Population growth twice the projected rate

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The Judson family. Submitted

The Judson family had just finished a three-month trip across Canada, returning to city life in Windsor, when they realized they needed a change. Kathy Judson said the big smoke was no longer a good fit for their adventurous lifestyle.

 They wanted access to the outdoors more often and to do the sports they loved in nature. “Haliburton is the perfect place for our family as it offers access to raw and beautiful nature. Yet, despite the guaranteed ruggedness that this land provides, the Haliburton area is also heavily woven with culture and a tightly-knit community. I couldn’t be happier with our choice. I feel like we have it all here,” Kathy says. 

The Judsons are just some of the estimated 2,500 newcomers who have descended on the Highlands in recent years, blowing out projected population figures. Briefing the new County council at a Nov. 23 meeting, director of planning, Steve Stone, said the Highlands had exceeded its growth rate by 10 years. The province last approved an official plan for Haliburton County in 2015. 

At that time, the finance ministry predicted the population would grow by more than 4,300 people between 2014 and 2036, bringing it to approximately 21,420 residents. But as of the 2021 Census, it’s estimated the Highlands population has ballooned by 2,500 people in five years, nearly a 14 per cent jump since the last Census, and bringing the overall number of inhabitants to 20,571. In other words, we need only an additional 849 newcomers to put us at 2036 projections.

 “We are growing at probably twice the rate that we expected to grow,” Stone told The Highlander in a follow-up interview after the council meeting. He attributed that in part to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Impact on housing 

That 2015 official plan also indicated the projected growth would require building 1,910 additional housing units, mostly medium and high density. 

It also said it would necessitate creating 1,770 new jobs by 2036. Stone was asked if that meant the County needed 3,820 new units and 3,540 additional jobs, but he said it isn’t that simple. The firm they hired to do a development charges study – Watson and Associates – has identified that the County needs its population growth projections to be updated. Staff will be presenting early in the new year to the new council on the status of this project in order to get their direction on whether to proceed with the update. 

So far, all the County has is the 2021 Census data. It does not yet know how that will translate into numbers of units and jobs that will be needed to meet the growth. If council so directs, Stone said the consultant will be asked to look at, “over the next 10 years, how many people are we expecting to come in … and how many units will that translate into based on the average family size?”

He said the risk of doubling projected population growth is running out of available land for development, particularly draft approved and shovel-ready land. 

“For example, let’s say you’re anticipating needing 100 units over the next 10 years, and you plan accordingly … bring in an area of land that will help you get those 100 units, subdivide, draft approve, zone, service, and, voila, you have 100 units and they all go over that 10-year period. “But, if you’re growing at 1,000 units, you can see how you’re not going to have enough draft-approved, serviced, shovel-ready, land in the system. Now you’ve got 1,000 families who are wanting to come and invest in your community and you just can’t accommodate them.” 

Bill 23 becomes law 

Stone said the unprecedented growth and shortage of shovel-ready land is why a development charges study and a growth projection model are so important. 

“(To) make sure our growth projections are accurate enough that we can actually bring land in, get it ready for development and, ultimately, have it so that those houses are built in a timely manner.” He said the challenge for planning departments is to make approvals as efficient as possible. 

Asked about the More Homes Built Faster Act, which was passed Nov. 28, Stone said it is needed to meet some of the housing challenges in southern Ontario. “We should be looking at whether the intent of the Bill, which is more affordable housing built quicker, can be facilitated in this community? If so, let’s find a way of getting more housing opportunities approved now.”