SWR Supports the Region’s Smart-Growth Planning Policies


The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) ruled that the Region of Waterloo needs to open 2,593 acres of farmland for development. The image compares the 2,593 acres (large square) required by the OMB to 197 acres (small inner square) planned by the Region of Waterloo, and is placed over a map of Downtown Kitchener for context 1.

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Overturning of Growth Plans Limit Region’s Economic, Social, and Environmental Potential

The recent decision by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to overturn the Region of Waterloo’s smart-growth planning policies has put our community at an important crossroad: to continue supporting an increase in urban intensification or to repeat the failed policies of the past and allow the expansion of outlying suburbs. The OMB decision to open 2,593 acres of previously protected farmland for suburban development limits the economic, social and environmental potential of Waterloo Region. Sustainable Waterloo Region recommends that the Government of Ontario support the Region of Waterloo’s smart-growth planning policies to strengthen our community.

Intensification supports the increasing demand for urban living in Waterloo Region. As of last spring, Kitchener alone had 1,626 downtown residential units planned for or under construction. Additionally, the City of Kitchener forecasts that 21,575 residents will consider urban living between 2011 and 2016. The demand for downtown living and the need for continued core development are also demonstrated by a vacancy rate of only 1.6% 2. Local technology companies report that to attract the top-level employees they need, a livable city with a dense core and convenient public transportation is a key concern 3. This growing trend extends beyond Waterloo Region. A recent RBC-Pembina study found that over 80 per cent of Ontario homebuyers would prefer to live in a comparably-priced modest or attached dwelling where they can walk to amenities, take rapid transit to work, and enjoy a commute of less than 30 minutes 4. A change in the way that people want to live is already happening and planning policies need to support this change.

Why the OMB Overturned the Region’s Plans

The Region of Waterloo has been working with the community since 2004 to create a new Official Plan, a key component of which is a land budget that calculates the amount of land required to meet forecasted growth. The Official Plan was appealed by a group of developers to the OMB, on the premise that the 197 acres of farmland that the Region planned to open for development is not sufficient, and that instead 2,593 acres of farmland is necessary.  The decision was made based upon a technical difference in methodologies, with the OMB siding with the appeal by concluding that land budgets should be made based on the way people have lived historically. In contrast, the Region recognized that planning decisions should be based on the way that people increasingly want to live and on the province’s growth goals 5.

Intensification Creates Economic and Environmental Benefits

The shift towards intensification that is already underfoot is in our community’s best interest. Smart-growth planning policies have tangible benefits for our economy, community, and natural environment:

  • Lower Infrastructure Costs: A dense core is cheaper to build and maintain than sprawling suburbs because a dense core does not require expansive infrastructure 6.  For example, the City of Toronto estimates that more efficient development can reduce the cost of building new road, sewer, and water networks by roughly 22 percent 7.
  • Empower Agricultural Businesses: Waterloo Region has a strong farming sector located on prime agricultural land. The farming and food industry represents approximately 11 percent of the Region’s labour force 8. With the average-sized farm at 156 acres, the Ontario Municipal Board decision will remove more than 16 farms, and $4,400,000 annually from the Region’s gross domestic product 9. Protecting farmland enables farmers to supply our cities with fresh local food.
  • Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Intensification enables more energy efficient transportation options. Members of Sustainable Waterloo Region’s Regional Carbon Initiative have reported that employee commuting accounts for 24 percent of their total greenhouse gas emissions, and that reducing these emissions in part requires increased local transit infrastructure support 10. Controlling urban sprawl maximizes our investments in bus and light-rail transit as residents further from the urban core drive longer distances and are less likely to use public transit 11.

Urban Intensification Supports a Strong Waterloo Region

For Waterloo Region to remain adaptable to changing trends in our own community, smart-growth planning policies need to be supported. With proper planning policies, urban intensification helps to ensure the continued health of our community, economy, and natural environment.


Mike Morrice

Executive Director

Sustainable Waterloo Region


The views expressed in this letter belong to Sustainable Waterloo Region and should not be attributed to the organization’s program partners or members.


1. Image generated using Google Maps and Atterbury Consultant’s Area Calculator. Retrieved from http://www.atterbury.com/google_maps_acreage_calculator.html

2. “Downtown Kitchener Action Plan 2012-2016.” City of Kitchener. Pg 4. Retrieved from http://www.downtownkitchener.ca/en/resourcesGeneral/Downtown_Kitchener_Action_Plan_2012-2016.pdf

3. “LRT gets a thumbs up.” 570 News. Retrieved from http://www.570news.com/2011/05/09/lrt-gets-a-thumbs-up/

4. “Live Where You Go: Encouraging location-efficient development in Ontario.” Pembina Institute. Pg 7. Retrieved from http://pubs.pembina.org/reports/live-where-you-go.pdf

5. “Waterloo OMB Response.” Professors from the University of Waterloo, Department of Planning. Retrieved from http://www.environment.uwaterloo.ca/u/jcasello/OMB/Waterloo_OMB_Response.pdf

6. “Property Assessments.” City of Kitchener. Retrieved from http://www.kitchener.ca/en/insidecityhall/PropertyAssessments.asp

7. “Municipal Finance and the Pattern of Urban Growth.” C.D. Howe Institute. Pg 6. Retrieved from http://www.urbancentre.utoronto.ca/pdfs/elibrary/Slack_Mun-Finance-Urb-Growt.pdf

8. “Towards A Healthy Community Food System for Waterloo Region.” Region of Waterloo. Pg 11. Retrieved from http://chd.region.waterloo.on.ca/en/researchResourcesPublications/resources/FoodSystems_Report.pdf

9. “Towards A Healthy Community Food System for Waterloo Region.” Region of Waterloo. Pg 15. Retrieved from http://chd.region.waterloo.on.ca/en/researchResourcesPublications/resources/FoodSystems_Report.pdf

“Census Bulletin.” Region of Waterloo. Pg. 3. Retrieved from http://www.regionofwaterloo.ca/en/discoveringTheRegion/resources/Bulletin_12.pdf

Number of farms calculated by dividing the 2,593 acres of land opened to development by the average farm size of 156 acres. The number of farms was rounded down from 16.6. The change in annual gross domestic was calculated by multiplying the 16 farms by the Region’s statistic of gross receipts per farm in 2005 of $275,000.

10. Derived from primary data provided to Sustainable Waterloo Region by members of the Regional Carbon Initiative that report their greenhouse gas emissions resulting from employee commuting.

11. “Regional Transportation Master Plan.” Region of Waterloo. Retrieved from http://www.regionofwaterloo.ca/en/regionalGovernment/resources/RTMP_FINAL_REPORT_PDF.pdf