Waterloo Region — Cambridge appears to be the only municipality in the Region of Waterloo that has recently considered Minister’s Zoning Orders.
The six other municipalities all told The Record last week they were not considering any Minister’s Zoning Orders and were unaware of any others that may be coming.
Cambridge council has so far supported two MZO requests including a one-million-square-foot warehouse in Blair on Old Mill Road from Broccolini Real Estate Group, and a highrise, multi-use residential development on the site of a box store complex at the corner of Pinebush Road and Hespeler Rd in Cambridge.
The Smart Centre redevelopment MZO was approved by minister Clark in the fall.
Broccolini Real Estate Group is waiting to hear from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for a decision on its application.
What we know about how MZO’s work:
“A zoning order can be made for any land in Ontario, at any time at the discretion of the minister,” says Matt Carter, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
The minister is required to provide a copy of the order to the clerk of the municipality where the affected lands are located or to the proper land registry office, says Carter.
“The minister has previously stated that he would consider requests supported by a municipal council resolution. However, the decision to make an MZO remains the discretion of the minister,” says Carter.
Typically, if land owners intend to apply for MZOs, they will often take them to a municipal council first, knowing that the province says it prefers municipal endorsement, though this is not a rule.
Minister’s Zoning Orders can be requested by municipalities or land owners. The provincial government has repeatedly indicated the minister will not consider MZO requests on Greenbelt land.
“We have been clear that we will not permit development in the Greenbelt, and the Minister has denied nine requests from municipalities for an MZO that would have permitted development inside the Greenbelt,” says Carter.
Minister’s Zoning Orders are a piece of legislation created in the 1950s, according to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Multiple governments have used them in past, typically in cases where there was not enough planning support in the municipality, or in cases where the need for the structure was urgent.
Carter says the previous government made 19 Minister’s Zoning Orders. Estimates of the number of MZOs issued by the current government in the last three years are about 40.
A group of environmental advocacy and citizen groups keep tabs on Minister’s Zoning Orders on the website, Yourstoprotect.ca. They estimate 30 Minister’s Zoning Orders have been approved, with more under consideration.
The projects for the granted MZOs range widely including housing developments, a casino complex, warehouses and long term care or seniors’ homes.
“It’s quite Draconian legislation,” says Mark Seasons, a professor with the school of planning at the University of Waterloo. “It was designed to be used sparingly, but I’m not sure that’s the case now.”
“The challenge is, the projects are not posted for discussion. There’s no debate, it’s simply done. There’s no appeal.”
Seasons says it is true the planning process in Ontario can be cumbersome and long. He believes a healthy conversation about the planning process in Ontario is needed, but when it comes to the province’s increased use and power of MZOs, he says, “I worry because there’s no room for appeal and so that’s a tremendous amount of power.”
The giant warehouse in Blair will be on land already zoned for industrial development, but as a single industrial user, as opposed to multiple buildings, says Allison Jones, a spokesperson for the City of Cambridge.
“In Cambridge, both MZOs were initiated by the private property owner. The City of Cambridge did support the property owners request of the province to issue a MZO to speed up the planning process, but not to avoid the required studies,” says Jones.
Jones stresses that an MZO does not remove developers’ requirements to follow a site planning process and submit studies like a heritage assessment, traffic study or noise study. The city must approve a site plan before a building permit is given to allow the work to begin.
Leah Gerber’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about the Grand River Watershed. Email email@example.com
Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record