February 26 2014

Consortium of Developers Wins Urban Boundary Dispute in Waterloo, Ontario

The Region of Waterloo, a regional municipality located in Southern Ontario, created an Official Plan that sets growth and density targets over the next twenty years. With the goal of intensification, the region limited urban boundary expansions to only seventy to eighty-five hectares from 2011 to 2031. In response, a consortium of developers took the region to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), a judicial body that rules on disputes over planning in the province of Ontario. The appeal succeeded, with the OMB ruling in the developers’ favour, opening up 1,053 hectares of land for low-density development. Concerned citizens, conservationists and proponents of smart growth were mobilized, determined to stop the sprawl. Naturally, the region has submitted a counter appeal, hoping to overturn this decision.

The presence of institutions of higher learning and tech companies have attracted many talented individuals to the region and contributed to a booming population forecasted to increase from the current estimates of 559,000 to almost 740,000 by 2030. For supporters of sprawl, low density development could be the quick and economical solution to the issue of housing the region’s growing population. However, they must not fail to acknowledge the long-term consequences associated with the effects of suburban sprawl.

Without laws to limit development to existing built-up areas, developers will continue to build further out of city limits. The lack of financial incentives to build in the downtown area could lead to a dearth of different housing choices, especially ones that cater to families. This could exacerbate the exodus to the suburbs by families, as property and land values soar in the downtown areas. Existing housing units might be snapped up by millennials, who are marrying and having children later in life. A downtown lifestyle, where walkability and proximity to work and amenities are key, is their preferred option.

Uptown Waterloo

A family living in the suburbs might be at a disadvantage compared to a family living downtown. The increased dependence on the car as the primary mode of transportation means higher transportation costs, especially as gas prices continues to soar. They might also lack ease of access to better employment opportunities that are located in the city.

Uptown Waterloo

Sprawl development could cause the region of Waterloo’s ION light rail transit (LRT) system to struggle to achieve target ridership as the population will be too spread out over the region. If this happens, the public transit system might not be sustainable financially, relying on subsidies from the government. Other financial costs related to sprawl include the costs of building roads and expressways to link the suburbs to the city. Furthermore, the municipalities will have to incur costs to construct new water and sewer pipes to provide service to the new homes out in the suburbs.

The debate about sprawl is a toss-up between short term economic growth and immediate results versus long term sustainability issues which might not be apparent in the short run. Is it prudent for the region to limit growth outside the existing urban boundaries? Will it be seen as limiting the region’s growth and prosperity, especially as development could leap-frog to surrounding cities and regions? What do you think?

Credits: Images by Becky Loi. Data linked to sources.

Becky Loi

Becky Loi is a recent graduate from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, with a Bachelors of Environmental Studies, Honours Planning. An extension of her childhood obsession for houses, her current passion lies in real-estate development, sustainable building construction, and public policies for affordable housing. Her interest in writing about local issues was ignited during her experience as staff reporter, as well as News Editor and Features Editor, for the university’s newspaper, Imprint. An avid explorer, Becky has travelled to many different places in Asia, Western Europe and the United States to satiate her love for cities and how they function.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 at 9:08 am and is filed under Land Use, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


One Response to “Consortium of Developers Wins Urban Boundary Dispute in Waterloo, Ontario”

  1. Jaime Solorzano Says:

    Great article about one of the most critical dilemmas on urban planning. Like Hamlet: “to sprawl or not to sprawl”. I preffer a compact and dense city, due a rational use of urban space, its effects on safety and a positive impact on sustainability. There is a strong argument about affordable housing to suport the increase of population, attracted by the economic development of the region, but maybe there is not an adequate measure of the long-term effects on sustainability and infrastructure. Suburbs will bring higher costs for everybody in the Region.

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