On February 18th our Richmond Hill Planning Staff hosted its first Official Plan Update Open House. Given the COVID-19 Public Health restrictions the meeting was held virtually by Zoom and on YouTube. There were over 200 participants at this meeting and many comments, polls, and questions were submitted to staff during the meeting. I wanted to sincerely thank all of those that were able to attend. I would add that a survey soliciting feedback from residents is now avaialable at https://luraconsulting.surveymonkey.ca/r/Cityplan2041 and I would strongly urge all Richmond Hill residents to take some time to fill out this survey.
The video recording of this meeting is now available on the Richmond Hill website and the presentation slides are available as well (see link at the end). Given the importance of this meeting and also the foundational importance of the Official Plan to Richmond Hill, I will try to encapsulate the most important points of the 2 hour meeting and map out the future Official Plan Review process below. I would also encourage you to use the links at the bottom to learn more detail.
What is the Official Plan and Why is it Important
The Official Plan is a statutory document under the Ontario Planning Act that serves as an overall guide to the planning and future growth of a community like Richmond Hill. All Ontario Municipalities must have an Official Plan, and further must keep this document up to date and revised as provincial guidelines change and evolve. Our current Official Plan was passed in 2010 and a great deal has changed in 11 years, so the time has come for a review of this plan.
In the case of a lower tier municipality like Richmond Hill, the Official Plan needs to comply with the Upper Tier (Region of York) Official Plan and it must also comply with all provincial directions and policies like those in the Provincial Policy Statement 2020, to provide but one example.
Summary of the Meeting
Thank you to over 200 people that were able to tune in and be a part of the first 2041 Official Plan Review Open House meeting. The virtual meeting included a presentation by urban expert and visionary, David Dixon who spoke at length about what makes a great community, both in the present and in the future. Mr. Dixon has extensive experience in both Canada and the United States helping communities navigate growth and he has provided expertise and experience related to how this growth can benefit communities while protecting the parts of communities that are already important and valued.
In his presentation Mr. Dixon spoke about economic, social, and technological trends that must be planned for today to meet the needs of citizens in urban areas tomorrow. He also spoke about the kinds of built forms that are needed to create community vibrancy and the opportunities that as Richmond Hill grows and evolves over time, we must take and embed in future plans, especially the Official Plan.
Participants also heard from Richmond Hill planning staff about some of the proposed pillars and directions of the Official Plan Review. Some of these pillars came out of direction that we must follow from the province and other levels of government and agencies. These areas of obligation are fundamentally set, and in many cases there is not a great deal of discretion in their implementation.
However, some of these pillars and directions that were presented come from direction that Richmond Hill Council has given to our Planning Staff. During the presentation all of these points were communicated to the Public for their comment and feedback. I was pleased that during the meeting residents submitted many questions and comments and asked a number of questions after each presentation as well.
The Official Plan will serve as a foundation for all decisions that a municipality makes. One of these more important purposes of the Official Plan is to direct and guide future residential and economic growth in Richmond Hill. I was not surprised to see public input focusing on a number of areas including where and how we accommodate new residential growth, and how much of this growth will be designated in any given area.
Another part of the discussion last night focused on the question of which parts of the community do we protect and allow limited growth, and/or no growth. I also heard questions and comments related to which parts of the community do we protect as greenspace as well as a clear public desire to acquire new public places like parks and recreation areas for our growing community.
Finally and importantly in the meeting the presenters outlined the rest of the Official Plan Review process and future key opportunities for public input. The final Official Plan is scheduled to come before Council for approval in the summer of 2022 so there is still plenty of time for people to get involved and make their voices heard. The attendance at the meeting on February 18th represented a great start to the process but there is a long road ahead and I will continue to encourage people to be informed and involved. The Official Plan process is of key importance to creating a vision for our community and in order to accomplish a vision that meets citizens’ expectations we need your input!
Although I would hazard a guess to say that most people are not all that passionate about the Official Plan, I am not ashamed to admit I am excited by Official Plans and am honored to be the Vice Chair of the Official Plan Update Committee. Having said that, I am quite aware that whether people know it or not the passion and vision that so many of us feel for our community is at least indirectly rooted in the Plan. As such it is really important that we get this right!
I understand that whether we like it or not, our community needs to grow and given that underlying fact a well-crafted Official Plan outlines where this growth can be accommodated while protecting existing neighbourhoods and delivering community benefit.
Well planned growth can open up revitalization of areas that need a facelift, it can allow for a critical mass of people that will encourage further investments in transportation infrastructure, it can open up a wider range and higher quality of retail and restaurant opportunities for all of us to enjoy. It can also open up greater opportunities for both privately and publically delivered recreational opportunities.
Last night’s presentation discussed the importance of good planning in any Official Plan and the presentation acted as a starting point related to how we accomplish this. As always the difference between good planning and bad planning is a matter of detail and context, and must be carefully defined and captured in any planning document. I want to be clear, and I have heard our presenter David Dixon say this in not so many words, building “big” is not the same as building “good”. I have always believed this.
We need to always allow and encourage building that is appropriate in Richmond Hill and this must be captured in the Official Plan. There are present and future opportunities to build larger buildings in Richmond Hill. Areas like Highway 7 and Yonge St. in the immediate vicinity where the subway will eventually terminate is one of those places. This particular area is known as the Richmond Hill Centre. Buildings and densities in that area can be accommodated and add benefit to the community as a whole while having a net positive impact to existing neighbourhoods. On the other hand many members of our community are well aware of a number of really big development applications that have come before Council in the past two years that are just “big” but do not represent a good fit for the areas that they have been proposed. These applications have seen much community opposition in that regard. A well-crafted Official Plan can provide a more definitive guide to these types of inappropriate development applications and help to avoid applications that do not represent a good fit.
We also heard from residents at the Official Plan Update meeting that there are important concerns with protecting and also adding to the available greenspaces and parks that we have available in Richmond Hill. I fully agree with this concern. It was stated in the meeting that we will be embarking on a Parks Plan Review this year and that process will be an additional forum to discuss important issues related to parks supply and opportunities.
We have all recently witnessed a huge increase in parkland demand in Richmond Hill. I have clearly heard this from residents as well. I am confident that this parkland need will continue beyond the end of this pandemic and will also be an increasing need for our community as we grow in the future. We need and expect parkland to be readily available for our citizens and we have a great opportunity to solidify this vision in any new plans, including the Official Plan.
We also heard about the proposed direction that this council has given to our staff to ask the province to open up approximately 500 acres of currently protected land on the Oak Ridges Moraine under the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan. I have consistently disagreed with this direction and have consistently voted against Council motions to convert protected lands on this part of the greenbelt to settlement areas. I believe allowing development on protected lands represents a poor choice for the environment, it is a poor fiscal choice due to the high cost of servicing this outlying land, and it simply does not promote efficient transit oriented development. I am concerned that this represents an invitation for urban sprawl, which we know, is bad for the environment and bad for the taxpayer as well.
There are many other issues that were discussed in the Official Plan Update meeting and many more that we will be discussing over the coming months. As elected representatives there are many discussions that we need to have with residents. These discussions will come in many forms and I would encourage citizens to reach out to me at any time by email or by phone if you have questions, comments or concerns. I look forward to the discussion.
More Info and Further Opportunities for Input
As mentioned above there is a great deal of information available on the dedicated Official Plan Update Page on the Richmond Hill website. You can even subscribe to this page in order to stay up to date as new information is posted. The presentation from the Official Plan Open House meeting will be posted at this location. The page is located at
At anytime you can submit your thoughts and comments to [email protected] or call 905-771-8910
To view the presentation slides from the Official Plan Update Meeting on February 18th – https://www.richmondhill.ca/en/shared-content/resources/documents/City-Plan-2041-Open-House-Presentation.pdf
To view the video recording of the Official Plan Update Meeting from February 18th – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H83B2fbiKw0
To participate in a survey click here https://luraconsulting.surveymonkey.ca/r/Cityplan2041
You can reach out to me at [email protected] or by phone at 416-346-3090