Strong mayor powers, zoning bylaws questioned at packed Democracy Caledon meeting

April 25, 2024   ·   0 Comments

150 people attended a Citizens’ Forum held at St. James Anglican Church on April 17

By Zachary Roman

Caledon residents against the use of strong mayor powers made their voices heard at a recent community meeting. 

On April 17, a newly-formed group of concerned Caledon residents, Democracy Caledon, hosted a community meeting at St. James Anglican Church in Caledon East. 

Democracy Caledon held the meeting as it was concerned with Caledon Mayor Annette Groves’ March 26 decision, made using Strong Mayor powers, to advance zoning bylaws for 12 development applications slated to bring 35,000 housing units to Caledon over time.

The Town is hosting a public meeting about the 12 applications at 7 p.m. today (April 25) at Caledon Town Hall in Caledon East. The applications will be coming to Caledon Council’s April 30 meeting, where they can be approved if one-third of Councillors support Groves’ decision.

Town of Caledon staff said Groves’ decision is expected to expedite planning procedures by one to two years for the 12 development applications, which are generally in the areas of Mayfield West, Tullamore, Alloa, Wildfield and Bolton.

Democracy Caledon volunteer Debbe Crandall was first to speak at the April 17 meeting. 

“This thing called Strong Mayor powers has dramatically put the public on the sidelines of land-use planning decisions,” said Crandall. “Mayor Groves has set in motion a very dangerous precedent.”

She said it’s unfair to the public that only one public meeting was planned to discuss 12 massive zoning bylaws with a huge impact on Caledon’s future. 

“This is unconscionable and completely undemocratic that the minority of Council has the power to decide on something of this significance,” said Crandall, speaking of the one-third vote required to approve the applications. 

Crandall noted Caledon signed a housing pledge to the Province that said it would build 13,000 new housing units. She asked why it was necessary for Caledon to nearly triple this number.

“Who will benefit from this? Us? I don’t think so,” she said. “Mayor Groves, you are a strong mayor. You don’t need Strong Mayor powers to be a strong leader — please slow this process down.”

Next to speak was another Democracy Caledon volunteer, Nicola Ross. 

“We’re worried about the erosion of democracy under our current levels of government,” said Ross. “One of the things about democracy is we have to look after it… we have to protect it.”

Ross said she thinks Strong Mayor powers are undemocratic.

“If we want to protect democracy, if we want to be a part of what Caledon is going to become, we have to be diligent,” said Ross. “The public meeting on April 25… bring as many friends as you can.”

The third speaker at the meeting was Victor Doyle. From 1988 to 2017, Doyle held a variety of senior positions in the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing — including Manager of Planning for Central Ontario and lead planner for the Greenbelt Plan.

He said while the decision has been made already that areas in the south of Caledon will become more urban, Caledon needs to do the best possible job to plan the areas and make the most efficient use of them. 

“We can’t keep expanding outwards and outwards,” said Doyle, who shared concerns about the urgency of the recent mayoral decision. 

“I have not seen anything like this to zone for tens of thousands of units ahead of all the detailed planning that is typically occurring prior to zoning big tracts of land,” he said. “It’s not clear to me what the urgency is to do that at this point in time.”

Doyle said if there is to be any advanced zoning, it should only be for the 13,000 units required by the housing pledge. He also said the zoning designation for much of the land in the 12 applications permits nearly any kind of housing unit, which he called premature. Doyle shared additional concerns about proposed zoning changes to some Greenbelt lands which would allow a wide range of rural uses.

“Why should we zone for 35,000 units based on what’s going to happen today when it’s going to take probably at least 20 years or longer to see those units built? There’s no upside in that,” said Doyle. “Zoning is a critical tool for the municipality to achieve its own interests in terms of dealing with development… pre-zoning all this land in a single zone removes some of the control and leverage that municipalities need to protect theirs, and by extension, everyone’s interests… so I don’t really see the reason to move forward with this type of bylaw at this point in time.”

After Doyle spoke, there was time for members of the audience to share questions and comments (each person was given two minutes) and this went on for about an hour. Many different concerns were raised by community members, such as: loss of farmland; increased traffic congestion; loss of rural community character; lack of affordable housing; and strong mayor powers subverting democracy.

Groves attended the Democracy Caledon meeting, as did members of Caledon Council. Groves was given five minutes to speak amid the question-and-answer period.

“Some of the lands that are within this draft zoning bylaw, they go back to 2004… some of these properties have also had public meetings,” said Groves. “Some of the other properties have had applications… when an application is filed, you have ‘X’ number of days, and if we don’t deal with the application it’s taken to the (Ontario Land Tribunal). So, we will have someone at the tribunal making decisions for what the town of Caledon should look like in terms of development.”

Groves said there’s holding provisions in the proposed zoning bylaws that address things like secondary plans and servicing.

Groves said she spoke to every member of Caledon Council about her mayoral decision before she made it. 

“I had no objections from any member of Council on that… they were fine with it,” said Groves.

This statement was disputed by Ward 2 Councillor Dave Sheen after the meeting. 

“That was a misleading statement to make, at least as it relates to me. The Mayor called and spoke to me for about 10 minutes on the Sunday evening, two days before the March 26 Council meeting. She explained what she was planning to do and tried to assure me that there would still be safeguards in place to allow further public and Council input and/or control,” wrote Sheen in an email. “To be clear, I did not express support for the move. Instead, I told her I had only received the agenda on the weekend and did not have any time to review or understand the dense material nor discuss it with anyone to help me understand all the implications…”

Groves said she encourages people to reach out to the town for information about the 12 applications.

“We will be addressing servicing, we will be addressing the financial implications. We will be addressing what our community is going to look like through this process,” said Groves.

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