A ministerial zoning order (MZO) for a proposed development in Ramara is off the table after a conversation Thursday between township and provincial officials.
Township CAO John Pinsent said he spoke with someone from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and both “agreed that the MZO isn’t the right tool” for the Rama Road corridor project.
That’s because zoning isn’t the issue, Pinsent said, adding the challenge relates to provincial policy.
The policy, which is more than two decades old, requires commercial development to take place before residential development.
“Let us change the policy around which the commercial has to come first,” Pinsent said.
The township has faced criticism from residents and environmental groups — including Ontario Nature and the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition — since it had discussions with the ministry about the potential for an MZO to be used for three major developments in the area.
Some worried the province might go ahead and issue the order, saying the fact the township showed an interest in an MZO essentially opened a file with the ministry.
While an MZO is no longer being considered, the township still wants the development to move forward.
“That area is zoned for development, and the township council wants to pursue that,” Pinsent said. “We know that doesn’t sit well with some longtime residents in that area, but it has been designated as a growth area.”
The township is updating its Official Plan and will be working with County of Simcoe and provincial officials during that process to address potential policy changes.
Pinsent said there will be an opportunity for residents and neighbouring municipalities to have input. Updates on the Official Plan process will be posted here.
“We’re just trying to find a way to get something done that the municipality thinks is right,” he said. “We’re not trying to do anything untoward.”
Mayor Basil Clarke agreed.
“We were never trying to find a shortcut around any planning,” he said.
He’d like to see the provincial policy amended to allow for residential development to happen either before or alongside commercial development.
The province pegged the area for growth years ago, but it hasn’t been working, Clarke said.
“You’ve got a casino in a field with nothing around it. That tells you something is wrong with the policy,” he said. “I’m hoping, through our Official Plan, that we can resolve some issues, and I have confidence in this (provincial) government.”