Brampton asks residents to help shape future growth, as key plans are up in the air
Brampton residents have faced inadequate transit, unbearable hospital wait times and a lack of affordable housing. While these are all set to be improved by the city’s 2040 Vision, residents will have to wait until the development phase of the plan is complete to find out what they can anticipate changing in the years to come.
On Wednesday, a special council meeting was held to discuss the Official Plan — a document that outlines the city’s strategy for future development. The meeting was council's first introduction to the Official Plan Review, a process that will help the city develop its new growth philosophy, also known as Brampton 2040. This planning document determines the direction of city design, projects and developments, which Brampton must refer to in the future. Every municipality has an Official Plan, which is required by the province to be reviewed every five years if already in existence or every 10 years if brand new.
A rendering depicting the future downtown core of Brampton
At Wednesday’s meeting, both councillors and city staff agreed that Brampton’s last official plan — which came into effect in 2006 — is now outdated and does not reflect its future aspirations. While the provincial requirement would have had the Official Plan reviewed in 2016, this was put on hold, to make room for work on the 2040 Vision. The vision, if fully implemented, will turn Brampton into a dense and modern cosmopolitan city.
The community is a big part of the project, as more than 13,000 residents provided input for the 2040 Vision. To help the community understand how these plans can be made a reality, the city is hosting a speaker series, free events featuring designers, urban planners and other professionals who have implemented changes in different cities that Brampton hopes to mirror.
On Wednesday, after the special council meeting, the first event in the speaker series took place at The Rose Theatre, across from city hall. Featured speakers included Ken Greenberg, former director of Urban Design and Architecture for the City of Toronto, and former Toronto Mayor David Crombie. In his presentation, Greenberg highlighted the similarities between the 1970s in Toronto and the 2020s in Brampton, with both favouring the creation of a “mixed multi-centered urban place,” over cars and parking lots. In the 1970s, plans to develop downtown Toronto included the creation of an urban centre where people not only worked but lived too. This is something Brampton is incorporating into its own urban planning.
For those who find it hard to imagine, photos of Toronto in the ’70s show how industry, sprawling parking lots and low slung buildings dominated the cityscape just before its rapid modernization into a dense, vertical city that people around the world recognize today. The speakers told the audience Brampton can create a similar transformation.
Photos of Toronto in the ’70s, before its rapid development into a much denser, vertical city
As Brampton prepares to develop its own downtown and other urban centres, to finally evolve from the sleepy post-war construction that still defines much of the city, there are questions about the costs associated with hiring a consultancy group for the Official Plan. During Wednesday’s special meeting, Wards 3 and 4 Councillor Jeff Bowman raised questions surrounding the $750,000 budget for the project, the lion’s share of which ($500,000) will go to consultants, funded through the previous capital budget. Additional money, which includes $50,000 for the speaker series and $200,000 for other aspects of the project, will be requested as part of the 2020-22 capital budget.
With Brampton struggling to find funding for major city initiatives, consulting fees could drain a substantial sum from the city’s piggy bank. On Wednesday, the city declared a public healthcare emergency, citing an insufficient response from the province to care for Brampton residents, many of whom end up stuck receiving treatment in the hallways of Brampton Civic.
Brampton Civic Hospital
With so much at stake, Bowman wants to ensure the city doesn't become dependent on the use of consultants at the expense of taxpayers. While he agrees consultants can be helpful, he questions if more suitable options are available, such as training staff to become consultants themselves. Bowman told The Pointer that staff excelled in many parts of the 2040 Vision development, specifically the outreach portion. He says that “at some point we need to decide as a city, if we have qualified staff, could we train some of our staff to become experts, and for long-term projects such as this, would it be better to have a person qualified as a staff member to carry this on for the next several years?”
Another issue Bowman raised was whether or not, when consultants complete their tasks and leave, city staff can continue their work. He was assured by Andrew McNeill, strategic leader for Brampton’s Planning and Development Services, that the project already involves city staff from multiple departments, in turn enabling them to understand how to implement the project.
Brampton Wards 3 and 4 Councillor Jeff Bowman
Upcoming review of the Official Plan will need to analyze and implement all city-led initiatives born from the last plan in 2006, an exhaustive list that needs to be considered. These initiatives will be looked at and possibly shifted to fit in with the new plan. City staff noted that not all matters of concern to the city were listed, including Heritage Heights. “Heritage Heights will be on the list moving forward,” McNeill said. He further told council the goal is to create a new secondary plan, which will be incorporated into the plan for Heritage Heights, Brampton’s last undeveloped area. In the 2040 Vision, Heritage Heights is one option for a new town centre, with development of this community having been an ongoing topic of discussion for years.
The city recently started working on a relaunch of secondary plan development of the project. In November of last year, Brampton held numerous workshops to gain input from stakeholders, council, and the public. City Council first asked staff in December 2009 to start secondary planning for the community. While it’s been a decade since the process began, it’s unclear where it now stands. A response from the city about the timeline for the secondary plan development was not received ahead of publication.
The route for the proposed GTA West Corridor
With no deadline in sight, an issue that will impact planning for Heritage Heights is the GTA West Corridor. The planning for this highway, which will pass by Brampton, has faced roadblocks in the past, with the cancellation of an environmental assessment (EA) from the previous Liberal government. In June 2019, the PC government announced it will resume the EA where it left off in 2015. The initial EA was cancelled after a panel advised the creation of a corridor that came into possible contact with protected lands was not the only solution to the province’s transportation needs. These protected areas include the provincial Greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Moraine. The plans for the corridor also don’t align with the environmental aspect of the 2040 Vision. The vision states that, in 2040, the city “will be a mosaic of sustainable urban places,” but it’s unclear how this can be achieved with a new highway running through Brampton, and the ensuing urban sprawl. According to the province, the new EA is expected to wrap up by the end of 2022.
Brampton’s Official Plan has the potential to achieve the same goals as the City of London’s recent plan, McNeill told council. Referred to as The London Plan, this initiative hopes to reduce the cost of growth, increase the amount of walkable communities and revitalize urban neighbourhoods, matters which are also a part of Vision 2040. The London Plan includes a number of directions for the city to follow to reach its goals, one of which is to “plan strategically for a prosperous city.”
London's Community Economic Road Map will plan for growth that presents numerous economic opportunities by developing a city for entrepreneurs with a supportive business environment, an exceptional downtown, a vibrant urban environment, a top quality workforce and a national Centre of Excellence for medical innovation and commercialization, according to London's Community Economic Road Map. This is a key planning initiative that Brampton should take note of, as the city is presently developing its own.
Brampton’s push for a university is a great example of how the city needs to better plan ahead. In 2019, the city announced its desire to open its own university, BramptonU. But plans for this university lack concrete details on how exactly it will be built, including a list of costs and a proposed site location. Given that funding for major projects is an issue the city is already struggling with, a detailed plan showing how Brampton will find the money to launch a new post-secondary institution is critical. As previously reported by The Pointer, the city still lacks the $246 million needed for crucial infrastructure improvements in the near future.
Mayor Patrick Brown was absent for a large majority of Wednesday’s meeting, with Wards 7 and 8 Councillor Charmaine Williams filling in for him. When asked for the reason behind this, the mayor’s office stated that “the Mayor has previously been briefed on the plan by the Commissioner” and referred The Pointer to a media release. “The City of Brampton is excited to launch a community-wide engagement process for building the City’s next official plan that is focused on setting the stage for the City’s growth both now and in the future. Our multi-year plan will ensure that an exciting community vision is translated into results that benefit everyone in Brampton,” stated Mayor Brown in the release.
While the review for the Official Plan ticks all the boxes when it comes to what the city deserves, whether or not this sentiment is shared by everyone is part of the waiting game as the process for the review begins.
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