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Controversial decision on Georgina Maple Lake Estates under review

North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance celebrates big victory, despite DG Group's request for LPAT review
Jan. 30, 2020
Amanda Persico

While the decades-old controversy over the Maple Lake Estate (MLE) development has once again been put on pause, the North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance is celebrating the ‘great victory.'

“The laws are clear,” said North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance (NGFA) chairperson Jack Gibbons. “The planning act is clear. We’re working to the protect the forest forever.”

Last month, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) decision ordered Georgina to remove its urban residential designation on environmentally significant lands, including the North Gwillimbury Forest lands.

The tribunal sided with the alliance in that more than 90 per cent of the MLE lands fall under provincial protection and should not be developed, calling environmental protection policies "good planning."

The town now has to bring its zoning bylaws into conformity, changing the area from rural to environmental protection, leaving the town to grapple with the registered development plans approved more than three decades ago.

“Development plans are not cast in stone,” Gibbons said. “If they had actually built it 35, 30 or 25 years ago, they could have done it. But they didn’t. And now the laws have changed.

“Thirty-five years ago, there were no laws prohibiting development on provincially significant wetlands. Thirty-five years ago, no one realized (developing there) was a bad thing to do for the health of Lake Simcoe.”

Based on new environmental protection laws, it would be appropriate for the town to rescind the old development approvals, Gibbons added.

But the town is still left with the registered subdivision plans on the books.

After carving out the significant woodlots and wetlands, the town is left with "slivers" of urban zoning, said the town’s development services director, Harold Lenters, during a verbal update in town council.

“The reality is we now have new designation and new policies applying to the land,” he said. “And we have old zoning and an existing policy that don’t connect to the land anymore. That’s the conundrum we’re facing.”

It’s a conundrum because the planned subdivision housing more than 1,000 homes was approved and registered, Mayor Margaret Quirk said during a council meeting.

“(Environmental protection) is a good thing in the bigger picture,” she said. “But now we have to deal with our official plan and our policies.”

The zoning on the property will change, Quirk added, but there is a process to follow.  The town has three years to conform its bylaws.

But to go a step further and create a win-win situation out of this mess, Gibbons said, the town could transfer the development plans to the urban south Keswick area, closer to Hwy. 404 and the yet-to-be-built multi-use recreation complex.

Adding to the messiness, the landowner-developer DG Group recently filed for an LPAT review of the decision that came out in favour of protecting more than 90 per cent of the MLE lands.

There are a number of situations that can play out: the review request can be dismissed; the tribunal can ask for clarification from the developers and the town; or the review can request another LPAT hearing.

“We’re going to fight the battle as long as it takes,” Gibbons said. “We’re in this campaign to the end.”

The town, on the other hand, is waiting for the final word from the tribunal.

There are rumblings DG Group is negotiating to sell the significant lands back to the province to create a publicly owned nature reserve.

Since the issue is before LPAT again, York-Simcoe MPP Caroline Mulroney could not confirm if negotiations are taking place to sell the lands and create a nature reserve.