Keeping Up With Urban Sprawl in Mississauga

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Today, the City of Mississauga is the sixth-largest city in Canada and the third-largest in Ontario next to Toronto and Ottawa. While it's still getting bigger, Mississauga is growing more slowly as it matures.

Projections from the long-term forecast for 2008 to 2031 suggest there will be fewer young families migrating into Mississauga and a greater proportion of older adults as baby boomers reach the age of retirement. This will mean smaller household sizes, the forecast says.

While the city will continue to grow, the pace of growth will slow down to about 0.5 per cent annually as Mississauga transitions from a rapidly-growing greenfield community to a maturing community.

This could put less pressure on Mississauga as the city reaches a state of build out, or in other words runs out of new space to develop. It's inventory of land for detached dwellings, in particular, is becoming exhausted. Building has by no means stopped, though, with new townhomes in the works for Streetsville and condos in the Erin Mills area at Eglinton and Erin Mills Parkway as two examples. These are examples of what's known as "infill development," where already developed but underutilized land is built up further.

A 2015 report by BS Partnership and Mark L. Dorfman, Planner Inc., Comprehensive Infill Guideline, says infill development is a more cost-effective approach to urban growth.

"Existing infrastructure is better utilized through infill development and public service costs such as sidewalks, water and sewer, and public safety (fire, hospital, and police) tend to be lowered. It also can assist a community in achieving thresholds of population density necessary for amenities involving park space and community services."

The East Credit, Hurontario and Cooksville planning districts are projected to have the most people. Cooksville is expected to experience the greatest population increase, with a projected increase of about 29 per cent by 2031. The City Centre, meanwhile, has the highest population density.

Almost 70 per cent of projected growth will be concentrated in five areas: City Centre, Cooksville, Central Erin Mills, Churchill Meadows and Hurontario. The areas of Malton, Erindale and Meadowvale, meanwhile, have little room for development.

Mississauga has also made room for many businesses. According to a profile of the city updated in March this year, downtown Mississauga has four-million square feet of office space and over 60 acres of land ready for development.

According to the long-term forecast, the city's employment districts have fewer residents, and it's expected even fewer will live within them in the future.

Overall, growth will continue toward the one-million mark.

"According to Mississauga's growth forecast, Mississauga's population will grow from 723,000 persons in 2008 to 812,000 persons in 2031, an increase of 89,000 persons or 12.3 [per cent]."

More recent numbers from the 2016 census provide further evidence of this trend. Mississauga's population increased by 8,156 residents, or 1.1 per cent, from 713,443 in 2011 to 721,599 in 2016.

Land Use Reform

As Mississauga grows, the province is announcing reforms to land use planning which will mean greater decision-making power for cities across the province.

The provincial government recently announced a plan to replace the long-standing Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) with a Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT). The Ministry of Municipal Affairs for the Wynne government says this move will empower communities to make their own decisions about development.

According to a recent Ontario press release, bringing in the new independent provincial body will eliminate "de novo" hearings for most planning appeals. Such hearings consider an appealed land use decision as a new issue, disregarding any prior decisions by a municipality.

The legislation, expected to pass given the Wynne government's majority, would also introduce a Local Planning Appeal Support Centre. The new agency would provide free information and support, including representation at the tribunal, for citizens appealing a municipal land use decision.

The changes follow a consultation paper released in October 2016 as well as public consultations held by the province.

"The updated plans are based on the more than 42,000 submissions we received during the two rounds of consultation … 17 town halls, 12 open houses and six technical briefings attended by approximately 4,600 people," said Conrad Spezowka, spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Housing and Municipal Affairs. The government also received 87 recommendations from an advisory panel chaired by David Crombie, and input from First Nations and Metis communities.

A common concern, Spezowka said, is protection for farmland, clean water sources, forests and open space, notably in the Greenbelt region. Participants also expressed support for mixed-use and transit-friendly communities.

The province plans to direct urban growth to existing settlement areas in order to ensure mixed-use development in compact communities, he added. In other words, the province is supportive of further infill development as an alternative to sprawl because the former keeps communities more close-knit.

For those concerned about "NIMBYism", where residents may see a given land use project as necessary but not want it in their own "backyard", Spezowka said the proposed changes such as creation of the LPAT maintain a balance.

"This proposed [change] in day-to-day planning decisions would allow communities to plan and address issues such as urban sprawl and growth management in a manner which also balances unique local circumstances," said Spezowka. "While this proposed change acknowledges the importance of local empowerment, it does so under the continued guidance of provincial plans and policies [in the Planning Act]."

If the proposed legislation is passed, the LPAT's role would be to make sure municipalities follow those guidelines. It will, however, be less able and inclined to go as far as sending municipalities such as Mississauga, or Peel Region, back to the drawing board.

"When a matter is appealed to the proposed new Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, the government is proposing changes that would provide greater deference to municipal decisions and limit the ability of the new tribunal to overturn municipal decisions, "Spezowka said.

"Proposed changes will provide communities with a stronger voice in the land use planning process."

A spokesperson for developer Daniels, which has led development projects in the Erin Mills area and throughout Ontario, declined to comment.

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