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Should developers have greater influence planning city’s future land needs?

Undeveloped residentially-zoned property in London, Ont. on June 11, 2024. (Daryl Newcombe/CTV London) Undeveloped residentially-zoned property in London, Ont. on June 11, 2024. (Daryl Newcombe/CTV London)
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London’s population boom will require more land for residential development, but deciding which properties should be added within the city’s Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) is proving contentious.

On Tuesday, the Planning and Environment Committee (PEC) discussed a draft Land Needs Assessment (LNA) report that determined London will require at least 450 hectares of additional land to accommodate residential growth over the next 25 years.

However, adding new land to the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) is a high stakes proposition for local developers.

The UGB aims to limit urban sprawl, but a side effect is that developable properties within the boundary are much more valuable than neighbouring sites just outside.

“I have a map of (the UGB) from 1999. It hasn’t changed in over 25 years!” asserted Mike Wallace of the London Development Institute (LDI) that represents local developers. “We are making big decisions that will have a long-term effect on how the city grows.”

The province requires that municipalities maintain a minimum of 15 years of designated land available for development.

Current Urban Growth Boundary within the City of London (City of London)

“It’s not necessarily that we don’t have the land, it’s that we don’t have the right match of land where people want to live,” said Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis. “So there is more work to be done on that.”

The committee supported a motion crafted by Lewis that included hiring an independent economic consultant to do a market analysis of local land use, and to refer the draft LNA report to the housing supply reference group made up of local developers.

Wallace offered that his reference group of developers would bring forward a map later this year showing which properties they would like moved within the Urban Growth Boundary.

“We will be back to you after a review, likely sometime in September, with a comprehensive full OPA (Official Plan Amendment),” he told the planning committee. “And actually a line on a map that needs to be changed in The London Plan so you can make a proper decision.”

However, the offer raised concern that a private group of local developers would wield too much influence within a public process that must be transparent in its decision making.

“It’s a bit like a fox in the chicken coop if they’re able to make a map and choose which parcels (of land) they think should be included and not included,” warned Coun. Skylar Franke.

Franke emphasized that decisions about which properties move into the Urban Growth Boundary would be the responsibility of council, based on reports prepared by civic administration.

“I don’t feel like (the LDI offer) is overwhelmingly transparent to the public,” Franke added. “I don’t mind them having a review of it, but I do not want the housing supply reference group making a map and submitting that map to council.”

In London between 2014 and 2023, an average of 2,530 new residential units were built each year.

Provincial projections are for 4,466 units per year during the upcoming 25-year planning horizon.

Council will consider the PEC recommendation on June 25.  

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