By Ted Nickerson
There have been articles recently in the Toronto Star (February 18 and 26, 2021) reporting on a residential development proposal for north Markham. The City of Markham had asked the province to issue a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) to permit the development to proceed, while residents strongly oppose the development.
I have a passing interest in such developments in the Region, and with a little research, have found the following map showing that the developer, FLATO Developments Inc., has been granted 2 MZO’s already and has requested 2 more. The proposed development would have over 1,900 residential units.
I have no comments on the details of the development proposal but there is a fundamental problem with the development that appears to have been missed, forgotten, or ignored.
Let me start by saying I strongly support development of Pickering Airport and it is almost impossible to imagine conditions under which it would not be built. I have followed the Pickering Airport story closely and can state with reasonable confidence that this proposed development in Markham will be under the western approach surfaces for the future Pickering Airport.
This north Markham development proposal appears to have trans-regional implications.
Prevailing winds will ensure that the western departure will be the primary route taken by jets climbing out of the airport. Based on Transport Canada regulations, typical airport operating procedures, and available commercial jet noise information on climb out, the people who would live in this area could be exposed to some of the highest level of noise from the airport of any of the surrounding areas.
For reference, the Ontario Noise Regulation (O. Reg. 381/15) states the only applicable exposure limit for workers is the 85 dBA. The noise exposures for these residents could be in excess of the recommended levels multiple times per day. The new airport is expected to operate 24/7.
Years ago, Transport Canada established the Pickering Airport Site Zoning Regulation (PASZR). In its recent 2018 update, Transport Canada included a map of the proposed Pickering Airport runway configuration.
- The mid-point of the proposed north Markham development would be approximately 10,000 metres from the western end of the East-West runway strips, and well within the 15,000-metre-long defined approach surfaces.
- Per PASZR, aircraft could over-fly these lands as low as 190 metres above the ground (plus/minus about 6 metres allowing for local topography).
- Aircraft departures typically climb at a 3-degree (3°) slope, meaning aircraft would be approximately 524 metres above the ground above the proposed development.
- Over-flights of these lands would mostly be aircraft taking off into the prevailing winds.
- Many references to aircraft noise on take-off can be found on the internet. Here are three representing the range: 120 Db at 100 feet, 140 Db at 100 feet, and 150 Db at 25 metres. Sources – Purdue and Yale universities.
Using this information and available online noise distance calculators, a possible range of noise levels that residents could be exposed are:
|Height above ground at 10,000 m from the Pickering Airport Strips
(+/- 6 m)
|Estimated Lower Noise Level (Db)||Estimated Mid-Range Noise Level (Db)||Estimated Upper Noise Level (Db)|
|Elevation using TC PASZR – 190m
|Elevation using 3° Takeoff Angle – 524m
Based on limited noise data and a generalized analysis using online calculators, these noise values should be considered indicative not definitive. Noise will vary based on type of aircraft, aircraft loading and power settings, as well as human error. Even an optimistic estimate indicates ridiculously unacceptable community noise exposure levels!
In 2019, the City of Pickering released the findings of a study to establish a Toronto East Aerotropolis on the airport and surrounding lands. In March 2020, Transport Canada released Pickering Lands Aviation Sector Analysis (ASA). Extracting information from these reports, it is possible there could be 40 to 120 commercial jet aircraft departures per day above these lands. In additional, many smaller aircraft, although usually far less noisy, will over-fly these lands too.
Compliance with Transport Canada PASZR is mandatory. Estimated noise levels in the new development appear to exceed the Ontario Noise Regulation for workers, let alone residents. The development also appears to conflict with the Provincial Policy Statement as well (Sections 1.2.6 Land Use Compatibility, 1.6.9 Airports, Rail and Marine Facilities).
So, what actions could be taken?
First, as part of the municipal approval process, a proper noise study by a qualified professional must be completed to support, make adjust to, or refute the estimated noise levels noted above. This is an essential and critical step going forward.
If these values are supported by a proper noise analysis, then, let’s cancel Pickering Airport, the writer says facetiously. That’s not going to happen. The Region of Durham and the City of Pickering will strongly oppose such action. Transport Canada’s ASA report says Pickering Airport passenger capacity will eventually be required.
Even just delaying the need for Pickering’s passenger capacity will require rebuilding of other airports, placing significant noise burdens on other communities such as the tens of thousand living under the approach/departure paths of the Waterloo or Oshawa airports.
In light of these issues, the ASA suggested breaking ground on the airport in 2026, opening first as an industrial airport in late 2028 with commercial passenger traffic starting as early as 2029.
This timing helps to immediately relieve the congestion and noise issues at the nearby smaller Oshawa and Buttonville airports. Neither airport can expand.
Are you going to trade tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in regional economic benefits associated with full development of the Pickering airport lands for a 1,900-unit residential development? I think not.
Then, could the runways be moved? There are two problems with this idea.
First, the runways have been geo-oriented to facilitate airport operations taking full advantage of the prevailing winds. Changing the orientation negatively impacts operations.
Second, moving the runways shifts the aircraft noise exposures onto lands owned by other homeowners, business and developers in Markham and Durham who are currently not encumbered by these flight paths or developers who have already allowed for the airport approaches in their current land use plans. Case in point, the Veraine community proposal east of the airport lands recognizes the airport approach surfaces and has its residential uses well outside of them. Interestingly, their analysis of approach surfaces also shows that these north Markham lands would fall under the Pickering Airport western approach surfaces.
It is doubtful that other developers especially would simply or quietly agree to have their lands burdened so the Markham proponent could proceed with this development.
Last idea: cancel the MZOs, both approved and requested, or prohibit residential and noise sensitive uses below the approach surfaces. Oh, this is a tough one! This is a highly political and potentially litigious action. Some provincial, regional and municipal elected officials will be directly impacted, either having to reverse their previous positions, or having to intervene to modify the plan or even to shut things down. The development proponent could be required to radically change its proposal, or even cancel the project outright.
Notwithstanding, cancelling the MZOs or prohibiting noise sensitive land uses may be the right, and the only feasible, action.
The trigger for this posting was the proposed development in north Markham. The underlying message is much broader. There will be a Pickering Airport.
Regardless of the current impact the pandemic is having on aviation, aviation will become the primary mode of long-distance travel for the next century. The demand for new aircraft and the need for aviation infrastructure are projected to soar over the coming decades.
Any developments well beyond the official retained federal airport lands, at least within 15 kilometres of that site, whether in Markham, Stouffville, Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, Oshawa and Scarborough need to explicitly determine if their plans are impacted by and compatible with the operation and regulations for the future airport.
If those analyses indicate their plans are impacted by Pickering Airport or vice versa, then they will have to change their plans.
“Distance Attenuation Calculator”, https://www.omnicalculator.com/physics/distance-attenuation
“Estimating Sound Levels with the Inverse Square Law, ”http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Acoustic/isprob2.html
“Pickering Airport Site Zoning Regulation” (PASZR) https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Regulations/SOR-2004-212/index.html
Ontario Noise Regulation (O. Reg. 381/15), https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/150381
“Pickering Lands Aviation Sector Analysis”, March 2020
Toronto East Aerotropolis, https://www.pickering.ca/en/toronto-east-aerotropolis.aspx
“Provincial Policy Statement 2020”, https://www.ontario.ca/page/provincial-policy-statement-2020