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New Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe - Conversion of Lands within Employment Areas

May 25, 2017

The new Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2017 (the “Growth Plan, 2017”) takes effect on July 1, 2017.  The Growth Plan, 2017 replaces the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006 (the “Growth Plan, 2006”) and applies to the area designated as the Greater Golden Horseshoe growth plan area by Ontario Regulation 416/05.

Employment Areas and Prime Employment Areas

The Growth Plan, 2017 continues to define “employment area” as “areas designated in an official plan for clusters of business and economic activities including, but not limited to, manufacturing, warehousing, offices, and associated retail and ancillary facilities. (PPS, 2014)”.

The Growth Plan, 2017 also introduces a new “prime employment area” designation.  “Prime employment area” is defined as “areas of employment within settlement areas that are designated in an official plan and protected over the long-term for uses that are land extensive or have low employment densities and require locations that are adjacent to or near major goods movement facilities and corridors. These uses include manufacturing, warehousing, and logistics, and appropriate associated uses and ancillary facilities.” 

Conversion of Lands within Employment Areas and Prime Employment Areas

Similar to the Growth Plan, 2006, the Growth Plan, 2017 requires a “municipal comprehensive review” prior to a conversion.  Policy 2.2.5.9 of the Growth Plan, 2017 provides as follows:

“The conversion of lands within employment areas or prime employment areas to non-employment uses may be permitted only through a municipal comprehensive review where it is demonstrated that:

a)         there is a need for the conversion;

b)         the lands are not required over the horizon of this Plan for the employment purposes for which they are designated;

c)         the municipality will maintain sufficient employment lands to accommodate forecasted employment growth to the horizon of this Plan;

d)         the proposed uses would not adversely affect the overall viability of the employment area or prime employment area or the achievement of the minimum intensification and density targets in this Plan, as well as the other policies of this Plan; and

e)         there are existing or planned infrastructure and public service facilities to accommodate the proposed uses.”

There is a significant difference, however, in how a “municipal comprehensive review” is defined in the Growth Plan, 2017.

Unlike the Growth Plan, 2006 which defines a “municipal comprehensive review” as “an official plan review, or an official plan amendment, initiated by a municipality that comprehensively applies the policies and schedules of this Plan”, the Growth Plan, 2017 defines a “municipal comprehensive review” as “a new official plan, or an official plan amendment, initiated by an upper- or single-tier municipality under section 26 of the Planning Act that comprehensively applies the policies and schedules of this Plan” [underlining added].

Major Retail Uses

The Growth Plan, 2017 provides more specific policy direction than the Growth Plan, 2006 regarding “major retail” uses in “employment areas”.  It also introduces a definition of “major retail”.

“Major retail” is defined in the Growth Plan, 2017 as “large-scale or large-format stand-alone retail stores or retail centres that have the primary purpose of commercial activities”.

With respect to “major retail” in “employment areas”, policy 2.2.5.7 provides that:

“Municipalities will plan for all employment areas within settlement areas, with the exception of any prime employment areas, by:

b) prohibiting major retail uses or establishing a size or scale threshold for any major retail uses that are permitted and prohibit any major retail uses that would exceed that threshold”.

Accordingly, for any “major retail” uses that are permitted in “employment areas”, a municipality should establish a size or scale threshold for such uses.

For any change to an official plan to permit new or expanded opportunities for “major retail” in an “employment area”, policy 2.2.5.11 of the Growth Plan, 2017 provides as follows:

“Any change to an official plan to permit new or expanded opportunities for major retail in an employment area may occur only through a municipal comprehensive review undertaken in accordance with policy 2.2.5.9.”

With respect to areas that may be identified by municipalities as “prime employment areas”, policy 2.2.5.8 of the Growth Plan, 2017 provides that municipalities may plan for their protection for appropriate employment uses over the long-term by, among other things, “prohibiting retail and office uses that are not associated with or ancillary to the primary employment use”.  According to the Backgrounder issued by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs on May 18, 2017, “major retail cannot be located in these [prime employment] areas”.

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Related Blog Posts:

Province Releases Updated Provincial Plans

New Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe - Employment Strategies

Author(s): Sharmini Mahadevan

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