Welcome to the Municipal Blog relating to the 5 Year Review of the Municpality of Meaford Official Plan. Please note that this blog is not intended to replace formal public consultation under the Planning Act but is instead meant to be a forum for information sharing on topics and ideas relating the review and community planning in general. Feel free to post comments or questions. Also be sure to visit the Municipal Webste (here) for additional information about the Official Plan Review.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Just Jargon: Intensification

The Provincial Policy Statement defines Intensification as:

“the development of a property, site or area at a higher density {a.k.a. more units/same area} than currently exists through:
a. redevelopment, including the reuse of brownfield sites;
b. the development of vacant and/or underutilized lots within previously developed     areas;
c .infill development; and
d. the expansion or conversion of existing buildings."

The Provincial Policy Statement expresses the vision of the Province for land use in Ontario. This vision includes maintaining strong communities, a clean and healthy environment and a strong economy. One way that it is proposed that we achieve this vision is by providing for the most efficient use of land and resources that we can muster.


Imagine we are in the Municipality of Example. Downtown Example is a thriving commercial hotspot. All of the businesses are serviced by water and sewer pipes that spread out in a network from their water and sewer treatment plants. Each user pays a share of the plant and a share of the pipe. When the pipe gets extended to service new development, those users pay for installation (through Development Charges) and then pay their share for ongoing use (through user fees and/or taxes).
But the funny thing about pipes…the thing about all infrastructure, actually…is that over time repairs are needed and eventually the infrastructure needs to be replaced (think: pipes, wires, sidewalks, bridges, trails, arenas, pools etc…).
This maintenance and replacement costs money….lots of money.
But what if there were a way to share this cost amongst more users? What if more people could benefit from the same stretch of pipe, square of sidewalk, or recreational amenities? What if we could make better use of our land so that we don’t have to pay for new pipes that will need to be maintained and eventually replaced? What if we could reduce the amount of other resources needed to support growth?
Enter: Intensification.

Municipality of Example gives it a go:

Back to Downtown Example….Example’s Council takes another look at their downtown hotspot through the lens of efficiency and sustainability. Where they see a single storey store, they vision the addition of upper levels to house offices and apartments. Where they see a single family dwelling in need of repair, they vision a four-plex – heck, why not a six-plex? Where they see an abandoned factory, they vision redevelopment to an artists’ live-work complex...
  • Council is happy to see their pipes and sidewalk squares being put to best use.
  • The business owners are happy to have new nearby residents to fuel the local economy.
  • The residents are happy because their housing is more affordable (fewer new pipes to pay for) and their user fees are lower (more sharing of the costs). They are part of a vibrant neighbourhood.
  • The environment is happy as resources have been conserved and the downtown residents can walk or bike for work and play.
A simplified and idealistic example but I imagine you get the idea: there are many potential benefits to intensification and the more efficient use of land and resources.

A mind shift:

But are we ready to be more efficient? Do our expectations make this goal more difficult to attain? When you think of ‘home’ do you imagine a yard or a balcony? Do you need 2000 square feet or 600? What is realistic for you, keeping in mind the costs of upkeep, heat and hydro? When you have small kids do you really want more walls to wash crayon off of? What about as you age and the kids go off to school? Could you retire earlier if you spent less of your money on housing? Perhaps compact is not such an ‘out there’ idea after all.
These are the things that I am contemplating as I develop intensification policies for our 5 Year Official Plan review. We have been given some direction from the Province as well as targets by the County on where we should be heading (10% of new urban development should be by way of intensification with an average density of 20 units/hectare for new development in the urban area) but the ‘how’ of it is up to our local Council.
So, I’ve been looking at the urban area of Meaford through that efficiency and sustainability lens.
We are fortunate to have many opportunities for intensification and re-development, particularly within the downtown area. Also, we have begun providing an indirect incentive to more efficient development by way of our new Development Charges By-law (2010) which is split out based on Service Areas with lower fees for areas with existing infrastructure and higher fees for areas without. But is the availability of land and the difference of a few thousand dollars per unit enough to shift our behaviours and our mind-sets? My hope is that the policies we develop will help. I’ve been looking at supportive and enabling policies but also some prescriptive ones if needed to get us really focused (minimum density requirements for new development perhaps?). But I am curious what kind of interest is already out there. Are you already on the intensification band-wagon?  

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