February 29, 2012

Plan endorses intensified housing – eventually

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin Town Council has unanimously approved a series of changes to its Official Plan that would allow for higher-density housing in future subdivisions, but only if the Town gets some form of wastewater servicing.

The amendment is required to bring the Erin Official Plan in line with the Wellington County Official Plan and the Ontario Places to Grow legislation. The County has been mandated to grow significantly by 2031, in both households and jobs, and expects Erin to handle a share of that.

The new parts of the Official Plan include an affordable housing policy, a "culture of conservation", targets for residential intensification, a jobs-to-residents ratio and density targets for "greenfield" lands (previously undeveloped land within the urban boundaries). The public was invited to an information session on the changes last November.

"The Town needs to ensure that new growth helps retain the small town and rural character of the Town of Erin," the preamble to the Plan says, noting the provincial objective of curbing urban sprawl and building "complete" communities.

Most of the changes are subject to "wastewater servicing constraints", meaning that without a sewer system, no major development can take place. Sewers cannot be built until the ongoing Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) is approved, and incorporated into the Official Plan.

The recent revisions to the Official Plan include the County Growth Forecast for Erin, 2006 to 2031. Total households are predicted to rise from 3,810 to 5,460. Total employment is predicted to rise from 3,550 to 5,460.

Population projections show an additional 3,850 people in the town by 2031 (1,380 more in Erin village, 840 more in Hillsburgh, and 1,630 more in the hamlets and rural areas). The predictions were made with the assumption that sewer service would be in place by 2016. But it is now clear that it will take much longer, and that substantial new housing is likely to be built later than predicted.

Also, it was expected that the population would remain stable or increase slightly without sewers. But the 2011 census shows a 3.4 per cent population decline since 2006, making it even more difficult to predict future levels.

Still, it is significant to note that the Official Plan predicts growth of 33% over 25 years, with the fastest growth of 15% between 2021 and 2031. That is far lower than the growth rate of 42% that the town experienced from 1971 to 1981 (combined township and village).

At the January 24 council meeting, Mayor Lou Maieron questioned the accuracy of the projected growth forecast, and as noted in the minutes, had a concern that "the numbers being considered would not promote economically feasible development". Erin Planner Sally Stull said the population figures are only rough estimates, which will be revised every five years.

Council had been considering two changes to the Plan that were not approved. A provision for mandatory hookup to municipal water, where a watermain is adjacent to a property, is not included. The other omitted section would have required anyone wanting to install a "communal water treatment plant" to prove to the Town's satisfaction that it was a fail-safe system.

Instead, it simply says "roads, water and utilities will be provided to all new developments wherever feasible". It says the effect is "to clarify that the Town of Erin is reluctant to accept communal septic systems as a viable long term method of sanitary waste disposal until sufficient proof of long-term sustainability is established."

The policy of council when considering development will be to promote a "culture of conservation" that includes water, energy, air quality, waste management and existing cultural heritage features.

The Plan says the Town "will conform" to the County's overall growth strategy, which includes 20% of all residential development each year being within the already built-up parts of the urban areas. Revitalization of downtown areas will include more housing above commercial units.

Development in greenfield areas will have a minimum density of at least 40 residents and jobs per hectare (16 per acre). That could mean six housing units per acre in new subdivisions.

Developers with subdivisions approved, but not yet built, will be asked to consider revising their plans to add more homes per acre. Hamlet expansions will be limited to five residential lots.
A minimum of 25% of new housing, county-wide, must be affordable to low and moderate income households.

"The Town will contribute to the achievement of these targets, subject to servicing constraints," the Plan says. "Accessory residences will provide the bulk of affordable housing opportunities until such time as municipal wastewater servicing is provided."

Medium density housing for Erin is likely to take the form of small lot single family dwellings, townhouses or low rise apartments (4-6 stories). Institutional uses could also boost density, but high rise development is very unlikely, according to Stull.