Land Use Planning 101
Land use planning influences how we live, shapes our communities and determines how our resources are used today as well as how our neighborhoods and landscapes will look and function in the future. Conscientious planning attempts to balance the interests of social, economic and environmental concerns as well as the concerns of individual property owners with the aspirations of the larger community.
The Duty to Consult First Nations in areas of land use is a core agreement and understanding that is embedded in the Constitution of Canada and validated by the Supreme of Canada and insists that land use development and change occurs only through consultation with First Nations; and which abide by the expressed rights of First Nations. Each First Nation community will have duty officers on staff to help with this process.
At a municipal level the Planning Act directs the land use planning system, and requires that land use planning integrates matters of Provincial interest by obliging all decision makers to be consistent for the Provincial Policy Statement. At this level municipal councils, First Nations, landowners, and the public play a direct and influential role in shaping our communities and our future.
The Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) serves as a guide for municipalities in the creation of their Official Plans and other planning tools, the key working documents of a community, by directing that cultural and environmentally sensitive features are protected.
Official Plans set the vision for a community by delineating areas of use and by outlining bylaws to protect features. Municipalities use information and data available through Land Information Ontario, ministries, and local knowledge to inform their Official Plans. Reference manuals and toolkits offer further guidance and clarification. Sometimes, council appoints environmental committees for guidance. Bylaws also may include requirements for environmental site assessments if a change in land use or a development may harm or alter the natural environment. Official plans are developed in consultation with the public, and Official Plan reviews, occurring regularly, are open to the public.
The Natural Heritage Reference Manual supplements The Provincial Policy Statement by highlighting natural values that warrant protection, including headwaters, recharge areas, habitats for species at risk; provincially significant wetlands, valleylands and wildlife areas. The Reference Manual also provides direction on how to protect and incorporate features within a natural heritage system.
The Ontario Heritage Toolkit provided by the Ministry of Culture is designed to help municipal councils, staff, committees, planners, professionals, and landowners qualify cultural sites and explains the conservation process. www.culture.gov.on.ca
Once passed, Official Plans are important documents. Amendments to the Official Plan and planning applications are decided by municipal councils and planning boards. When a municipality undertakes zoning, it is given independence to do so, but must identify and protect provincial interests. Sometimes, municipal council may delegate approval authority to a committee of council or senior staff.
Your municipal council must give you as much information as possible when preparing its official plan. Also it must hold at least one public meeting. Notification of the meeting must be posted at least 20 days ahead and is usually through local newspapers. This procedure is the same for changes to the Official Plan, zoning by law amendments and planning applications. Council meetings are open to the public, and opportunities for public input into decisions are afforded. Legislation that strengthens public involvement includes the Municipal Act, which provides more powers to municipalities to pass bylaws, but also ensures that local councils are accountable and that the processes for making decisions are transparent.
For undertakings by government ministries which may effect the environment, participation by the public in decisions is afforded by The Environmental Registry, under the directive set out in the Environmental Bill of Rights. Public notices are posted and may contain information about projects, proposed laws, programs or proposed alterations to existing ones. The public may post comments for consideration at this site. When final decisions are made, you will be given a summary of comments made and an assessment of the impact the comments had on the decision. You will also be told whether and how you can appeal and challenge the decision.
What you can do:
- You can monitor and comment on how your council handles development applications.
- Attend public meetings and share your perspective
- Promote your vision for your community by talking to neighbours and approaching council.
- Contribute information: document and report significant features, cultural assets and species at risk. Data is reviewed and with your approval included in ministry data sets and so made available to municipalities and proponents for planning and reviews.
- Form or join an official environmental or cultural advisory committee to council.
- See “Citizens Guides to Land-use Planning” at www.mah.gov.on.ca
- If you own property on a lake, initiate or participate in a lake plan. Lake Plans are often recognized by councils and incorporated into planning documents through enacting them as legal bylaws.
- Create a “Blue Community”
- Consider including greenspace or alternative designs in developments. These often increase property values. See “Ecomonic Benefits of Greenspace on Property Values” at www.suda.ca/articles.html
- Consider securing greenspace or cultural assets in your neighbourhood through individual or clustered Conservation Agreements.