County planning committee recommends reducing population intensification targets to 15% from 20%

WELLINGTON COUNTY – The local planning committee is recommending Wellington County council request an adjustment to population intensification targets set for this area by the province.

Following a presentation of a report on alternative density targets, part of the county’s ongoing official plan review, at its May 13 meeting, the committee recommended a request be made to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to approve an alternative intensification target of 15% for Wellington County.

“The current County Official Plan has an intensification target that requires at least 20% of all new residential units to be within built-up areas of Wellington’s urban centres annually over the 2022 to 2051 period. According to the Growth Plan (2020 consolidation), Wellington County is to maintain or improve upon this target, but may request a lower target,” explains county manager of planning and development Sarah Wilhelm in the report.

The report notes any such request must demonstrate:

–  the target cannot be achieved; and

– the alternative target will be appropriate given the size, location and capacity of the delineated built-up area.

There are 12 urban centres in Wellington County with built-up areas: Fergus and Elora/Salem in Centre Wellington; Erin Village and Hillsburgh in Erin; Rockwood in Guelph Eramosa; Drayton and Moorefield in Mapleton; Clifford, Harriston and Palmerston in Minto and Arthur and Mount Forest in Wellington North.

Aberfoyle and Morriston in Puslinch are designated urban areas under the official plan, but they do not have a delineated built-up area and don’t factor into the calculation.

Consultants Watson and Associates Economists determined that between 2016 to 2019 the county has generally achieved the minimum 20% intensification target during this period, but at differing rates across each municipality.

“The communities in Wellington are diverse and are not equally able to accommodate intensification at the same rate,” the report notes.

A draft housing forecast to 2051 within the built-up areas shows the intensification rate is expected to be below 20% over the forecast period for Erin, Mapleton and Minto.

“If some municipalities deliver less than 20 per cent, others would need to deliver more to meet the average,” Wilhelm told planning committee members at the meeting.

“That places a big burden on Centre Wellington in particular, because historically Centre Wellington has taken the largest share of growth and also delivered intensification. They’ve been able to meet the 20% over time, and we’re confident that they can continue to do that. But it would be difficult to exceed it,” Wilhelm added.

“There are some municipalities in the county that just don’t have the right circumstances. They have a small built up area, they don’t have a lot of land left in it, it would make it difficult to meet that 20% overall. So that’s why Watson has recommended that we make this request,” Wilhelm continued.

The report points out Fergus and Elora/Salem have the highest concentrations of designated built heritage resources in Wellington County and Centre Wellington has recently devoted “considerable resources” to study its cultural heritage landscapes.

“While it is possible to conserve cultural heritage resources and achieve the intensification target through well-designed development, Centre Wellington would need to significantly increase its rate of intensification for the county to continue to achieve the 20% annual housing minimum within the built-up area,” the report continues.

“I know we’ve hit our 20% intensification target, but barely, man, it’s been tough. I think we’d be supportive of this,” said Wellington County Warden and Centre Wellington Mayor Kelly Linton.

“It’s really tough … in the settlement areas to hit the various provincial target and then still maintain that small town feel that we’re trying to maintain,” he added.

“We kind of feel like we’re trying hard to do that, but if we get a little bit of relief for that I think we’d be supportive for sure,” Linton continued.

“I would echo the same concern for the village of Erin, because the latest projects that we’ve come forward, with the townhouses in the village, have brought up a lot of public comments,” said Erin Mayor Allan Alls, who chairs the planning committee.

The committee also recommended the report County Official Plan Review – Alternative Density Target be forwarded Wellington County member municipalities.