Proposed amendments to county official plan sent to province for approval

GUELPH – Wellington County council passed the first amendment to its official plan as it continues working through the latest five-year review and a Municipal Comprehensive Review (MCR) process.

The review of the legally binding document – guiding long-term municipal planning and development, and last completed here in 2014 – was spurred on by significant changes to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and the Greenbelt Plan. Local policies in the county’s official plan must align with those of the province.

The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (currently Steve Clark) has the final say on whether updated local policy does in fact align with the province.

Clark assigned a July 2022 deadline to municipalities to bring official plans into compliance which will largely go unmet across the province. There’s also a provincial election underway, taking place the day this paper comes out, which could shake up cabinet.

No comments have been provided by the province on amendments proposed by county planners.

Technical work on the first of three phases of the review and MCR was started by Watson and Associates Land Economists in 2019, examining the county’s growth structure, essentially defining where growth can be focused. 

The first phase involves technical work surrounding growth structure, including population and employment forecasts. 

But because of the amount of work involved, the first phase is split into two parts, and another official plan amendment will be required to complete the first phase, getting forecasts and allocations into the plan.

In June and July last year, a phase one report was circulated in the community for feedback, with various reports, open houses and public meetings following between then and February of this year.

Proposed modifications to the county’s official plan included in the current amendment, known as Official Plan Amendment 119, involve basing the county’s growth structure and settlement hierarchy on servicing, a policy (and request) for a Regionally Significant Economic Development Study Area in Puslinch, recognizing employment areas for their protection, recognizing the existing historic rural settlement of Puslinch as a hamlet with extended boundaries, and other minor “housekeeping” changes. 

Growth structure changes

Revised official plan forecasts for the county anticipate a minimum of 160,000 people and 70,000 jobs by 2051, representing an increase of 20,000 people and 9,000 jobs from 2041 forecasts in the current plan.

Two systems – an urban and a rural – are being used to direct forecasted growth.

The urban system, consisting of 12 primary urban centres would see the majority of growth ahead of the rural system.

That’s because the province’s Growth Plan requires most growth be allocated to areas where municipal water/wastewater services already exist.

To reflect that priority, current urban centres throughout all municipalities, with the exception of Puslinch, were reclassified as “primary urban centres” – distinguishing them from those unserviced.

The rural system in the county includes two secondary urban centres, 37 hamlets and other rural lands – all to see the lower levels of growth than urban centres.

Aberberfoyle and Morriston, both unserviced without a stream to receive treated effluent, are designated “secondary urban centres” and would be placed into the rural system with limited growth.

Within the rural system, secondary urban centres and hamlets outside of the Greenbelt Area would be recognized as “rural settlement areas.” 

Morriston, within the Greenbelt Area, would not be considered a rural settlement area to allow for it to be considered a town or village.

Hamlets within the Greenbelt would still be considered rural settlement areas.

Puslinch and the Greenbelt

The amendment seeks to recognize the existing historic hamlet of Puslinch, and requests the area to be removed from proposed expansion under the Greenbelt Plan.

A proposal by Bryan’s Farm and Industrial Supply to expand the hamlet’s boundary to include additional lands has been endorsed by county planners, considering the existing operation is within a historical draft boundary of the hamlet.

County planners have also recommended the hamlet boundary be extended farther west to include lands up to the intersection of Concession 1 and the Highway 6 bypass.

Highways 401 and 6 are part of the Provincial Strategic Goods Movement Network within the Greater Golden Horseshoe and the province’s Growth Plan calls for such transportation networks to be incorporated into municipal land use planning, specifically within employment areas.

But the province has a request from the county to permit the study of a Regionally Significant Economic Development Area (RSEDA) along Highway 401 and 6 in Puslinch and remove the area from planned protection under the Greenbelt Plan.

The reasoning goes that inclusion in the plan would prevent what little potential there is in Puslinch for economic growth.

If the study were approved, a transportation analysis, servicing strategy, and an agricultural and environmental review would follow to help define the exact study area.

The Hamilton Conservation Authority has expressed it is not supportive of the removal of the RSEDA from the Greenbelt Plan.

Removal of policy

County planning officials have called for the removal of section 6.4.7 from the official plan, which currently allows for limited infilling in unmapped rural settlements in prime and secondary agricultural areas. 

According to county planners, the policy no longer agrees with the province, which prohibits new settlement areas, lot creation for new residences in prime agricultural areas, and limits residential development in rural areas.

The proposed removal drew concerns from Minto, the only municipality so far to submit comments regarding the official plan amendment.

“The town opposes removal of section 6.4.7, rural settlements, from the County Official Plan because council prefers that they continue to be recognized and to allow for minor infilling and rounding out,” states a report from county policy planning manager Sarah Wilhelm.

In response to Minto’s feedback, planners continue to propose removal of the old policy item, but have added a “rural cluster” policy, specific to secondary agricultural areas, that would allow for new lots to be created.

“Rural clusters are long-established, small groups of housing with occasional commercial, industrial or institutional uses located in the secondary agricultural area designation,” states the proposed policy. 

The rural cluster policy would apply to Minto, Puslinch and Erin – the municipalities with secondary agricultural area designations.

Council adopted Official Plan Amendment 119 at a May 26 meeting and a report on the amendment will be sent to Clark for approval.

Phase two of the MCR and the five-year review, reconciling the true land availability in the county with the province’s growth objectives, is currently underway with a report to come back to county committee and council in the fall or early new year.

Phase three, with no reasonable timeline available, will examine redesignations within primary urban centres and settlement boundary expansions.

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