There are no show-stopping changes. However, there is more supportive language about rural areas. There is explicit support for “green infrastructure” (a defined term) and for alternative energy supply. A municipality now “shall” identify its “natural heritage system” (NHS). The Province imposes its criteria for declaring woodlands significant. Protection of fish habitat is further degraded.
- The language about rural areas is more expansive. E.g., while there was no introductory text before, section 1.1.4 (Rural Areas in Municipalities) now starts with: “Rural areas are important to the economic success of the Province and our quality of life. Rural areas are a system of lands that may include rural settlement areas, rural lands, prime agricultural areas, natural heritage features and areas, and other resource areas. Rural areas and urban areas are interdependent in terms of markets, resources and amenities. It is important to leverage rural assets and amenities and protect the environment as a foundation for a sustainable economy“. A new section1.1.5 called “Rural Lands in Municipalities”, makes a fine distinction with section 1.1.4 which was about “Rural Areas.” “Rural Lands” is a new definition (introduced after the 2012 draft), meaning “lands which are located outside settlement areas and which are outside prime agricultural areas” which is pretty much the old definition of “Rural areas” while “Rural Areas”, as the above text already states, now means “a system of lands within municipalities that may include rural settlement areas, rural lands, prime agricultural areas, natural heritage features and areas, and resource areas“. Confused? Ottawa has “rural areas”, it seems, and some of these are “rural lands” as long as they’re not “prime agricultural areas”. Can you hear the hours of argument before the OMB already?
- A new section 1.2.6 (Land Use Compatibility) has as its one and only policy: “22.214.171.124 Major facilities and sensitive land uses should be planned to ensure they are appropriately designed, buffered and/or separated from each other to prevent or mitigate adverse effects from odour, noise and other contaminants, minimize risk to public health and safety, and to ensure the long-term viability of major facilities.” (The bolded words were added after the 2012 draft.) Alas, this does little for protecting natural areas: “sensitive land uses” are still defined as in 2005 — with some reference to “outdoor spaces” and the “natural environment” but clearly aimed at uses such as “residences, day care centres and educational and health facilities”.
- In several policies “alternative transportation” has now become “active transportation”. Count your victories!
- In 2005 impacts on “provincial parks, conservation reserves and other protected areas” merely had to be considered, now they have to be recognized and negative impacts have to be minimized (s. 1.5.1 d).
- “Green infrastructure” is explicitly encouraged (new s. 1.6.2). It is defined as: “natural and human-made elements that provide ecological and hydrological functions and processes. Green infrastructure can include components such as natural heritage features and systems, parklands, stormwater management systems, street trees, urban forests, natural channels, permeable surfaces, and green roofs“. (Bolded words were added after the 2012 draft.)
- There is a new section on Energy Supply with a policy that says “126.96.36.199 Planning authorities should promote renewable energy systems and alternative energy systems, where feasible, in accordance with provincial and federal requirements“. (Bolded words were added after the 2012 draft.)
- An old policy in section 1.8 (Energy and Air Quality) — “e) promote design and orientation which maximize the use of alternative or renewable energy, such as solar and wind energy, and the mitigating effects of vegetation.” — has now expanded with new policies in a renamed section 1.8 (Energy Conservation, Air Quality and Climate Change) stating: “f) promote design and orientation which: 1. maximizes energy efficiency and conservation, and considers the mitigating effects of vegetation; and 2. maximizes opportunities for the use of renewable energy systems and alternative energy systems; and g) maximize vegetation within settlement areas, where feasible.”
- Under Natural Heritage, a new policy now requires (“shall”) municipalities to identify their natural heritage system: “2.1.3 Natural heritage systems shall be identified in Ecoregions 6E & 7E1, recognizing that natural heritage systems will vary in size and form in settlement areas, rural areas, and prime agricultural areas”. (Bolded words were added after 2012.) The definition of NHS is slightly improved in describing linkages as part of the System: “Natural heritage system: means a system made up of natural heritage features and areas, and linkages intended to provide connectivity (at the regional or site level) and support natural processes which are necessary to maintain biological and geological diversity, natural functions, viable populations of indigenous species and ecosystems” (my bolding). And the definition goes on: “These systems can include natural heritage features and areas, federal and provincial parks and conservation reserves, other natural heritage features, lands that have been restored or have the potential to be restored to a natural state, areas that support hydrologic functions, and working landscapes that enable ecological functions to continue. The Province has a recommended approach for identifying natural heritage systems, but municipal approaches that achieve or exceed the same objective may also be used“.
- Section 3 now states explicitly that development should “not create new or aggravate existing hazards” for public health or safety.
- “Significant woodlands” are to be identified “using criteria established by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources“. Unlike other elements of “significant” features, a municipal equivalent for woodlands is not allowed.
- The “two zone concept” in flood plain management is now a defined term.