Mississauga trying to plan for its dense future but PCs continue to derail the process
Despite his repeated promises to eliminate red tape and make planning, development and investment easier in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford and his PC government have not made life easier for many of Ontario’s large municipalities.
From forcing urban boundary expansions—something the government has now reversed following evidence of developer involvement—to introducing super-charged housing targets under Bill 23 without offering cities and towns any indication of how they should pay for the infrastructure necessary to service these new homes. The PC government has repeatedly used Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs), which overrule local planning and force through projects, even if the local municipality is not in favour of it. The City of Mississauga is all too familiar with the latter having had to sit back and watch as over 20 years of planning and public consultation was shredded when the PCs pushed through an MZO for Lakeview Village, doubling the previously approved size of the future waterfront community.
“It’s just completely irresponsible,” Councillor Alvin Tedjo said at the time. “We can’t just plan an entire city on the back of a napkin, but that’s exactly what this government is doing.”
With limited consultation from Ontario municipalities, the PC government has pushed through legislative changes that have re-written how land use planning has been conducted in the province for much of the last two decades.
As the City of Mississauga plans for the future—something that will require a high-level of foresight to effectively juggle the incoming population, the urban density, and verticality as the city grows upward—it is doing so on shaky ground. Not only do previously approved plans for departments and major urban centres within the city need to be changed to come in line with updated projections for Mississauga’s growth from the PC government, but any future planning is now done under a massive cloud of uncertainty. What will the PC government change next?
On November 1 several City departments presented draft plans for “Future Directions”, outlining major projects that must move forward to prepare for the coming growth and intensification.
The Future Directions Plans guide the short-term and long-term strategic visions for the recreation and culture; parks, forestry and environment; library, and the City’s Fire and Emergency Services divisions.
The 2024 plans include recommendations to address current and future needs and will serve as the blueprint for councillors who are tasked with managing the budget and approving capital projects for these departments.
While these draft plans are completed, due to the new growth projections from the PC government, they are already in need of updating. During the committee meeting Councillor Dipika Damerla asked staff why the growth figure included in the reports was significantly lower than what the City is now projected to see as a result of Bill 23, which will add 120,000 new homes to Mississauga by 2031.
“The timing of future directions and the timing of our housing pledge obviously were a little offset,” Jodi Robillos, the City’s commissioner of community services, explained to council. “So in all of the future direction plans we have referred to our housing target and the City’s commitment to build housing, but in order to deal with the existing population changes we know that we have to rely at that time on the Official Plan and the growth plan for the City.”
“In all of the plans you will see reference to the fact that as we achieve our housing targets we will be going back and doing updates to the plans,” she added.
Under normal circumstances, the Future Direction Plans act as a five-year outline, but given the repeated changes from the PC government and the “changing dynamics”, City staff will be reviewing these documents in two-and-a-half years instead of five.
“It becomes very difficult with the housing target and then with what we’re actually building to be able to reconcile those two things,” Robillos explained. “This plan started last year with all our consultants and engagement with the community so understanding there’s a bit of a gap there.”
Lakeview Village is just one example in Mississauga where the City has had to change planning practices to adapt to intensified growth after an MZO was issued earlier this year that doubled the anticipated population from 20,000 to 40,000 residents.
(Lakeview Community Partners Limited)
Prior to the implementation of Bill 23, the city’s population growth forecasts showed that Mississauga’s overall population will grow from the 2021 estimate of 795,040 to 852,060 by 2031, according to the report. Beyond the current Future Directions planning period, Mississauga’s population is projected to reach 995,040 by the year 2051, not taking into consideration the significant growth projected by the PC’s housing legislation.
“We’re going to do a two-and-a-half-year update just because all of the changes that are going to be happening, not just with the housing file but also with the Regional integration of services within the City of Mississauga there are going to be things that then drive some different decisions and opportunities for us when that happens as well,” Robillos assured council, referring to the looming dissolution of the Region of Peel and the infrastructure and services that will be handed down to the newly independent Mississauga.
The draft plans presented to council on November 1 assess “current and future capital and service delivery needs with a focus on areas of intensification, subsidized programming, access and inclusion, and space use and allocation,” according to the reports. Each of the draft plans contain recommendations developed in consultation with staff, the public and community groups.
The implementation of the plans will be phased over the five to ten-year planning horizon “following ongoing validation and capacity to fund.” The reports note the draft plans require further public input and feedback before being finalized. The final plans are slated for presentation to council in the first quarter of 2024. Implementation and funding of initiatives included in these blueprints will be subject to the approval during the annual budget process.
During the meeting, council reviewed the Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services (MFES) Future Direction Plan, which includes 19 recommendations that look at current and future capital and service delivery needs. The MFES draft plan focuses on assessing infrastructure, equipment and deployment needs in community development nodes including Port Credit and Lakeview to ensure future population growth and provincial accelerated growth targets are addressed; developing and delivering a risk reduction strategy for high-rise and high-risk building stock; executing a more vigorous lifecycle replacement plan for fire fleet and equipment; and decreasing emergency response times by investing in new fire station infrastructure.
“The key drivers behind the Future Direction Plan are high-risk occupancy and high-risk behaviour as identified in the community risk assessment. This includes high density, other high-risk occupancies… future growth implications areas where the City has identified future growth and density [and] increasing the demand for an operational response,” Fire Chief Deryn Rizzi told councillors, adding the MFES will be assessing new requirements in community development nodes to accommodate city-wide growth.
“This includes service deployment needs to be able to deliver effective service with potential new growth also to develop and deliver a risk reduction strategy for high rise and high-risk building stock,” she explained. “Our travel time target is 240 seconds 75 percent of the time, we are currently meeting it 50 percent of the time for all calls.”
Mississauga Fire is not immune to impacts from the Province’s housing legislation as it works to prepare for intensified growth while already struggling to meet national response time standards.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
To address the City’s highly criticized response times, which sit well below the established national standard of 240 seconds 90 percent of the time, MFES previously committed to building seven fire stations over a 12-year horizon as part of Mississauga’s 2019 Fire Master Plan, which it highlighted in its 2023 budget, where City Council approved $27.4 million for the department. Prior to the construction of Station 120 in 2019, the City built its last fire station in 2003 — a more than 15-year hiatus. This gap occurred despite a master plan in 2010 that identified three separate new stations were desperately needed by 2014 to address inadequate and worsening response times. In an effort to improve the response times, the City’s fire services’ 10-year capital program includes the design and construction of six new fire stations between now and 2033.
“Assuming that the six proposed stations are where we have the biggest deficits, do you predict that's enough to get us from 50 to 75 once we're done rolling out the six new stations?” Councillor Alvin Tedjo asked the fire chief.
Chief Rizzi made no secret of how the PCs heavy-handed decision-making has altered planning for the fire service.
“That's a difficult question because as you're well aware, we're seeing MZOs being approved in certain communities,” Rizzi responded. “So when we have planned out these stations, and we're planning out the growth it’s based on what we anticipate, but on occasion, our planning is overridden by other authorities. So obviously, our plan of six stations was going to help us move towards achieving that goal, but we're going to have to continue to assess as these MZOs potentially continue to get approved.”
Rizzi told councillors during the City’s 2023 budget deliberations earlier this year that “travel time is the largest component of our total response, and it's the most difficult to control in a growing municipality,” adding that “with significant urban intensification, the biggest factor impacting our response is traffic congestion.” She noted the appropriate distribution of fire stations is the best way to improve response times.
As the City prepares for its future it will now have to devise a plan to accommodate the thousands of new residents expected to flood to its waterfront.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
In May, the PC government decided to double the size of Lakeview Village from what the City had previously planned for from approximately 8,000 units to 16,000 — increasing the projected population from approximately 20,000 residents to 40,000, following an MZO by Lakeview Community Partners, the development consortium behind the revitalization of the former Lakeview power plant lands. The Province claimed the MZO approval was necessary to achieve Mississauga’s ramped-up housing targets mandated under Bill 23. The City has repeatedly shown it will exceed these targets without the misguided expansion at Lakeview Village.
It remains unclear how Mississauga will fund the local infrastructure needed to accommodate the surge in residents now coming down to Lakeview Village.
“This is expected to place significant pressure for indoor multi-purpose program space use, which is anticipated to be met through the future community centre as identified in the Inspiration Lakeview Development Master Plan,” the City’s recreation draft plan states. “Exploring potential enhancements to City facilities and offering programs within close proximity to Lakeview Village is also encouraged. These opportunities should be complemented by public access to non-municipal space (e.g. within condominiums).”
The document notes that at the time of preparing the draft plan, City staff were still in the process of understanding the full impact the provincially issued MZO would have on the community’s projected population, which staff say will directly influence the area’s needs. Once adjusted population forecasts are developed, future needs will need to be assessed during the next Future Directions Plan.
Along with having to plan at the whim of the Province, the City must also adequately plan for the increase in vertical growth on the horizon, which will create significant issues for not only existing infrastructure, but the City’s fire service as well.
As Mississauga is already built out to its urban boundary, infill intensification and hyper-verticality are becoming the norm for many incoming developments. The 2024 draft plan notes taller buildings can experience extended rescue/fire suppression responses due to the time it takes firefighters to climb to the upper levels — commonly referred to as “vertical response.” The Community Risk Assessment identified 2,343 buildings in Mississauga — many of the City’s high-rise buildings are distributed throughout the downtown area— with a height of 18 metres or more.
“Industry best practices and standards have also identified that fires in high-rise buildings can place significantly higher demands on fire suppression activities, which require more resources,” the draft plan notes.
In the past, municipalities have been able to control different aspects of development, including heights, through official planning and zoning restrictions. But with the derailment of urban planning legislation as a result of Bill 23, a municipality’s ability to override applications that exceed set height allowances is becoming a challenge as developers are now able to submit applications under the guise of building more housing and without fear of being challenged at the Ontario Land Tribunal.
An example of this is the City’s ongoing battles with Edenshaw Queen Developments Ltd. who continue to propose projects that do not comply with what the City has planned. In March, the Mississauga-based developer made a second attempt to push its development of two high-rise towers — proposed at 40 and 42 storeys — that would double the height restrictions for the area and overshadow the surrounding streetscape after being denied last year when the proposal first came forward. It has since been brought to the OLT. Councillors were disdained once again when Edenshaw proposed a second development application earlier this year on the cramped site of a former OPP station — right next to the QEW— that would stick out like a sore thumb. The second application is also being challenged at the OLT.
Along with pressures facing MFES to accommodate evolving legislation that tramples on city planning, an assessment of indoor recreation facility needs was conducted “to identify gaps in areas related to future growth or existing developed areas.” The recreation draft plan lays out several priority projects which include constructing a new community centre in Cooksville where the majority of population growth over the next 10 years is expected to occur and the “City can expect greater pressures for recreation facilities, programs and service.” The draft plan also prioritizes redeveloping the north section of the Small Arms Inspection Building in Ward 1 and focusing on the redevelopment of the aging Mississauga Valley Community Centre to respond to the population growth expected in the downtown area.
Among the projects recommended over the next five years is developing a marina and new waterfront parkland in Port Credit.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Increased access to parkland in areas that have a parkland deficit through the expansion of trails and unprogrammed park space within greenlands will be another focus for the City as part of its parks and forest draft plan. The recommendations also include developing a marina and new waterfront parkland in Port Credit “to provide residents access to additional public parkland along the waterfront, and improve the natural environment.”
While Mississauga makes efforts to prepare for its dense future, the PC’s continue to throw a wrench in the works. Pressures from the province also come as Mississauga battles Peel’s impending dissolution, which is creating many questions around what the future independent City of Missisauga will need to assume when it comes to infrastructure and programming that must be divided up as its upper-tier municipality separates. As City staff make plans for the next five years, trying to determine what future projects it will prioritize, its Future Directions plans must take all of this — Bill 23 and MZOs, Peel’s looming dissolution — into consideration. With the city’s population expected to exceed a million residents in the next two decades, its elected officials and staff have now been left to combat hyper-growth vertical sprawl to accommodate the surge of new residents anticipated.
To view the full Future Directions draft plans, click here.
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