Councillors in Norfolk County have voted to add over 1,300 acres of farmland to the urban boundary, paving the way for future growth that is not welcome by all residents of the rural municipality.

Last month, developers proposed opening up 1,354 acres on the outskirts of Delhi, Simcoe, Courtland and Waterford for new housing and commercial space.

That left some residents worried about the effects of seeing Norfolk’s population swell by almost 30,000 to 92,700 by 2051, as predicted by Watson and Associates Economists.

“We need to minimize the loss (of farmland) and start building skyward,” Thea Meade of Waterford told councillors inside a packed Simcoe town hall on May 22.

Paving over prime agricultural land was a repeated concern from residents, who also fear environmental degradation, traffic chaos and further taxing Norfolk’s already-stretched health-care system, child care programs and emergency services.

Amie Duckers presented a petition signed by 1,329 Waterford-area residents opposing two large proposed subdivisions that Duckers predicted will “immerse Waterford in more than 20 years of significant construction.”

She asked council to defer the decisions on the boundary expansion and study how Norfolk can “allow for sustainable growth without sacrificing our small-town charm.”

“I think the integrity of our community will be strained,” Coun. Kim Huffman said of adding even more houses to Norfolk’s fastest-growing town.

“Waterford will be under complete development fatigue and constantly in a state of flux.” 

But some councillors stressed the positives of a bigger population.

“I understand the apprehensions, but a lot of it’s been speculation about the worst possible outcome of doing this,” said Coun. Adam Veri.

“All these terrible things might happen. Or we might end up with the answers to a lot of the concerns we have in Norfolk County.”

A bigger population could mean more services, infrastructure and funding from upper levels of government, Veri said.

“I know change is hard,” he said. “It’s a huge deal. But with this growth is going to come opportunities.”

Adding industrial and residential land to the tax base will not transform Norfolk tomorrow, but over 25 years — just in time for the next generation to make decisions about their future, Coun. Linda Vandendriessche said.

“They cannot stay in Norfolk if they have no place to work and no place to live,” she said.

“I don’t want our municipal taxes to increase because we haven’t made any urban boundary changes.”

Residents who spoke against development “almost give us the impression that nobody wants it in their own backyard,” Vandendriessche added.

“At the end of the day, we do have to grow,” she said.

“We can’t stay stagnant. We can’t move backwards. We have to have a future plan.”

Planning staff said Norfolk needs 294 acres of new residential land and 129 acres of employment land to allow for the construction of 9,600 new homes.

But developers persuaded councillors to include more land with promises of amenities like shops and restaurants, schools and clinics, and a new hospital for Simcoe.

Mayor Amy Martin said the provincially mandated boundary review was Norfolk’s chance to craft a “reasonable” growth plan and stop approving homes “in a piecemeal fashion.”

“Our residents deserve a proactive approach” that puts Norfolk in a stronger position to attract investment dollars from upper levels of government, Martin said, noting the development proposals encompass 0.34 per cent of the county’s existing farmland.

Chief administrative officer Al Meneses reminded councillors a municipality cannot legally refuse to grow.

Instead, Meneses said Norfolk should strategically plan for an influx of new residents thanks to the county’s proximity to the Greater Toronto Area and major industrial projects planned for southwest Ontario.

“Growth is going to come to Norfolk whether we want it or not,” Meneses said.

Some residents grumbled they were given scant notice of April’s public meeting, where deputations were made almost exclusively by developers and their agents.

Last week, councillors heard from 17 deputations and reviewed written submissions from residents either flatly against growth or who urged a balanced approach that would see new houses built where they make the most sense.

Coun. Doug Brunton acknowledged residents’ dissatisfaction with the urban boundary expansion.

“I, for one, am not very happy with what we’ve decided,” the Simcoe representative told his fellow councillors.

“Queen’s Park doesn’t run my idea of how our community should develop. It’s the people in this room that make that decision.”

The bylaw to amend Norfolk’s official plan and expand the urban boundary passed 7-2, with Brunton and Huffman opposed.

The proposed changes require provincial approval, and that could take time. Neighbouring Haldimand County waited about 18 months for the green light from Queen’s Park to change their official plan.

By J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 29, 2024 at 09:45

This item reprinted with permission from   The Spectator   Hamilton, Ontario
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