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To build a park in Vaughan’s Greenbelt neighbourhood or not? Debate ensues

For activist, park is ‘acceptable,’ but it sets precedent
July 13, 2021
Dina Al-Shibeeb

Coupled with Ontario presenting its upcoming intensification plan, which would see a majority of York region’s whitebelt development in the upcoming 30 years, a Vaughan environmentalist is warning against “precedent setting decisions for Greenbelt fingers.”

It all started when Jenny Commisso wrote on behalf of Silvio DeGasperis, president of TACC Construction Ltd. and TACC Developments, to the committee of the whole's June 8 meeting of how Vaughan's staff do not support a Regional Official Plan Amendment 7 (ROPA) to redesignate lands from agricultural to rural area in the Greenbelt fingers for block 27 and 41 in Vaughan.

Attaching a letter from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to York Region, Commisso said it showed: “Parkland uses in the Greenbelt protected countryside parkland and recreational uses are permitted within the rural areas of the protected countryside within the Greenbelt Plan Area.”

Commisso went on saying that at a previous meeting, “many members of Regional council spoke in support of parkland and recreational uses in the table land Greenbelt as per the letter from the ministry.”

During the meeting, city councillors backed building the park, with Regional Coun. Gino Rosati promising to “keep it green” and protect agricultural land.

Coun. Rosanna DeFrancesca also explains how this was done before and is allowed in the Greenbelt act especially since there is a “community benefit.”

“We started this plan and we need to finish it,” she added.

In 2015, the City began its planning process for a new residential community located in Block 41. This block is considered to be one of the city’s few remaining greenfield development areas, with portions currently designated “Community Area”, “Natural Area and Countryside,” and “New Community Area.”  

However, City officials confirmed that its “staff do not support” ROPA 7’s resignation from agricultural to rural and in the Greenbelt fingers for Blocks 27 and 41, and said the “the proposal does not meet the intent of the Growth Plan (2019) and the Greenbelt Plan (2017).”

City officials added that staff “cannot support the extent of permissions associated with the Rural Area designation and the introduction of urban type uses and therefore suggest alternative land-use designations and the appropriate policies for the Greenbelt fingers be explored by York Region in consultation with the City.”

Irene Ford, a municipal affairs activist and environmentalist from Vaughan, admitted that, “No one is disputing that parks are an acceptable use in the rural designation of the Greenbelt Plan.”

But the lingering concern is that the “land will be redesignated without following the approved planning process, the same way that MZO's have been approved.”

"This is an MZO in disguise on the Greenbelt,” Ford said in disbelief.

“Block 41 and 27 are precedent-setting decisions for Greenbelt fingers. Non-Greenbelt portions of Block 41 were approved via MZO but the developer is still pushing for approval of parks on the Greenbelt portions designated prime agriculture,” she added.

“It's not as simple as changing the designation from prime agricultural to rural as the consultant suggested in their presentation.”

The City, meanwhile, said that a “Regional Official Plan Amendment is required” for this to go through.

Citizen activist Irene Ford. - Dina Al-Shibeeb/Metroland

This debate comes as Ontario hands out York Region its provincially forecasted growth to 2051. So far, York Region says it would need to use its 80 per cent of its remaining whitebelt to reach the forecasted growth.

Phil Phothen, Ontario environment program manager at Environmental Defence, who highlighted there is plenty of non-whitebelt land that could be used for the upcoming 30 years, rejected this “car-dependent” sprawl.

“There is no public interest served by expanding our settlements into the Greenbelt -- or into the farms and forests within whitebelt land that is currently restricted to rural uses,” Phothen said.

“The only interest served by sprawling into the Greenbelt -- or at all -- is that of the land speculators who've been buying and hoarding farmland in the Greenbelt in hopes of a windfall if they can convince the government to open it for development.”