After months of advertising and advocating for her highly controversial plan to rezone 12 parcels of land for the construction of 35,000 new homes, Caledon Mayor Annette Groves has gone quiet. 

At the last of four public information meetings demanded by frustrated residents who were blindsided by the mayor’s snap decision, Groves said she was not prepared to answer any questions about how she plans to get Council approval for the largest development proposal in the municipality’s history.

While she remained quiet, staff at times let their guard down, providing insight to residents armed with a well of questions about the unprecedented move by Groves.

When asked if the Town even has the capacity to grow this rapidly, limited by its number of staff and bureaucratic capabilities, Eric Lucic, Commissioner of Planning for Caledon, responded, “We’re getting there,” admitting that two senior planning positions are currently unfilled.

At one of the previous public meetings Town staff acknowledged mistakes in the mapping that was used to show where the 12 development parcels are located, and it was explained that project design should not have included spaces outside the urban boundary area. 

These types of errors, and the troubling fact that at least ten of the twelve proposed bylaws do not conform with regional and provincial policies/legislation, have raised questions about the viability of Groves’ haphazard plan, which was created by a development lawyer who is also representing a property owner group seeking to construct homes in one of the parcels.

Responding to a question from former mayor Allan Thompson (who did not see eye to eye with Groves) Lucic also acknowledged that zoning to meet the goals of her proposed bylaws cannot even be done yet, because the updated Regional Official Plan has not been approved.

“Right now the Official Plan rests with the Region of Peel,” he said. “We’re going through a period with the transition of the Region of Peel, so we’re seeking that clarification about what’s going to happen, whether the Region will continue to be an approval agency for that, or whether it will be the Province.” He said Caledon is “hoping to figure out” who has the authority. “But you’re correct, actually, I believe you can’t enact the zoning until the Peel OP comes into play, because then it would conflict with the Official Plan.” 

Groves is attempting to rezone 12 parcels of land, almost tripling the number of new units required by the PC government as part of its housing pledge, which would more than double Caledon’s population. 

Under Bill 23, the Town has been asked to approve the construction of 13,000 homes to help the PCs reach their goal of 1.5 million new homes by 2031. In 2023, it was estimated that 953 housing starts began in Caledon. The PC target would require about twice as many. Groves’ target would require almost six times more starts each year. 

Recent data has shown Ontario, including the GTA, is nowhere close to these targets, as new home starts have actually fallen in recent years

These realities have raised numerous questions about the capacity that would be required to meet Groves’ plan to build 35,000 new homes, which is ten thousand more than the total number of private dwellings in Caledon as of 2021, according to that year’s Census, which showed 24, 795 units across the whole municipality. 

Residents have asked how Caledon plans to hire enough staff to manage the growth of what would effectively be an entire new, larger municipality than the existing one. And where are the labour crews, contractors, and all the other workers that would be needed to construct a mid-size city from farm fields?

Taxpayers across the province have been asking the Doug Ford government how it plans to fund the hundreds of billions of dollars needed for infrastructure to support 1.5 million new homes in a little more than seven years.

Lucic acknowledged Monday that the Town of Caledon cannot force developers to start building homes, they can only be approved. If there are constraints, such as a lack of workers or financing, projects can languish on the drawing board for years.

Residents asked what the Town is willing to give away in incentives to motivate developers who want to build in Caledon. 

Lucic said “we cannot do guarantees”, but Carmen Caruso, a senior planner at the Town, said “Caledon will plan Caledon” ensuring that most of the construction will be the type of housing residents and the municipality want, not just what is most profitable for developers.

“There’s always discussion about what’s affordable or otherwise. But affordable housing is a big part of this, this will be dealt with through secondary planning,” Mayor Groves said at a previous public meeting held in Bolton on May 23.

Caledon is not known for affordable housing. Janet Eagleson, manager of Public Affairs at the Town, who has hosted the public meetings, said two weeks ago in Alton that she herself cannot afford to live in Caledon, despite an annual salary, according to the Sunshine List, of over $130,000.

Residents have asked for an explanation about why Groves is trying to push through her new zoning bylaws before secondary planning has been done. Eagleson said, “at the root of all of it is to allow for infrastructure to be planned, and to signal readiness to an industry that we need to partner with in order to deliver on housing. That answer may not satisfy people in the room, it may or may not satisfy some, I don’t know. But at the end of the day, that is as direct an answer as I can provide you.”

It was a public relations response from a communications staffer, instead of a planning explanation from one of the expert staff in attendance.

Victor Doyle, a registered professional planner with over 30 years of experience best known as the architect of the Greenbelt, previously told The Pointer following a community-led meeting on the bylaws in April that allowing zoning to occur before secondary planning is “irresponsible” and does not follow “industry-led advice”.

It is unknown whether this is the reason that the Mayor chose to hire outside consultants to do her dirty work. The first draft of the bylaws, which appeared on the March 26 agenda as an item of communication, were written by Quinto Annibale, a municipal lawyer from the firm Loopstra Nixon. Grave concerns about a conflict of interest have been circulating as it is public knowledge that Mr. Annibale also works for the Bolton North Landowners Group, who is the developer on one of the parcels included in the bylaws. 

Amid public backlash, the Mayor and Town staff committed to holding the four public information meetings, allowing residents to hear from their elected leaders and Town representatives. 

Residents are pleading with Groves to start the process over and do it properly.

“The Ontario Planning Act says that before passing a bylaw, the Council shall ensure that sufficient information and material is made available to enable the public to understand generally the zoning proposal that has been considered by the council,” Cheryl Connors, a Caledon resident, read from the Government of Ontario website. “I just would like to generally make a statement that that has not occurred.”

Other residents, including Joanna Valerini, said the information that has been received from the Town has not been transparent. Residents asked how Groves’ plan to push the construction of 35,000 new homes will affect Caledon taxpayers. The only response was that there are too many factors to accurately predict what the cost to taxpayers will be.

“I think you can tell me what the five-year plan is. And then we can move from there. We have numbers up there saying we can project this revenue, but I can’t tell you how much money we’re spending. That’s like [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau saying the budget will balance itself. It’s not happening,” Valerini said.

Groves recently promised to hold off on bringing forward the bylaws again until at least September, but on Monday, she refused to commit to any of the other demands by residents.

“I’m asking the mayor specifically, if she’s prepared to commit to unbundling these, go back to the draft. We need a draft, we need a completed Growth Management Phasing Plan, that provides that big picture plan in general. We don’t have that,” Debbe Crandall, one of the founders of Democracy Caledon, said. “The mayor was prepared on April 30 to go forward with a vote on these minority rules without the information available. So will you commit to that, Mayor Groves?”

Her answer: “I’m not committing to anything at this point in time.”

Email: rachel.morgan@thepointer.com

Twitter: @rachelnadia_

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By Rachel Morgan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 17, 2024 at 06:32

This item reprinted with permission from   The Pointer   Mississauga, Ontario
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