Town continues investigating options for Palmerston boundary expansion

MINTO – Council here continues looking for ways to accomplish an expansion of the Palmerston urban boundary.

Pursing an extension of the urban boundary of Palmerston was among the recommendations agreed to by Minto town council following the presentation of a growth report on July 2.

The province’s growth plan indicates an expectation Minto will grow by 3,745 people by 2041. That translates into 1,330 new homes. The provincial plan, updated in 2019, specifies municipalities such as Minto in the “outer ring” of the Greater Golden Horseshoe that have excess lands designated for development, may now use some tools in the new plan to adjust the amount of land within their urban boundary. This new provision gives flexibility for rural municipalities like Minto to expand urban boundaries in a settlement area like Palmerston by decreasing the size of another settlement area.

In July, council directed staff and Triton Engineering to meet with the county to further implement the North Clifford Secondary Plan and West Palmerston Secondary Plan as outlined in the report.

Over the summer, Triton Engineering worked with staff to prepare a draft official plan amendment that would add 201 acres to Palmerston’s urban boundary. The draft would expand the urban boundary, using exemption policies in the 2019 Growth Plan, as follows: 

– five hectares (12 acres) added along Brunswick and Lett Street to provide municipal services to serviced settlement area north of the urban area;

– 59 hectares (146 acres) of agricultural land on two farms abutting the urban boundary east of the Palmerston Industrial Park west of White’s Junction Trail; and 

-17.5 hectares (43 acres) to provide municipal services to un-serviced settlement area abutting the west of the Palmerston Industrial Park east of Highway 23. 

A report from Triton Engineering senior planner Bill White presented at the Oct. 15 council meeting explains the first two proposed boundary expansions “round-out” two un-serviced sections of rural settlement area beside Palmerston. The urban boundary expansion outlined in the third section would require certain undevelopable lands be subtracted from the 100 acres land area and/or a matching decrease in settlement area elsewhere.

“There is a possibility of swapping land,” said CAO Chris Harrow, “meaning lands you have identified as residential or future development or industrial … you can swap those land from one part of your municipality to another.”

Town staff and Triton have looked at potential areas to remove from the urban boundary of Clifford, including over 150 acres of lands inside the urban boundary associated with the Clifford lagoons. Town staff suggest these be the first lands to come out of the urban boundary, as it is municipally-owned property that is not developable. 

“This, plus a standard 100-acre expansion, clearly allowed under the new Growth Plan, would support the needed boundary expansion in Palmerston,” the report states.

However CAO Chris Harrow advised council that earlier in the day on Oct. 15 the county had advised the proposed land swap involving the lagoon lands would not be allowed under county planning practices, as the parcel has already been designated as industrial.

“We keep hitting different bumps in the road trying to get this where we want it to go,” said Harrow. “We need a boundary expansion done in Palmerston … We need to get as much of that Heinmiller subdivision inside the urban boundary as possible.”

Harrow pointed out the lagoon land swap would have allowed an expanded urban area large enough to encompass the Heinmiller subdivision and several other proposed growth areas.

However councillor Judy Dirksen raised concerns about reducing the Clifford urban area.

“I’m concerned about swapping because, sure, right now Palmerston seems to be where it’s at for development, but we’ve had phenomenal growth and development in Clifford. And Clifford is not that far from the Bruce (Bruce Power), so that could be the other reason why Clifford might continue to develop. So I just feel like we might be tying our hands if we say we want to do this swap,” she cautioned.

Harrow said staff and Triton are also exploring a proposal within Bill 108 the More Homes, More Choice Act, which received Royal Assent in June, that allow municipalities to expand their settlement area boundaries provided that the amount of land being added to the settlement area is not more than 40 hectares.

However, he noted, “Everybody’s not sure how that works yet.” 

The CAO also noted staff were recommending conducting studies aimed at allowing reduction of a required 500-metre setback from the former Palmerston land fill site.

“It is estimated this study will cost about $10,000. Based on a very preliminary assessment it is likely the 500-metre setback can be reduced significantly, but it is important this be confirmed to ensure that almost half of the West Palmerston Secondary Plan area can be developed,” the Triton report notes.

Mayor George Bridge explained the town is under pressure from developers who want to build in Palmerston, which is why it is working on boundary expansion ahead of the next county official plan review in two years’ time.

“What we’re trying to do is, we have so much pressure on us right now, with people coming at us in Palmerston for a bunch of reasons: the TG Minto expansion, MSW and what we’re doing in the Industrial Park, we need to get housing there,” said Bridge. “With the lagoon lands, there was a hope, because there’s no way anybody’s going to develop those.”

  The mayor pointed out, “If we have to wait for the two years and the official plan, then we’re up against  things like Erin, with 8,000 new homes coming because they’re hopefully going to have sewer and water.”

The mayor noted the county will only be allotted a certain amount of housing units by the province and “everybody will have to play in the same sandbox.”

Bridge continued,  “I think you just plow forward. This is just an update of where we’re at. But I’ll tell you right now we’ve got people knocking on the door in Palmerston that want to do something sooner than later, and if we miss those opportunities I think the county would be pretty short-sighted, given the fact that they get a lot of the revenue.”

 “Do you think those rules will ever change for expansion?” asked councillor Mark MacKenzie. “Here’s our upper tier and we want to expand and they’re limiting us. Do you think this government, or the next one, maybe, with enough pressure, changes those rules?”

“The best shot now is with our current provincial government, with the way they’re supposed to be relaxing rules, that we’re going to have the best opportunity now to expand,” replied Harrow.

“But it could depend on how the official plan amendments go too and how much we’re going to get awarded there,” Harrow added. 

“That’s the reason we started this whole secondary plan, so that we can put our best foot forward and say we’re ready.” 

Council accepted the report from Triton Engineering and authorized staff to continue investigating the lagoon land swap and other options. Staff was also directed to proceed with soil testing aimed at reducing the landfill setback.