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Municipalities call on Ford government to reimburse cost of Greenbelt flip-flop
Oct. 20, 2023
Isaac Callan and Colin D’Mello

Two Ontario municipalities with lands that were removed from and then returned to the Greenbelt are demanding the Ford government reimburse their planning costs after its policy flipflop.

Both the Town of Grimsby and the City of Pickering said indecision over the Greenbelt wasted planning staff and consultant time, putting extra costs on the backs of property taxpayers.

The calls for financial compensation come as the province formalizes its decision to return the land it removed to its previously protected status.

In late-2022, the province announced removal of 7,400 acres of land from the Greenbelt to allow for homebuilding. After a scandal focusing on how that decision was made, the government returned it to the Greenbelt.

In a letter to housing minister Paul Calandra, Pickering’s mayor said the city had spent “considerable time, effort, and money” preparing for development.

Mayor Kevin Ashe said some of the local resources put toward the Greenbelt file were expended after provincial officials explicitly asked.

“While we appreciate the Province’s reconsideration and commitment to preserving the integrity of the Greenbelt, we cannot overlook the significant amount of resources that have already been expended by our municipality in anticipation of housing development, sometimes at the direction of the Province itself,” Ashe wrote in the letter.

Local officials estimate the file cost local taxpayers $360,135 and are asking the province to reimburse it. The costs include around $90,000 for legal services and $178,000 to analyze the financial impacts of the Greenbelt decision.

To the west, councillors in Grimsby are making the same demands.

Town officials are in the process of writing to the Ford government after council passed a motion asking for $82,000 to be reimbursed.

“It’s just a matter of being made whole by the province -- it’s $82,000” Coun. Nick Di Flavio told Global News.

“On a provincial level, that’s not a huge amount of money, but for Grimsby, it is a large amount of money and I just want to make sure it’s not Grimbsy ... footing the bill.”

Di Favio suggested the Greenbelt changes had consumed the relatively small municipality’s planning department, as staff scrambled to meet stringent provincial timelines.

“We have a reaction centre expansion project, roads, projects like that -- everything was kind of put on pause,” he said. “For the most part, the three or four people we have on our planning staff were all working on Greenbelt.”

Other municipalities that had land removed said they were largely unaffected.

Clarington, Ajax, Stouffville and Vaughan all told Global News they had not incurred significant costs from the Greenbelt land removals.

“City of Vaughan staff had discussions, following the Ministry’s decision on the Greenbelt lands in 2022, with the landowner and Ontario government staff about the then future potential development of lands in Vaughan,” a spokesperson for the Toronto-area municipality said.

“This is in line with the normal planning process and the City will not be seeking compensation from the Province for the City’s work.”

Global News contacted the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for comment but did not receive a reply ahead of publication.