Brownfield Redevelopment: What You Should Know

How can members of the public get involved in local brownfield redevelopments?

By being informed about opportunities for brownfield site redevelopment, the public can get involved in revitalizing their communities.

It is important that members of the public be aware of how they can learn about and give input concerning brownfield redevelopment projects at the planning stage. This means that municipalities and developers should provide information as early as possible in the process.

Access to information about a brownfield redevelopment at an early stage strengthens public understanding and may increase public confidence about the project. In addition, members of the community near a brownfield site often have important knowledge about the site, its history and the surrounding area that may help identify the best way to proceed with remediation.

Members of the public can participate in brownfield redevelopment processes and provide their input through the following mechanisms:

Brownfields Environmental Site Registry

The Brownfields Environmental Site Registry (BESR) is an online registry that gives the public access to information about brownfield redevelopment. It allows the public to view all Records of Site Condition (RSCs) that have been posted on the BESR, along with notices and other documents. However, filing an RSC to the BESR is voluntary so not all RSCs will be available.

If a Certificate of Property Use has been issued for a property, it will be accessible with the RSC. The BESR allows the public to search for RSCs by address, owner, registry number or location.

Where a contaminant at a property with an RSC presents a danger to human health or safety, the Ministry of the Environment may issue an order. If such an order is made, a public notice must be posted on the BESR.

Public Communication Plan

In situations where multiple sites are affected by contaminants from a brownfield site, a developer may be required to develop and implement a public communication plan.

Where a public communication plan is required, the developer must provide:

  • A description of the plan, including any opportunities given to the public to comment on the proposed Risk Assessment;

  • A summary of the comments received during the consultation;

  • A description of how the public comments were considered as part of the Risk Assessment process; and

  • A copy of all written comments received from the Ministry.

Environmental Bill of Rights Registry

The Environmental Registry, created by the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR), provides the public with the opportunity to receive notice and comment when the Ministry of Environment is proposing to issue a Certificate of Property Use (CPU) that relates to a Risk Assessment submitted to the Ministry. A notice on the Environmental Registry website must be posted for at least 30 days, and additional notice may be given through other means, such as the media, door-to-door flyers or signs. The Minister of the Environment may also consider providing enhanced public participation on CPUs through processes such as oral submissions, public meetings or mediation.

Under the EBR, members of the public may also seek permission to appeal a decision to issue a CPU to the Environmental Review Tribunal. As well, members of the public can apply to the Environmental Commissioner to request a government review of a CPU that is over five years old.

Beginning July 1, 2011, the Ministry will not be required to notify the public and request comments on a CPU that may be issued in relation to a Modified Generic Risk Assessment, because the content of these types of CPUs will be fixed. CPUs related to a Modified Generic Risk Assessment will not be subject to other requirements of the EBR, such as the right to request a review.

Developer-led Public Consultation

Developers involved in brownfield redevelopment projects will frequently take the lead in consulting with community stakeholders to collect information and build public support for their brownfield remediation plans.

Municipal Planning Processes

There are a number of ways for the public to be involved in land use planning processes in towns and cities. Municipalities invite public participation in developing their Official Plans and passing zoning by-laws, both of which have an impact on brownfield redevelopment in the community overall. Municipalities may also involve the public in creating Community Improvements Plans aimed at encouraging brownfield redevelopment.

Official Plans

An Official Plan sets out policies about how land in a municipality will be used in the future to meet the needs of that community. Zoning by-laws passed by a municipal council must conform to the Official Plan. An Official Plan is prepared with input from the public in a community and helps to ensure that future planning and development will meet the specific needs of the community. Extensive public consultation is required before an Official Plan is finalized.

Official Plans address how and where development will occur to improve the community and make room for expected growth. Specific policies within an Official Plan may help to promote and facilitate brownfield redevelopment. For example, an Official Plan may promote the reuse and redevelopment of commercial or industrial sites that are under-utilized or no longer in use, and may direct development to existing areas where municipal services and physical infrastructure are already available.

When an Official Plan is being developed, the municipality must, at a minimum:

  • Hold at least one public meeting, after giving at least 20 days notice of the meeting through local newspapers or the mail;

  • Hold an open house information session and at least one public meeting; and

  • Make adequate information available to the public before the public meeting, including a copy of the proposed plan.

Any member of the public may provide written comments and/or speak at the public meeting about the proposed Official Plan. Those who provide comments in writing or speak at a meeting have the right to appeal the Official Plan to the Ontario Municipal Board if they have concerns about it once it has been adopted.

After an Official Plan is approved, it must be reviewed at least once every five years to make sure it reflects provincial policy and continues to meet community needs. During a five-year review, the steps for public consultation mentioned above must be followed, and council must hold a special meeting that is open to the public to discuss the plan.

An Official Plan may also be amended from time to time in response to requested changes from developers or others in the community. As with the initial development of an Official Plan, there must be public consultation as part of any review or amendment process.

Zoning By-laws

After an Official Plan is approved, zoning by-laws must be made to put the plan into effect and manage future development. Zoning by-laws control how land is used in a community. New development that does not conform to a zoning by-law will not be permitted.

As part of the approval process for a zoning by-law, the municipality must:

  • Provide as much information as possible to the public

  • Hold at least one public meeting before passing the by-law, after giving at least 20 days advance notice through local newspapers or by mail

  • Allow everyone who attends the public meeting the opportunity to speak

  • Accept written submissions on the proposed by-law from members of the public

  • Hold an open house information session if the by-law is being brought into conformity with an Official Plan, and

  • Give notice when the by-law has been passed.

Members of the public who have provided comments in writing or spoken at a meeting have the right to appeal the zoning by-law to the Ontario Municipal Board.

Community Improvement Plans

A municipality may choose to develop a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) to help promote revitalization through financial incentives. The process of developing a CIP requires public notice and consultation, including:

  • A public meeting on the draft CIP, held at least 20 days after notice of the meeting and information about the proposal have been made available

  • An opportunity to provide written comments and/or speak at the public meeting about the proposed CIP

  • Written notice when the municipality adopts the CIP, and

  • A right for anyone who provided comments in writing or spoke at a meeting to appeal the CIP to the Ontario Municipal Board.

Specific Municipal Brownfield Development Consultation Processes

Some municipalities have developed their own procedures for involving the public in brownfield redevelopment projects. Individuals should contact their municipality to find out how to get involved.

For example, Halton Region has a protocol for reviewing development applications on contaminated or potentially contaminated sites. This protocol sets out the Regionís requirement for formal public consultation during the site assessment and/or remediation process, and during the planning process. Information provided by the public is evaluated to determine if any potential sources of contamination exist on a property being considered for development.

What are brownfields?
What are the benefits of brownfield redevelopment?
What are the risks to developing brownfields?
What are the barriers to developing brownfields?
What can be done with brownfield sites?
How is brownfield remediation regulated in Ontario?
How can I learn more about brownfield redevelopment?