County planners continue policy development efforts despite looming changes

Some areas of review temporarily paused

GUELPH – Wellington County’s planning department is working on ways to proceed with policy development despite looming changes to provincial planning policy.

Changes to the province’s planning policy statement (PPS) expected to take effect in the fall include removing the process of Municipal Comprehensive Review (MCR), as well as eliminating hard requirements for intensification and density targets.

The county was in the midst of an MCR when news of the planned changes came out.

“It’s my understanding that we’re waiting for the regulations with all these new changes. So once we see the regulations we’re going to know more, we’re going to see how they impact our communities,” planning committee chair and councillor James Seeley told Wellington County council at a June 29 meeting.

“With the final 2023 PPS policies expected this fall, planning staff are finding ways to continue to move forward with policy development and mapping changes still necessary to support future growth, while temporarily pausing other areas of review,” states a report from county manger of planning policy Sarah Wilhelm.

The report recommends the county continue with amendments to the County Official Plan to re-designate Future Development lands within urban area boundaries in Mapleton, Minto and Wellington North, with Erin Future Development lands to be considered locally.

The county will also continue with evaluation of submitted requests for urban settlement area boundary expansions where a need for more land was identified in the MCR. Community area growth is targeted for Centre Wellington, Mapleton and Minto and employment area growth in Centre Wellington, Erin and Mapleton.

The report also suggests moving forward with necessary amendments to the county’s Official Plan to implement Mapleton-council-endorsed expansion areas in Drayton and Moorefield, with other municipalities to follow.

Also continuing are efforts to review and modernize Official Plan policies to support increased flexibility for mixed use, intensification, and a range of housing types.

Through modifications to the county’s OPA 119, the province has already unilaterally expanded urban areas in Fergus, Elora/Salem, Rockwood and Clifford and supported conversion of employment area lands in Arthur and Elora.

The bulk of the expansion occurred in Centre Wellington, however mapping presented in the report indicates the county is considering further expansion in other areas of the township.

Wellington County council agenda image

Proposals for future land use designations will be reviewed within the context of the overall Official Plan Review, the report notes.

The county will pause agricultural policy and mapping review efforts as the draft 2023 PPS proposes to remove a requirement for agricultural system mapping (except for Greenbelt areas).

The agricultural system approach inter-connects land use planning and economic development, meaning, for example, agri-food impacts are considered when municipal decisions are made on roads, bridges and future growth areas.

Seeley said pausing of the agricultural system mapping is “disappointing to say the least,” noting, “planning staff have put a lot of effort into that mapping.”

The county’s rural area growth review will also be paused as the draft 2023 PPS policies “provide much greater flexibility for rural residential development and less restrictive rural employment policies,” Wilhelm notes in the report.

The report points out final PPS policies will factor into the considerations for a proposed regionally significant economic development study area in Puslinch, rural employment areas, and rural residential development potential in the secondary urban centres of Aberfoyle, and Morriston, hamlets and, through severances, in secondary agricultural areas in Erin, Minto and Puslinch.

In May of 2021, county council asked the province to establish a “Regionally Significant Economic Development Area” in Puslinch to mitigate the impact of potential Greenbelt expansion.

“There might be a different path for that special economic development area and staff want to pause that until we get some more information,” said Seeley.