Corp Comm Connects

‘Plenty of land around’: Vaughan councillor pins hopes on auditor general to save farmland

'I think regional government should be eliminated': Coun. Iafrate
Oct. 26, 2021
Dina Al-Shibeeb

Vaughan Ward 1 Coun. Marilyn Iafrate says it’s unnecessary in a time of climate crisis to pave over farmland in York region when there is “plenty of land around” for development in town.

Iafrate spoke Oct. 22, a day after regional councillors rejected residents’ appeals against Ontario’s population growth plan for 2031.

The growth plan spells out the demise of 1,200 hectares of the provincially identified prime land, also known as whitebelt.

After the interview with the Vaughan Citizen, Iafrate shared her letter she sent to Ontario's auditor general Bonnie Lysyk, expressing her concerns about the province's new lands needs assessment by Hemson Consulting.

Even with the federal government mandating a record number of immigrants, Iafrate said there is enough land.

“We're going to meet that number without destroying all of the whitebelt,” she said.

During a special council meeting Oct. 21, regional councillors listened to three hours of delegations and received multiple written submissions, including more than 90 from local residents and activists, urging the region to hold the line on urban sprawl. Proponents of the growth plan, including land owners and developers, praised the plan for balancing the need for family housing in lower-density areas with high-density, and for ensuring there’s an adequate supply of ground-related housing.

“We had a 25 minute debate over getting some data from (York Region) staff about population numbers, because that, I truly believe would have proven that we did not need all the whitebelt land; we could still meet the targets imposed upon us by the region and the province without wiping out all the whitebelt,” Iafrate said.

The councillor also said that Vaughan staff have data that the York Region could use to determine availability of vacant land and growth, but the latter isn’t showing interest in acquiring them.

Locally, Vaughan staff also told Iafrate months ago that the employment land available at the city -- 700 hectares -- can also help the city meet those provincial population numbers.

“I am not saying ‘no’ to it, I'm just simply saying, we don't need all of that land because we're already doing it,” she said, describing the move by York Region as “bad planning” and emphasizing the need to keeping the whitebelt as a buffer zone to the protected Greenbelt.

“The region is saying one thing because they're getting it from the province, but they're not giving us an opportunity to defend our position as to whether or not we really need to go and destroy all that land because, once it's deemed for development, it’s over.”

“It never goes back to farmland,” she emphasized.

With 93 people speaking against whitebelt development and six developers supporting the provincial growth figures, Iafrate criticized what York Region called public consultation.

“This is the part I'm really disgusted with. This is not a public consultation, especially the outcome has already been pre-determined by the region, and then they're just humouring us that we have to do public consultation.”

Iafrate flagged some issues to the provincial auditor general, who is an independent officer, that the financial load that might fall on the taxpayer.

“I've explained to her what the province has done is that it’s putting a huge financial burden on the region who can't afford it,” she said. “They admitted they can't afford it, and even admitted that the development charges are going to be so high at what they call ground-related housing in the whitebelt for single family homes.”

With York Region having “an extremely large debt load,” the plan would require funding from other levels of governments, she said.

Another problem is the proposed Highway 413, which is backed by the region but officially rejected by Vaughan councillors.

"Interesting enough is that consuming all the whitebait lands in Vaughan and parts of York region is premised on the construction of the GTA West Corridor also known as Highway 413. Should this not materialize, then what?" she told the auditor in the letter.

"I think regional government should be eliminated because they're not representative of the residents."

The auditor general's report is expected to come out before the end of this year.

Meanwhile, York Region told that a number of consultation techniques have been used to date and outlined to their Have Your Say webpage.

“These include mapping, online surveys, walking tours, focus groups and a community agency forum,” it added.

York Region said it gathered information through a variety of public consultations and events across its municipalities.

Also, York Region staff will be presenting a draft of its regional official plan in November. But didn't explain that it would follow the provincial mandate for the upcoming growth.

“That will be a draft for further consultation with the public.”