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Stouffville council endorses MZO for 'agriculturally inspired' 1,556-home subdivision on McCowan Road

If approved by the province, roughly 4,500 homes are set to come to the block between Highway 48 and McCowan via MZOs
Oct. 12, 2021
Simon Martin

When Ryan Drudge moved to his one-acre home on McCowan Road with his partner Sarah Jones a few years ago, massive subdivisions in the area were far from his mind. While he knew development might eventually come to the corridor on McCowan Road, it was decades away.

Not anymore. Last month, Stouffville council endorsed a minister's zoning order (MZO) for a 1,556-home subdivision from the developer ORCA. The 59 hectares of land on 12045 McCowan Rd. and 11861 McCowan Rd. is next door to land where Flato has already received multiple MZOs in the block between Highway 48, McCowan Road, Stouffville Road and 19th Avenue for roughly 3,000 homes.

Drudge says the whole process has been a complete joke. A year and a half ago, the town started a visioning exercise which Drudge said was essentially laying the groundwork for development before the MZOs.

“Residents that live here know what is going on,” he said. “It’s just been a waste of money. Developers are going to start development in a couple of years, however they want.” Even when the first MZO came to council last year, Drudge said he received a notice for the meeting four days after it happened.

Drudge and Jones run Maker’s Acre Farm on their property, where they have a community-supported agriculture (CSA) model for their produce as well as selling at the Stouffville Farmers Market.

“The process is meant to be confusing to deceive the general public. That is frustrating for us,” Drudge said.

The ORCA group proposal was the latest MZO to come before Stouffville council for endorsement. They billed their 1,556-home subdivision as agriculturally inspired, as only roughly 30 hectares of the 59 hectares of land are developable. The group intends to have some innovative agricultural uses for a portion of the protected Oak Ridges Moraine land, such as community gardens or a farmers’ market.

Stouffville Mayor Iain Lovatt said projects like this are needed for the town to hit their 2051 growth targets. As home affordability continues to be a major issue, Lovatt said he thinks there is a supply issue. “I tend to believe if you flood the market with a product, prices go down,” he said. “The problem we face in York Region is not going away. The entire whitebelt area is going to be required to hit regional growth targets.”

Ward 3 Coun. Hugo Kroon said he is looking forward to the agricultural element for the project. While not completely certain what the “agriculturally inspired” subdivision will look like, Kroon said things like a farmers’ market or community gardens are distinct possibilities. “There is an opportunity to do something novel and exciting,” he said. Kroon also said there needs to be more homes built to feed the demand for housing.

The lone member of council to voice their opposition to the MZO was Ward 6 Coun. Sue Sherban. She said MZOs take residents like Drudge and Jones out of the planning process. “I believe the process we should be going through should be speaking to our residents and our residents developing our communities, not our developers,” she said. Sherban also isn’t buying the “agriculturally inspired” 1,556-home development. “Truly, if I were to talk to one of the farmers, they would laugh at me."

One patch of land between McCowan Road and Highway 48 not set for development is Willowgrove. The 100-acre property has been home to day camps and outdoor education since 1968. Even as the neighbouring land is getting swallowed up by 4,500 MZOs’ worth of homes, executive director Johnny Wideman said Willowgrove’s primary concern is being able to continue its operation as a working farm with a day camp, outdoor education and nature school. “We just want to know that we can continue doing what we do,” he said. “What we offer here is very unique, which makes it all the more worthwhile to continue our operation.”