Council to slow the rezoning process to ensure those affected fully understood its implications. Town planning staff recently advised that the zoning by-law amendment will be brought back to council at a later date.
Innisfil District Association – Presentation re Zoning Changes
GOOD DECISIONS MAKE GOOD TOMORROWS
March 15, 2017
We are all fortunate to be living in Innisfil.
As members of Council and staff know very well, the main focus of the Innisfil District Association (IDA) has always been to support all efforts and policies that enhance the environmentally sustainable development of our Town and our Lake. We have intervened on many matters over the years. We believe that we play a role in helping our community to understand the implications of change and development when they are proposed by promoting informed criticism and discussion that protects the will of the community.
That is why you see us here tonight: not to press for a particular project but to help to ensure that the principles laid down by four levels of government, the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, and many other such expressions of public will, are respected.
We all want to see Innisfil prosper while protecting its many diverse heritage aspects such as the sense of community, of rural life and proximity to natural features and, in particular, our wonderful lake. That is why we have planners, public participation and an Official Plan
But, as we all know, thanks to policies imposed, not by us, but by the Province, Innisfil is under terrific stress to grow at a pace that endangers the very qualities that make our Town attractive: open space, farming, small settlements, forest cover and wildlife, clean water and fishing, superb viewscapes of land and lake.
The fact is, the Province has messed up: plans put in place in 2006 that were designed to discourage urban sprawl are doing exactly the opposite.
You, Mr. Mayor, put it very well recently, as reported in the Toronto Star, and I quote:
“I don’t want to see urban sprawl all over the place. We need jobs more than we need homes. I’d sooner have some employment on the lands that we have along the 400.” And you pointed out that the newcomers expect the urban amenities they get in Toronto or Brampton or Mississauga, saying “It will come, but it takes time.”
In the same light, we welcome the current proposals to upgrade the zoning of a number of properties. But we realized a few weeks ago that a substantial number of Innisfil’s property owners either did not understand the aims and benefits of the proposed changes or, in some cases, weren’t even aware of the proposals. And there are some mistaken beliefs
So, there is clearly a communication problem.
Four weeks ago we said that people needed more time to learn the facts about ‘Our Shores’. That is why we then implored Council to slow down the rezoning process and ensure that all those affected fully understand the intentions.
Well, you listened and you are addressing these issues, for which we thank you. It is the right thing to do. You have some hard decisions to make.
IDA’s aim now is to help clarify the issues that have recently been brought forth to us and, after discussing such with the Town’s planning team, to present our understanding to Innisfil.
Community Goals: The IDA’s goals on sustainability align with the goals (stated below) for protecting, preserving and enhancing more green spaces and forest cover to improve the health of Lake Simcoe.
The County Official plan and the Town of Innisfil’s new Official Plan designate areas that should be greenspaces, natural environmental areas and, in the Town’s proposed zoning plan, to rezone them as Environmentally Protected. This would bring conformity of terminology and meaning amongst three levels of government. We commend the town for taking these bold steps to protect more greenlands.
The overarching goal and vision of all levels of government is to protect, preserve and enhance more greenspaces and forest cover for future generations. In Innisfil, most of these goals have been created by years of consultation with the residents in groups and forums such as Inspiring Innisfil.
As we see it, your difficult task is not only to pass good by-laws that will protect our Innisfil environment. But can you ensure that the influence of those by-laws endures long into the future given that our Town’s goals are dictated by others and our by-laws are regularly defeated by outside bodies?
Our Shores: Seven Issues and Related Concerns:
What properties are being rezoned? 133 properties in Innisfil, many of which are currently zoned Agricultural, will be rezoned to Environmental Protection (EP). This involves hundreds of acres.
Almost all of the properties have not been farmed for many years and are some form of woodland or forest in various stages of maturity.
One: Some land owners feel that their land is being confiscated, stolen, high-jacked or taken over by the Town. The planning staff and Council must offer a clear explanation that this is not the case. The Town must have an excellent public relations campaign that demonstrates that the change to Environmental Protection is a good thing, a positive thing, and the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Only when people are convinced that this is not a “land grab” will they be more accepting of change and embrace it. You need to do a better job to convey this message.
Two: Some landowners say “I can do whatever I want with my land.” Some owners voiced concerns at the last council meeting that they would not be able to do what they want with their lands if their lands go to E.P. Wrong! It may come as news to some people but, NO, you can’t do whatever you want with your land. You haven’t been able to do that since, roughly, the 1700s. Innisfil properties are already zoned to permit or prevent certain kinds of development. Read, for example, the many restrictions on AG (agricultural) land.
Under their current Agricultural designation, land owners are already restricted to agricultural practices, and business related to agriculture. They are allowed to improve their residential buildings and add some outbuildings. Any other uses of the property, such as industrial, commercial business, strip mall, multiple residential, gas station, already require rezoning. The applicant would have to be successful in making amendments to the Town Official Plan (OP) to change the land use. This would also have to be in line with the County OP. This would apply to land owners of both Agricultural and those recently changed to Environmental Protection.
Owners with split zoning on which there is both Residential and Agricultural can improve their homes, add a garage or outbuildings on the Residential part of the land. If the Agricultural portion went to EP, most changes to their property, as in the past, could only continue to occur on the residential portion, as we understand it, with some minor allowances on the EP land.
One key difference with the EP designation is that it has a stronger protection against clear-cutting the woodlands on the land. We have seen the wholesale clear-cutting of woodlots in this town recently with little protection afforded.
Three: Assessment and Property Values. We are currently waiting for answers on how the zoning changes will affect assessment and property values.
Four: Some landowners fear that upzoning will reduce their present and future property values. Innisfil already has a street 1.8 km long called Shoreview Drive where the upscale Southshore Woods waterfront neighbourhood, with homes upward of 7-10 million dollars, has an EP designation.
It’s hard to see how zoning that ensures that your neighbour doesn’t clear-cut the forest cover for a motor race track, or build a McMansion in the middle of your lake, or start a gas station next door… it’s hard to see how that would reduce your property’s value. Unless, of course, you are wishing to do the same sort of developments yourself. More likely, property values will increase because it’s protected.
We believe that upzoning to Environmental Protection is a very important measure that will hugely benefit all Innisfil. It will help us to uphold and honour the Town’s Official Plan… a plan carefully worked-out together with the public… but a plan that is all too frequently defeated by appeals to the OMB by those with the (tax-deductible) cash to do so.
Five: Whether your property value goes up or down is debatable. A row of waterfront owners each with several acres of deep properties may see a variety of tangible and intangible benefits and an increase in value knowing that the land will be protected as a pristine forest for a very long time. Sustainable forest practices can provide continuing cash flow.
Others who envisioned rezoning from Agricultural to Commercial or Residential may see the EP designation as an impediment if trees cannot be clear cut for future development and may believe that their land will thereby decrease in value. But the value of land can also be measured not solely in monetary terms but in intrinsic values. Land has an increased value to society when large sections of forest filter carbon dioxide to fight climate change and provide oxygen to the planet. Large swaths of uninterrupted woodland can provide habitats for a diversity of plants and animals. Large uninterrupted tracts of natural habitats can act as corridors for some of our larger animals such as deer, coyotes, wild turkeys. The land can act as a filter for water draining into Lake Simcoe. Finally, woodlands that are only 50 years old today, if given a chance, will become mature forests in another 50 years, resulting in rich, diverse forest ecosystems forever.
Six: There are residents who have proposals in the approval pipeline. Council will have to decide if the outcomes of those proposals will be governed by the existing zoning requirements or by those contained in the revised plans. Landowners need the time to argue their case.
Seven: The real enemy of community planning is the OMB. Innisfil needs zoning by-laws and an Official Plan with teeth! We’ve all heard the old saying about making money in real estate: “Location, location, location”. Well, in Ontario anyway, that’s not correct. The most important factor is to “Change the zoning, change the zoning, change the zoning”.
This is how good farmland turns into urban sprawl. This is why our town has to scramble to find the money to pay for big-city-level infrastructure in the very place most of us think of as rural and town. All to meet demands for growth that we never asked for.
The hardest challenge that you, as our Council, have to face, is how to create a Plan that ensures that our stated goals for the quality of our lives and our environment will be upheld and sustained and NOT be subject to endless exceptions okayed by the OMB. Who should be pushing the OMB? Can you and Innisfil push for change at the OMB?
Conclusion or What we would like the town to do. Going forward, a fair approach that balances respect for the environment and the taxpayer is what is required. As of writing this presentation, fewer than 10 properties of 133 had concerns with the rezoning but we sense that many more may emerge once word of the situation reaches more people. Better to address concerns now than to have years of costly argument before the OMB… which is not impossible.
The IDA recommends:
1. It is essential that the Town ensures that all affected residents are officially informed and understand the implications.
2. A defined time frame be set, in which concerned property-owners can meet with Town planners to discuss their concerns and have the implications of the changes clearly explained and addressed.
3. If a land owner can demonstrate through engineering or environmental studies that their property does not meet the criteria of Environmental Protection as dictated by the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, Provincial regulations, County or Town policies, then the appropriate land use designation should be assigned. This would help to avoid costly expenses at OMB hearings for both the Town and Land Owners.
4. Do a better job of convincing residents that the rezoning is not infringing on people’s rights but can actually benefit land-owners. Call it Marketing…
The Town is looking at a long-range vision…
We need everyone to understand what the implications are.
Link to Zoning By-Law Amendment at: Proposed Zoning By-Law Amendment