Updated: Feb 26
Updated February 26, 2021
On February 18th the Richmond Hill Planning Staff hosted its first Official Plan Update Open House. If you were not able to attend the meeting you may view a recording of the Zoom meeting here.
The public has now been invited to complete a survey here to provide feedback on the Plan. The survey is open until March 4th.
We highly encourage you to watch the recording, if you were unable to attend, and to complete the survey. In this email we would like to offer our thoughts on the meeting and considerations for your input to the survey.
The first presentation of the meeting was from David Dixon, an urban expert and visionary from Stantec, a major urban design company. David spoke at length about urban design features which will attract the best talent in the future and how that in turn will lead to further job creation and economic success for the City. In particular he stressed the need for mixed use, vibrant communities with work and play in close proximity, enriched by cultural facilities and natural spaces. He also stressed the importance of close access to transit, especially subways.
The next presentation was from Patrick Lee, Director of Policy Planning at Richmond Hill who discussed the vision and "Pillars" of the 2041 Plan - namely Strong Sense of Belonging, Balancing Growth and Green, Getting Around the City and Fiscal Responsibility.
Both presentations offered an encouraging and exciting vision of the future and were very much inline with the city design concepts promoted by sustainable design experts - such as Dr Sarah Burch of the University of Waterloo and her presentation to York Region in 2019. The themes of intensification, community, walkability and natural spaces were all very welcome.
However, the devil is in the details and towards the end of Mr Lee's presentation some concerning details started to emerge which seemed to be very much in conflict with these overall themes. For example:
A major highrise development at Yonge/King Road, far from the core of the City. It appears that the City is intending to open up the entire Yonge corridor right up to King Road, which seems to be unnecessary when there is plenty of opportunity for intensification from Hwy 7 up to Elgin Mills. Such a development up at King/Bloomington would be very much reliant on car travel and out of character with the neighbourhood, conflicting with the above themes
The intention of the City to request the Provincial Government to allow the opening up for development of a substantial area of Oak Ridges Moraine protected lands near Gormley. On questioning, Mr Lee seemed to imply that the City is passively awaiting direction from the Province, but it is the City that is requesting this from the Province, so this seems a little disingenuous. It also goes against the recent messages from the Province that it intends to expand the greenbelt.
You may also want to consider the following in your response:
David Dixon mentioned that where intensification is happening prices will increase. Although there was a reference to the need for affordability there were no specifics. Lack of affordable housing has been raised as a concern by Richmond Hill residents for quite some time. Will intensification make Richmond Hill even less affordable for many?
Does the overall level of intensification and the height of some of the developments being proposed - such as the 40-50 storey towers at the Bernard KDA - serve the purpose of limiting sprawl? If working families with young children are forced out to the suburbs - due to lack of suitable or affordable housing in the inner core of the City, then this will potentially increase car usage and urban sprawl.
As density increases protecting the Greenbelt is even more important in terms of providing access to nature for residences of Richmond Hill. The Greenbelt also provides access to clean drinking water, local food, and the prevention of urban sprawl. It also provides habitat for threatened species. Developing the Greenbelt would lead to increased taxes related to infrastructure costs.
Has sufficient consideration been given to whether the level of intensification can be supported by services such as police, ambulance, schools, libraries, parks, community centres etc.?
We would ask you to consider these points when completing the survey so that we encourage the city in its direction of sustainable development without urban sprawl.
Posted February 11, 2021
Are you concerned about all the development that has been going on in Richmond Hill?
This is your chance to have your concerns heard.
The City of Richmond Hill is hosting a Virtual Open House on Feb 18th from 6.30pm to 8pm.
We would strongly encourage you to register for and attend this meeting to provide input to the Official Plan (OP) which will set the direction for the city's land use and growth up to 2041.
This is our opportunity to have our say on how the City's plan balances growth and intensification versus protection of farmland, natural spaces and especially the Oak Ridges Moraine protected areas.
We have been examining a presentation that was made to the City's Official Plan Committee, which is likely to be very similar to the material to be presented on Feb 18th. In doing so, we find a number of concerning features of this plan that we would like to draw to your attention to.
As you can see from the image that has been taken from the presentation (with our own numeric annotations added), there are a couple of general themes of the plan - intensification along the Yonge Street corridor (not necessarily in itself a bad thing) and increasing the boundary of the city to allow extra development/expansion into protect Oak Ridges Moraine lands (very concerning).
In particular we would draw your attention to the following sites as enumerated on the image:
Site 1. This is a planned high rise development at Yonge/King Road and up to Bloomington Road.
This would not be allowed under current regulations, but would be if the direction in the OP to allow the entire Yonge Street corridor as a Key Development Area were followed. Some might question why this might be a concern, when efficient transit-friendly intensification rather than sprawl is a good thing from an environmental point of view. However, it is our opinion that
It is not necessary to open up all the lands along the entire corridor now and this could easily siphon off market demand from areas south of 16th Ave where we should be building now by planning for much higher densities that are already close to reasonably good transit
If we do open up the entire corridor this could just lead to over supply of land for development leading to land speculation and more expensive housing if/when it eventually gets built.
The lack of transit infrastructure in that area will mean the need for car based travel rather than transit, which is one of the key reasons for intensification
The City's 2017 Official Plan already allowed for sufficient intensification within existing city boundaries - such as the Yonge and Carville/16th Key Development area, or Yonge/Hwy 7 (to be served by the subway extension by 2030), or in fact the entire Yonge St stretch up to Elgin Mills/Gamble - without the need for this level of development so far north.
Site 2. This is an area where Richmond Hill requested a Minister's Zoning Order from the Province to convert the Oak Ridges Moraine land to industrial use.
Fortunately the Province has rejected this particular request, however this parcel of land is still within area 3, see below. It is also concerning that the City appears to be making increasing use of requesting MZOs, which were originally intended to be used in exceptional cases, but are now being seen by the Province as a way to bypass public input and expert analysis. (See here a piece by Tim Gray of Environmental Defence on MZOs).
Site 3. The OP intends to request that the Province removes the protection of this Oak Ridges Moraine protected land, so it can be used as urban settlement land.
This is arguably the most controversial part of the plan, for these and other reasons:
More prime farmland used for development
The change in intensity of use of the land (development versus agricultural) will put pressure on other surrounding lands
Disconnected and expensive community to service with water, sewers, transit, and other services such as libraries, fire halls etc (i.e. urban sprawl)
These are some of the most concerning issues that we would see in the plan, but others might also argue that the Yonge/Bernard KDS (the other red oval on Yonge street in the above image), which is currently under review at the OMB, is also an excessive level of intensification for the city's needs. We would highly encourage you to study the presentation made to the Official Plan Committee, and to register and attend the Feb 18th Virtual Open House armed with some tough questions as to why this level of development is needed and who will be the primary beneficiaries of this - the residents of Richmond Hill or the developers?