‘Envision Durham’ Official Plan approved, highlighted by Pickering Airport support and 9,100 new acres for development

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Published May 26, 2023 at 11:53 am

Durham Region approved their blueprint for the future last week with the revised Envision Durham, a planning document that is supposed to guide the region for the next three decades.

Envision Durham is a “complete refresh” of the Official Plan, which is more than 30 years old, and is the new GPS for planners and elected officials to guide the long-term development of Durham.

It’s also the result of detailed study and extensive consultation with residents, stakeholders, area municipal staff, conservation authorities and others, with more than 50 written submissions and 300-plus emails presented as part of the public process.

It was also made abundantly clear at those public meetings that not everybody was pleased with the results.

Environmentalists made plenty of appearances in the council chambers, with the National Farmers Union and Stop Sprawl Durham urging the Region to “abandon” its expansion of Durham’s urban boundaries.

Residents made their voices heard, with several Oshawa citizens expressing concern about the planned Rossland Road extension and former Ajax Mayor Steve Parish taking the stand to talk about the adverse effects of building near the Carruthers Creek headwaters.

But supporters of the Pickering Airport, a project that has been on the books for more than half a century, were happy because the Region re-affirmed its support for the proposal, though the Region’s support and Pickering’s refusal to do the same at a recent meeting will have little impact on the ultimate decision expected in a dozen years or so.

Developers got a few things they wanted but not all and dozens made public pleas for lands to be added to the developable ‘whitebelt’ in Brooklin, north Oshawa, Ajax, Port Perry and even Newcastle. One consultant, Matthew Cory of Malone Given Parsons, appeared as a delegate for several different developers, including the North East Pickering Landowners Group, a group of deep pocketed developers who have offered to donate land to the City of Pickering for a new hospital.

Something had to give, with Durham Region expected to nearly double in population to 1.3 million by 2051 while adding more than 200,000 new jobs. In the end Durham’s urban boundaries were expanded by some 9,100 acres to accommodate future growth, the vast majority in the Region’s whitebelt lands, which are designated for commercial or residential development.

The lands in Clarington and Pickering removed from the Greenbelt by the province late last year are considered a Special Study Area and the Airport Lands – or what’s left of them after some were used to create the Rouge Urban Park on the Pickering-Scarborough border – are also off limits for development, for now.

Regional planners and councillors will use the revised Envision Durham Official Plan to provide policies related to Durham’s growth and development and to lay the foundation for the planning and delivery of growth-related infrastructure and financing.

The purpose of the document is to show where future growth should go and not go and it outlines what types of uses should go where, and at what density and scale. It also sets out how this growth should occur and outlines the studies and considerations that need to take place before new development can happen and informs Council’s future decision-making on infrastructure (water and sewer, roads, transit, etc.) and capital spending.

The controversial More Homes Built Faster Act (Bill 23) will be challenging for future decision making, noted Brian Bridgeman, Durham’s Planning and Economic Development Commissioner, who said provisions of the legislation would remove planning responsibilities from the Region and Durham Region would technically “cease to have an Official Plan.”

Bridgeman said having an Official Plan is “vital” to ensure development is coordinated. “The future proclamation of Bill 23 as it relates to the role of upper-tier planning and the (Official Plan) will pose distinct challenges to planning, as well as coordinating services and infrastructure as Durham strives to meet its future growth demands.”

Bill 23 is expected to be ratified by the winter of 2024 or later.

Envision Durham was approved by a 20-6 margin, with Pickering councillors Maurice Brenner and Linda Cook – staunch opponents of the proposed airport – among the naysayers. Also voting no was John Neal (Oshawa), Sterling Lee (Ajax) and both Brock representatives, Mayor Walter Schummer and Regional Councillor Michael Jubb.

For more information visit Envision Durham

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