Hold your horses river lovers!

June 1, 2012

Healthy Environment

Some residents, the River Systems Advisory Committee and a new citizen group called Living Rivers and Greenways Action Group are concerned that a proposed update to Guelph’s official plan (OPA 48) does not maintain the vision and objectives for rivers and tributaries and their valley corridors contained in the 1993 River Systems Management Plan.

Here is some background and answers to some of the questions we have received for your consideration.

Expect more from me later on the evolution of natural heritage protection over the last 20 years from a “feature-specific” approach (as we saw during the 90s and the era of the River Systems Management Plan) to an environment-first “systems-based” approach (which we see today with the adoption of the Natural Heritage Strategy).


Since 2007 the City has been conducting a 5-Year Official Plan update. The update was originally to be carried out in two Phases, but Council later split it out into three Phases.

Phase 1

Phase 1, OPA 39, established a growth management framework and brought the Official Plan into conformity with the Provincial Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, building on the City’s earlier growth management strategy and Smart Guelph initiatives. OPA 39 was adopted by Council in 2009 and is in full force and effect.

Phase 2 (this is the part that should be read to understand the protection of our natural heritage including our rivers)

Phase 2, OPA 42, was initially the remainder of the Official Plan Update. OPA 42 was driven by the 2005 Provincial Policy Statement, the Planning Act, the Ontario Heritage Act and the Clean Water Act, as well as the City’s Urban Design Action Plan, Community Energy Plan, Trails Master Plan, Recreation, Parks and Culture Strategic Plan, Employment Lands Strategy and other infrastructure studies and master plans. The first draft of OPA 42 was released in early 2010 and the City conducted extensive community and stakeholder consultation. This draft contained proposed policy revisions related to the above-noted drivers including the natural heritage and open space, recreation and trail policies. In May 2010, in response to community input and recognizing the critical importance of proceeding with the natural heritage policies, including river protection policies, while allowing more time for public consultation on the remainder of the Update, Council directed staff to proceed with finalizing the Natural Heritage System policies immediately and consult further on the remainder. As a result, OPA 42 was split into two parts; the Natural Heritage System policies were carried forward as OPA 42 and adopted by Council in July 2010 and the remaining policies became Phase 3, eventually numbered OPA 48, the final phase of Guelph’s Official Plan update.

Phase 3

In late 2010 and through 2011 the City analysed all public and stakeholder feedback on the first draft of OPA 42 and focused on issues represented in Phase 3, OPA 48. The City met with stakeholders and individuals to discuss their comments and explore solutions to their concerns. Proposed policies were revised based on these discussions, and were included in a second draft of the OP Update that excluded natural heritage policies addressed in Phase 2 (OPA 42). The draft was released for further public review on January 30, 2012. The City promoted and hosted two formal open houses and a Public Meeting to present information, seek community input, and held further meetings with interested stakeholders and individuals. The final draft of OPA 48 considers this input from the community and will be considered by Council on June 5, 2012.


River Systems Policies in the Official Plan

Does OPA 48 maintain the vision of the city’s 1993 River Systems Management Plan?

Yes. The policies of OPA 48, working in conjunction with the policies of OPA 42, carry forward the elements of the River Systems Management Plan, while reflecting the evolution in approaches to natural heritage systems planning since the mid-1990’s. Land uses abutting the Natural Heritage System (including the river systems) are planned to support and complement the NHS and must be planned to ensure the NHS is protected, maintained and, as feasible, enhanced and restored.

Does OPA 48 provide explicit policies for the “protection, maintenance, and, where possible, rehabilitation of all rivers, streams and creeks as environmental corridors”?

Those explicit policies polices were already approved by Council in July 2010 as part of OPA 42 and, as such, are not appropriate to include in OPA 48.

What is the status of OPA 42?

OPA 42 was approved by Council in July 2010 and has been appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board. A hearing on OPA 42 is not expected to commence until sometime in 2013.

Does OPA 48 maintain a mandatory 30 metre development setback from the river’s edge and the use of the setback as a vegetated corridor?

No, because minimum setbacks and buffers for components of the NHS, including river systems, were established through OPA 42.

Does OPA 48 maintain the City’s plans for linked open spaces? Yes. Open Space, Trails and Parks policies contained in OPA 48 maintain the principles of Guelph’s 2006 Official Plan with respect to the “Linked Open Space Concept” as it pertains to parklands and trails (i.e. non-NHS lands), and are consistent with the 2009 Recreation, Parks and Culture Strategic Master Plan and its vision for a greenways system.

About the Official Plan Update

What is the Official Plan Update?

Guelph’s Official Plan Update – Envision Guelph provides direction for the city’s growth and development over the next 20 years. Envision Guelph focuses on sustainability and sets out policies designed to have a positive effect on Guelph’s social, economic, cultural and natural environment.

Why is it being updated?

The City updates its Official Plan every five years to comply with Provincial legislation and plans, and implement new municipal policies, plans and strategies.

What’s the status of each phase of the Official Plan update?

Phase 1 – Official Plan Amendment 39 (OPA 39) brought the City’s Official Plan into conformity with the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. OPA 39 was adopted by City Council in June 2009 and is in full force and effect. Phase 2 – Official Plan Amendment 42 (OPA 42) introduced policies for Guelph’s Natural Heritage System and establishes a sustainable greenspace network throughout the city. OPA 42 was adopted by Council in July 2010 is under appeal at the Ontario Municipal Board. Phase 3 – Official Plan Amendment 48 (OPA 48) will be considered by City Council for approval on June 5, 2012

About OPA 48

What kinds of policies are proposed under OPA 48?

OPA 48 includes new and updated policies addressing the following areas:

  • strategic directions and vision to guide growth to the year 2031;
  • detailed policies to achieve of the city’s growth management framework;
  • watershed planning and water resources;
  • public health and safety including natural and human-made hazards;
  • mineral aggregate resources;
  • climate change and the City’s Community Energy Initiaitve;
  • cultural heritage resources;
  • transportation providing greater focus on transit, walking and cycling;
  • municipal services and infrastructure;
  • affordable housing;
  • parks and trails;
  • urban design consistent with the Urban Design Action Plan;
  • land use designations; and
  • new implementation tools such as height and density bonusing

What are some of the biggest policy changes included in OPA 48?

OPA 48 includes substantial policy changes which:

  • ensure high quality urban design and place-making
  • create new neighbourhoods that contain a mix of uses and are walkable and transit supportive
  • promote economic vitality and innovation
  • support social well-being, including planning for a diversity of housing types, affordability and tenure
  • protect what valuable and manage change to ensure compatibility
  • incorporate the Community Energy Initiaitve aspirations, targets and strategies

Why were policies included in OPA 48 updated from the versions presented to the community in 2010?

After City Council approved OPA 42 in July 2010, the City reviewed and analyzed all public and stakeholder feedback to focus on policies that would be included in OPA 48. The City met with stakeholders and individuals to discuss their comments and concerns regarding the 2010 draft policies, and refined the proposed policies before presenting them to the community for review in January 2012. OPA 48 includes updated proposed policies for all planning matters except those Natural Heritage System policies already approved by City Council in OPA 42.

Did the City explain the differences between the draft OP Update policies released in 2010 and the revised OP Update polices released in January 2012?

Yes. The staff report and related material that accompanied the release of the revised draft OP Update in January 2012 comprehensively summarized and analyzed all comments received and identified specific revisions that were incorporated into the revised draft to respond to the submissions.

Community Consultation

How did the City gather feedback from the community when updating the Official Plan?

In each phase of its Official Plan update, the City invited and responded to written submissions, promoted and hosted open houses and meetings, and considered all comments and feedback from the community. Specifically for OPA 48 the City used traditional and social media to promote open houses in February and in March. Staff also met with stakeholders before and after the Public Meeting on April 2.

Was Guelph’s River Systems Advisory Committee (RSAC) given an opportunity to review policies included in OPA 48?

RSAC had the opportunity to review the first draft of the OP Update that was released in early 2010 and did provide comments to the City. The comments related to the natural heritage policies and were considered through the finalization and adoption of OPA 42. RSAC was notified of the release of the revised OP Update in January 2012 and invited to review the material and submit comments.

How can residents learn more about the Official Plan Update?

All documents relating to the three Phases of the Official Plan Update are available at guelph.ca/envisionguelph. City planning staff can be reached at City Hall 519-822-1260 or email planning@guelph.ca.

About Karen Farbridge

An unwavering change maker seeking a just, democratic and sustainable world.

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2 Comments on “Hold your horses river lovers!”

  1. Fred Says:

    Can you tell me how a 160 unit upscale condo at Edinburgh and Gordon can be built on
    a marsh, and how this fits in the city’s strategic plans.

    Who has performed the environmental assessment on this property, and where can I get a copy?

  2. kfarbridge Says:

    There was extensive environmental work done for the approval of this application. It was reviewed by the Environmental Advisory Committee as well as our environmental planners and the Grand River Conservation Authority. There was also a transfer of natural heritage lands from private ownership to the GRCA.

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