FLATO’s request for MZO in Lindsay is a groundless decision by council
By Brian Walsh
October 19 was a momentous day at city hall. The minutes will record a motion and a recorded vote. But there will be no grounds for the motion, no reasons given as to why it should have passed.
In a split vote of 5 to 4, the council of the City of Kawartha Lakes passed a motion to support “the request from FLATO Lindsay Community Inc. for a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) on approximately 115 ha of land immediately east of the Lindsay urban settlement area ….”
A Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO) is a zoning tool that bypasses local planning documents, and municipal procedures in order to get a project moving more quickly than normal municipal processes would allow. Essentially, with a stroke of a pen at Queens Park, the Minister of Urban Affairs and Housing, can change the zoning on a parcel of land without requiring any environmental assessments or planning analyses that comply with local official plans.
In this case, the property under question is a large swath of farmland on the east side of Hwy 36, around I.E. Weldon Secondary School, both south and north of Pigeon Lake Road.
For a developer to seek the support of council in applying for an MZO is a big ask and as such it should be accompanied by a series of very good arguments as to why this project is so unique, and so crucially urgent, that it should receive the kind of wide ranging permission entailed in an MZO.
However, the only reason that FLATO gave to the minister and to council was that an MZO would “facilitate” the development of this project. In other words, FLATO just wants permission to skip all the usual development hurdles and jump to the head of the line. That way their investment in purchasing all this land is more secure, and the return on that investment will be all that sooner.
Beyond the convenience of the developer, there were no arguments presented by FLATO, nor the mayor, nor any councillor to justify this extraordinary MZO request.
That the decision is clearly in tension with the City Plan on numerous levels didn’t matter. That this is on prime agricultural land outside of the urban settlement area on the official plan didn’t matter. That the decision placed trust in a developer to provide affordable and rental housing didn’t matter. That the council is thereby diminishing their own responsibility to direct and control development in the city didn’t matter.
There was a sense of inevitability to it all. The owner of the corporation had been around town very publicly giving donations to various causes. It was an effective charm offensive. And the request for a Minister’s Zoning Order had been sent. The momentum had been growing. FLATO’s urban sprawl development seemed inevitable.
But inevitability always makes for bad political decisions. What we have here is Big Development, with Big Money, directing public policy. I know that’s the way things are, but it’s not the way things should be.
If there is a possible better outcome to this story, it lies in the second part of the motion at council regarding FLATO. Staff are directed “to prepare a draft development agreement acceptable to both parties, and that the draft agreement be forwarded to council no later than end of January, 2022 for review and approval.”
Let’s hope that environmental protection, secure affordable housing, public consultation, good planning, serious community benefits, and guarantees regarding infrastructure can emerge out of all of this. Concerned citizens need to encourage staff and council to secure a binding development agreement with FLATO so that representative democracy, not Big Money and Big Development, will shape our common good.
The other good news was the split vote. Only one councillor (or the mayor) needs to shift their vote and another motion can be passed asking the minister to revoke this MZO.
For the record, the FLATO MZO request was supported by Councillors Pat O’Reilly, Pat Dunn, Andrew Veale, Emmett Yeo, and (as the tie-breaking vote) Mayor Andy Letham.
Councillors Doug Elmslie, Ron Ashmore, Kathleen Seymour-Fagan, and Tracy Richardson cast the opposing votes.
–Brian Walsh is a farmer, writer and teacher living in Cameron. You can access the deputations that both he and Sylvia Keesmaat made before Council on the FLATO development here.