Housing, Justice, and Good Governance

FLATO Development Corp. has been buying up land in the Kawartha Lakes.

Lots of land.

And they’ve got all kinds of plans for that land.

Everything from an exclusive luxury community with a top tier golf course in the Cameron area to a massive housing development on the eastside of Lindsay. And it would appear, from these land acquisitions and from their past history, that FLATO has an insatiable appetite for Prime Agricultural land.

FLATO also likes to by-pass the tedious business of zoning changes (which are, or course, necessary if you want to build on Prime Agricultural land) by applying to the Ontario Minister of Urban Affairs and Housing for what is called a Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO). Essentially, with a stroke of a pen the Minister can change the zoning on a parcel of land prior to any local environmental assessments, planning analysis of municipal zoning decisions. Contributions to the Progressive Conservative Party by the developer just might expedite matters.

And, true to form, FLATO is seeking an MZO

So, as local residents, farmers and supporters of local food security and affordable housing, and in community with a number of our neighbours, we decided to address the incursion of this large developer into our community.

Regarding the Cameron project the community has set up an informational website called notoflato.com.

The matter of a Ministerial Zoning Order for a portion of the Lindsay development, however, had us appearing before the Council of the City of Kawartha Lakes.

We presented three deputations, two by Brian and one by Sylvia. To get the word out to a broader community, we are posting those three deputations here at empireremixed. Just as we have been arguing that we need to go beyond housing to homefulness in both our symposium of last Spring, and the current release of our homefulness podcasts, so also do we need to insist that any development of housing must be attentive to real community needs, and respecting the integrity of the land on which that housing will be built.

To that end, we share these three deputations:

Brian Walsh before the Committee of the Whole (October 5, 2021)

Mr. Mayor and esteemed members of Council, I am grateful to have this opportunity to address the matter of FLATO Development’s request for a Ministerial Zoning Order.

The developer seeks your support of this request and I am here to urge you to deny such support for three reasons:

1. The Developer has Presented no Grounds in support of the request

An MZO is a zoning tool that by-passes local planning documents, and municipal governance in order to get a project moving more quickly than following the normal municipal process would allow.

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.

But you will look in vain for any such grounds in the FLATO documentation.

Indeed, the only reason given for this request is to be found in the letter to the provincial minister in which FLATO’s lawyer writes that “the purpose of this MZO request is to facilitate” the development of this project. Why would you need an extraordinary device like an MZO to facilitate development, when the city’s planning, engineering, housing, economic development and infrastructure departments are all designed precisely to facilitate such development?

There are no grounds offered in the Flato documentation for this extraordinary request because it is, quite simply, without grounds.

Without grounds, it is difficult to ascertain whether this project is good for the City of Kawartha Lakes or not. But if we consider the general outlines of this project in light of two of our most important planning documents – the Official Plan and the Housing and Homelessness Plan – then it becomes clear that granting an MZO would make it impossible for the City to ensure that this development complies with these plans.

My second point is that …

2. The FLATO project is not sufficiently in sync with the City of Kawartha Lakes planning vision.

I’ll be brief on this, with a series of quick points:

a) The Official Plan prioritizes intensive building and redevelopment within the existing Human Settlement area, including on brownfield sites, and with suitable existing and planned infrastructure. (Plan 18.2.f).

This project is on a greenfield site, without present or planned infrastructure, and does not represent an intensification of development within the Human Settlement area.

b) The Official Plan designates Urban Settlement Boundaries precisely to inhibit urban sprawl. The FLATO project is outside of the Urban Settlement Boundary of Lindsay.

To expand such boundaries, the Plan stipulates that it must be demonstrated that projected growth cannot happen within the urban settlement boundary. (15.3.12)

No such thing has been demonstrated that would justify an MZO for this project.

c) The Official Plan is intentional about protecting prime agricultural land from non-agriculture uses such as housing developments. (15.2a; 15.3.1)

The FLATO project is on land that is zoned prime agricultural.

And it is curious that the Flato documents never identify the present zoning – in either their maps or their descriptions of the land – as prime agricultural.

d) The Official Plan seeks to ensure access to housing for all segments of the population including families, seniors, people with disabilities and citizens who need independent and/or supportive living. (5.2; 5.3.1).

There is no talk of folks with disabilities or in need of supportive housing in this proposal.

e) The Official Plan stipulates that 25% of all new development is to be for affordable and low to moderate income households. (5.3.5)

As it stands, this project does very little to move towards that 25% benchmark. An MZO would make it impossible for the City to insist that FLATO provide the amount of affordable housing stipulated in our Official Plan.

Given this sampling of ways in which the FLATO development is out of sync with the planning vision articulated in these foundational documents, it is clear that not only are there no compelling reasons to support this request for an MZO, there are a host of reasons for the City to want to maintain a position of planning authority in relation to this project and room for leverage with the developer. An MZO strips the City of such authority.

This leads me to my final point.

3. The Diminishment of Council’s Responsibility

The concern of this Council is good governance, wise management of City assets, protection of prime agricultural land, and the provision of good and truly affordable housing to all segments of our population. Mr. Mayor and members of Council, you have been elected by your constituents to enhance and protect the common good of our communities. That is the role, indeed the sacred calling, of city government.

An MZO would inhibit the City of any participation in the planning and implementation of this development.

Once granted, FLATO has no obligation whatsoever to consult with city staff, abide by the official plan, or meet requests for affordable housing and necessary services and infrastructure.

Surrendering proper municipal oversight and direction for this development amounts to a diminishment of municipal governance.  This council has a long tradition of carefully considering what is best for the municipality and you have usually decided wisely.  Rather than handing over control of this land to a corporation, I urge you to continue with your careful oversight and work together with the team at FLATO to plan the best possible use of these lands.

I urge you to deny this request from FLATO Development to support their MZO request.

Thank you very much.

Sylvia Keesmaat Before City Council (October 19, 2021)

Mr Mayor and City Councillors, thank you for allowing me to speak today. My name is Dr. Sylvia Keesmaat. I am a local farmer, as well as an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto, where I teach part-time. I am also a writer for the Lindsay Advocate. I have been involved in the local food movement in the Kawartha Lakes for many years now, and last year I produced a video profiling the Edwin Binney Community Garden and local food issues for my university class.

I also sit on the board of an organization that works with the homeless.

All to say, I know something about the needs of those in our community who do not have access to good quality food or housing.

That is why I am speaking to you today.

I have three main points that centre on farmland, affordable housing and trust.

1. Farmland

As you no doubt know, agricultural land in Ontario is under threat. Approximately 175 acres of farmland are lost every day —a tragedy since farmland is a non-renewable resource.

Once it is gone, it is gone.

This is why city plans, including the official plan of the City of Kawartha Lakes, are careful to balance the need for housing with the need for local arable land for providing food for our cities.

Lindsay does not have a shortage of locations for development.

There are many sites within the urban boundary of Lindsay that meet the kind of criteria that previous deputations referred to: lands that have existing infrastructure and meet the criteria of pre-existing studies.

These lands can provide high-density, walkable housing with access to existing services, schools and infrastructure, all of which makes for responsible development.

The land that Flato wants an MZO for does not meet this criteria.

Flato is a company that builds primarily on agricultural land. This is why they have needed to apply for MZOs for so many of their developments, and why they have faced so much opposition from local residents and municipalities.

As news stories from the city of Ottawa made clear just last week, such developments end up costing the city an enormous amount in extra infrastructure costs, even when the developers assure the city that the costs will be covered.

Council should not reward this tendency to work outside of, rather than inside of, urban boundaries.

Rather than rushing into an MZO without having allowed the relevant city departments (planning, housing, engineering) to see any detailed plans, I ask that you follow the path of proper process and procedure to ensure that the location and the plans are indeed suitable for the needs of Lindsay and its surrounding communities.

2. Affordable Housing

I have two points here.

a) At the moment Flato’s plans do not include the minimum of 25% affordable housing required of new developments by the official plan.

Even if Flato were to agree to provide 25% affordable housing in their plan, however, there is no guarantee that such housing would stay affordable.

This may be why Flato is speaking of “attainable” housing. This word has no meaning in the affordable or assisted housing conversation.

If, however, Flato were to go through regular development channels, then not only would Flato be open for municipal assistance, legal processes would also then be in place that would ensure that such housing would stay affordable and that the people who are placed in those homes come from the City’s waiting list of those who truly need affordable housing.

If the City, however, grants an MZO and then enters into some sort of agreement about “attainable” housing with Flato, none of those checks that ensure housing accessibility and affordability will be in place.

And let me remind you that Flato has no track record in any of their other developments of providing this sort of housing—in fact the most repeated words on their website about their projects are “exclusive” and “luxury.”

b) One way to ensure that Flato does meet affordable housing minimums would be to ask for land in lieu.

This process is required in some Ontario municipalities, and is an arrangement whereby the developer commits to handing over a certain portion of land that is then transferred to an organization that has the necessary experience in building and maintaining affordable housing.

There are many organizations with this kind of expertise. Here in our city we have KLH Housing and A Place Called Home, but further afield there are organizations such as Indwell, Markee Developments, and the Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services, who not only provide expertise but also manage the entire process.

If the city is committed to affordable housing—and the waiting list of more than two thousand households in this city suggests we should be—then land in lieu is a wise and viable option for further development. An MZO makes it hard to ask for such an agreement.

3. My last point is about trust.

Agreeing to an MZO at this point means that the council is placing an enormous amount of trust in Flato.

This is, in effect, agreeing to a plan that has no details.

Those who are arguing for an MZO seem to be labouring under the illusion that once an MZO is granted a development agreement can be put in place. But there is absolutely no legal mechanism for enforcing any kind of development agreement under an MZO. Let me say that again, there is no legal mechanism for enforcing any kind of development agreement under an MZO.

Nor is there any evidence from their previous projects that Flato is able to deliver on affordable housing. Rather than putting our trust in an MZO, we should be trusting in the processes and plans that this council itself has wisely put in place.

Thank you.

Brian Walsh Before City Council (October 19, 2021)

Mr Mayor and Members of Council:

Picking up on what Dr. Keesmaat just said about affordable housing, I’d like to return to the question of the track record of FLATO Development.

This developer has a proven track record at building exclusive and luxury subdivisions.

This developer seems to have an insatiable appetite for prime agricultural land.

This developer has a track record of seeking MZO’s for their developments, thereby jumping the queue on regular municipal planning and zoning processes.

Now the city’s Official Plan, together with the Housing and Homelessness Plan, places a priority on affordable housing.

So what is FLATO’s track record on affordable housing?
How have they done at providing seriously affordable housing in the past?

Well, there is no track record whatsoever when it comes to affordable housing, or, for that matter, rental accommodation.

Key to the development agreement that you are seeking to establish with FLATO are two forms of housing that this developer has never completed in any of their existing developments.

You are contemplating supporting an MZO for a developer who has not proven their ability to produce two key forms of housing that are crucial for the healthy development of our city.

I repeat from my earlier deputation. Don’t do it. Reject this request.

If the planning process is broken, then fix it, but don’t grant an MZO in the absence of that fix.

Or, if you are inclined to support this MZO request, then,
for the sake of good governance,
for the sake of due diligence,
for the sake insuring that this project will begin to fulfill the vision this Council has endorsed for our city,
I urge you to defer this decision until January, when it can be considered together with the Development Agreement that you are seeking with the developer.

I offer four grounds for this suggestion:

1. It gives council and staff a little breathing room to reflect and consult.
This whole thing has been rushed, but there is no immediate urgency in making a decision.
Council would communicate to the Minister that they are taking some more time on this MZO request.

2. Council could seek input from other departments that would have an important interest in this project.
Planning, Housing and Homelessness, the Housing Corporation, Environmental, Agricultural, all need to have a look at this project.

3. Council would have a development agreement in hand that demonstrates (as best as such a thing can) the commitment of FLATO to submit to all municipal processes, and the way in which the city is protected legally and financially.

4. It is not an undue hardship on the developer to be asked to wait three months, and would demonstrate the developer’s good faith that he would want Council to take this time to make an informed decision.

My first word, friends, was, don’t do it.

My second word is, slow down you move too fast.

Postscript: What Happened?

At the Council meeting a motion was made to defer the decision. That motion resulted in a split Council. Four members in support and four opposed. The Mayor cast the tie-breaking vote against deferral. Then the motion to support the MZO request was on the floor. It passed by the exact same margin.

So we haven’t been able to either defer, nor defeat this MZO. Nonetheless, a split Council sends a strong message to the developer and to the Minister of Urban Affairs and Housing. This MZO is one vote away from losing the support of Council. If a strong, and binding development agreement is not signed, then the Council can petition the Minister to revoke the MZO.

But this is still a worrying development because the City articulated no criteria for supporting this MZO.

Let’s repeat that:
The City has supported an MZO request, without establishing any criteria for doing so.

And that, of course, opens the door for other developers seeking the same treatment.

In the end we have Big Development directing City Planning policy, when it should be the other way around.

Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat
Brian is an activist theologian and the retired CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. Sylvia Keesmaat is a biblical scholar-activist whose passions are teaching the Bible, heirloom tomatoes, and permaculture.

They farm together at Russet Farm and have co-authored two books: Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire and most recently, Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

2 Responses to “Housing, Justice, and Good Governance”

  1. Ruth Knight

    I am outraged and appalled that the council has acted so irresponsibly, and in favour of ‘big money’! What can we do?
    Contact the minister, who has to sign? Start a petition? What would be most effective at this point?
    Please add .e to your mailing list.

  2. Brian Walsh

    Thanks for your reply, Ruth. If you are in the City of Kawartha Lakes, certainly contact your Councillor and the Mayor – https://www.kawarthalakes.ca/en/municipal-services/mayor-and-council.aspx. And of course you can send an email to the MPP, Laurie Scott – laurie.scottco@pc.ola.org – but since she submitted the amendment to Bill 257 which extended the powers of an MZO, she won’t be much help. And, yes, send a message to the Minister of Urban Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark – steve.clark@pc.ola.org

    Also, check out the NoToFlato site – https://www.notoflato.com/ – and sign up to that email list to be kept informed, and to register your opposition.

    Thanks again for your comment. Indeed, thanks for your “outrage”.


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