Skip to content

Midtown development debate fractious

Town staff warns of thwarting Ford government's development mandate.

Battle lines are being drawn ahead of what looks likely to be an intense political conflict over the development of Midtown Oakville.

About three weeks from now, town councillors will vote on a plan that will shape the future of the area around the Oakville GO station.

While always envisioned as a dense urban community of tall and mid-rise towers, the town has already received applications to build as high as 58 stories in the area.

Ward 3 councillors Janet Haslett-Theall and Dave Gittings kicked off the political battle last week, launching an independent website that offers a considerably more critical view of the proposed development than can be found in the town's official materials.

They warn that Midtown could eventually grow to as many as 90,000 people.

Read more: The biggest development Oakville will ever undertake

The latest political skirmish came at a May 16 planning and development meeting, when councillors voted 9-6 to reject a staff report that some suggested substituted political commentary for professional advice.

Authored by town planning director Gabe Charles, the report urged councillors to be "decisive and vigilant" in directing growth to identified centres like Midtown.

"Although the legislation changes are frustrating for a multitude of reasons, Ontario municipalities must now respond and adapt," says the report. "It is foolhardy to assume the changes will be rescinded."

Charles also warned against angering Doug Ford's provincial government. "The province has been clear that where municipalities thwart attempts to facilitate growth, the province (or minister) will intervene."

"Growth is coming; it is inevitable. And it is more prudent to account for that growth accordingly rather than wish it away and run the risk of unfavourable development being done "to the town" instead of administering its guidance," he added. "To act otherwise is a disservice to the community."

Haslett-Theall questioned the tone of that comment.

Janet Haslett-Theall | Ward 3 Town Councillor Janet Haslett-Theall | Janet Haslett-Theall
Janet Haslett-Theall | Ward 3 Town Councillor Janet Haslett-Theall | Janet Haslett-Theall

"I don't think anyone in this council would ever act in a disservice to the community in our decision-making," she said. "I think we all recognize that growth is inevitable, and I think we try to administer the guidance the best that we can."

Town CAO Jane Clohecy defended the report and its advice, urging councillors to "look at actions that the province has taken" in other municipalities where growth has been opposed.

She pointed to a recent provincial decision to impose a ministerial zoning order in Mississauga that will allow an 8,000-unit project to double in size.

The staff report adds that the province has also imposed its will on Markham, Richmond Hill and Guelph.

"It may be a different tone than we've used in the past, but I'd suggest we're in a little bit of unprecedented times," Clohecy added.

The unusual political tone of the report led Ward 4 councillor Allan Elgar to move that it be referred back to town staff for a rewrite.

"It looks like personal comments, and that's not normal for the staff, I don't think."

Others agreed, with Ward 1 councillor Sean O'Meara arguing that the report offered commentary "meandering into the political spectrum."

Fellow Bronte councillor Jonathan McNeice added that it offered a biased commentary by focusing on the dangers of urban sprawl without acknowledging the consequences of over-intensification.

"It's always a sort of balance. If we're building too many skyscrapers in one place, we have other consequences we have to face, and there's many different ways we can densify," said McNeice.

"I think we all agree that we have to densify and add more housing, but there's more than one way to do it."

But Mayor Rob Burton, who has repeatedly noted that municipalities that seek to limit growth often face provincial orders allowing even taller or denser developments, argued the staff's commentary is their advice.

"Referring it back sets an unusual and unprecedented statement where we're telling staff we don't like the opinion you gave us; we don't like the advice you're giving us," he said.

"It's our job to receive their advice, and then we make our decisions based on what we think is best for the town. Asking for different advice is a slippery slope."

Councillors eventually voted to send the report back to town staff for rewording.

In favour of the deferral: Elgar, O'Meara, McNeice and Haslett-Theall, along with Dave Gittings, Cathy Duddeck, Ray Chisholm, Nav Nanda and Scott Xie.

Against the deferral: Burton, as well as Tom Adams, Natalia Lishchyna, Jeff Knoll, Marc Grant and Peter Longo.

The future of Midtown Oakville 

For years, the town has been planning a high-density residential and mixed-use neighbourhood in the 103-hectare area bounded by the QEW, Sixteen Mile Creek, Cornwall Road and Chartwell Road.

The proposed plan for the community can be found here.

The town is collecting public input through an online survey until May 31.

On May 23, town council will hear public presentations at a special planning and development meeting to discuss the future of Midtown. A final decision on the plan will be made by town councillors at a June 7 meeting.