Infill Development in Ward 4
The Town of Richmond Hill continues to receive applications for development proposals situated within existing neighbourhoods. These developments are referred to as Infill Developments. As we grow and mature as a Town there will be more of this type of development proposed. In fact we are going to receive relatively less Greenfield development like we have seen in the past because most of our larger tracts of open land have by now been built out.
While each of these types of developments have challenges, I see infill development as the most challenging to manage. Infill developments represent changes that existing and established neighbourhoods must contend with. Instead of development on a “clean slate” this type of proposal represents a development that must be made to “fit” within an existing neighbourhood.
Each case of Infill development is different. Some proposals are seen by the residents as a welcome change that will revitalize a neighbourhood, some will be seen as a threat to the social fabric of an established community, and many of these proposals will be perceived as falling somewhere in between these extremes. In all cases it is important that whatever is finally approved for development “fits” within the existing neighbourhood, is consistent with our zoning bylaws and Official Plan, and represents a built form that will be functional and efficient now and into the foreseeable future.
At the present moment we have several significantly large Infill development applications in the southern part of the ward. The Town has received a proposal for 37 Townhomes and 4 detached homes at 44, 48, 54 and 60 Arnold, a proposal for 28 townhomes at 71 Regent St, and a proposal for 22 townhomes at 107 Hall St.
Given a number of questions and concerns that I have received about these applications and the process that development applications go through, I wanted to provide a very brief overview of how a Planning Application goes from “application” to “built” so that residents have a better understanding of how the process works, and how public input is given within this process. What I have provided below is not a fully comprehensive description but I hope it will add to the understanding of this process.
Within the Planning Act there is a process that must be followed when an application is received by the Town. This process ensures that the public is properly informed of a given development proposal and has adequate opportunity to provide input to our planning staff, councilors and the applicant. These comments will be considered, and in many cases will help shape a revised and improved application so that a good “fit” into the existing community takes place. At the same time our professional planning staff, engineering staff, parks staff, operations staff, fire department, and others will provide comments on a plethora of details regarding the application, and its potential impacts on the community.
I am always impressed by the number of variables and considerations that must be taken into account when a development proposal is submitted to the Town. In some cases these details may seem trivial (like the placement of a specific driveway or the turning radius of a dead end road) but if these details are overlooked they can produce an unsafe situation and/or necessitate a solution down the road that can be costly to the taxpayers.
The two first visible steps in the public part of this process are the notification of the application in the Liberal Newspaper on the Richmond Hill pages, and installation of a big yellow sign on the property informing immediate neighbours that an application for development has been received by town staff. This sign will provide an overview of the application and staff contact information so that residents’ comments can be submitted, and more information can be obtained by residents from our staff. After some time has passed a formal Council Public Meeting will be announced and immediate neighbours will be informed by mail of the upcoming meeting. At this Council Public Meeting residents are invited to come to the council chambers to hear more about the development and to present their views to staff and council.
In cases where a large number of residents have significant concerns or questions about a proposed development, the ward councillor can host an extra, less formal residents meeting where the neighbours can come out to hear more about a proposal and speak directly to the Ward Councillor, and the applicant. I will be having a residents’ meeting in the fall regarding the 3 applications specifically described above. This will be advertised by mail to the immediate neighbourhood and also via this electronic monthly newsletter (if you are not on my distribution list and would like to be included, send me an email at [email protected] .ca and I will add you to the list).
I would also like to reiterate that any input sent to me, as councilor, will also be forwarded to our planning staff so if a resident is not able to attend any of the meetings their views can still be made known and counted. I would encourage any of my residents to email comments about proposals to myself and the staff planner on a given file, at any time.
Once all the public input is collected and the staff have finished reviewing the development proposal it will be presented to council for a vote. Council will consider the merits of the proposal as presented, and typically either approve, deny, or amend the application. If the application is approved it will continue in the process, under the eye of our building staff until it is ultimately built and the buildings are occupied by families. If the application is denied the applicant can resubmit a revised application, or appeal the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
The OMB is an independent quasi judicial body appointed by the Province that is tasked with considering appealed decisions. There has been a fair amount of controversy around some of the decisions that the OMB has made in the past. Never the less, the OMB represents the final say in a situation such as this. It should also be noted that any member of the public can also appeal a council decision to the OMB if that is their wish.
There is no question Richmond Hill is growing, and will continue to grow as a community but, it is of the utmost importance to us as a Town that we grow in a way that adds value to the community and in a way that is cost effective with regard to the provision of municipal services. Engaged residents, our dedicated and professional Town staff, and elected officials, and are key partners in this process. As is the case with almost any municipal issue that I have encountered, the total package of information contained in this process is never clear cut and “black and white”, but in the end decisions need to be made that provide value for us as a community and this is always the goal at the end of this planning process.