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Georgina considers changes that could halt forest development
March 12, 2015
By Heidi Riedner

A potential large-scale Metrus development in the North Gwillimbury Forest is back on the radar in Georgina after the town endorsed proposed changes to conservation guidelines that may stop it in its tracks.

But whether those policies would effectively stop development or just add one more planning hoop to a complex paper trail of approvals that may still require opening up the province’s Greenbelt Plan for any resolution is yet to be determined.

Ward 3 Councillor Dave Neeson’s motion of support of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority’s draft policy guidelines coming before its board in April was unanimously supported by town council earlier this month.

If the draft guidelines are adopted by the authority board April 24, that would mean Metrus Developments will not be able to build a 1,073-unit subdivision on the designated provincially significant Paradise Beach-Island Grove wetlands in the north end of Keswick, according to North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance chairperson Jack Gibbons.

“This is potentially a big breakthrough for protection of the forest and its wetlands,” Gibbons said.

A key factor of that is removing opportunities to “grandfather” registered plans of subdivision.

In this case, that refers to planning approvals dating back more than 20 years for what’s known as Maple Lake Estate lands owned by Metrus in the North Gwillimbury Forest.

But those approvals and their validity, in light of subsequent environmental legislation, have been at the centre of an ongoing debate between lawyers and planning consultants on both sides of the environmental versus development argument.

Former town councils repeatedly re-iterated commitments to environmentally sustainable development, but stood by the fact they were bound by provincial and regional planning policy that accommodated existing development rights on Maple Lake Estates land.

Past discussions with stakeholders in the debate regarding potential alternatives or land swaps boiled down to bringing the province on board since they could require amending the province’s Greenbelt Plan.

But Gibbons and the Alliance are hopeful of recent developments at the authority.

Gibbons added the new guidelines would bring the authority’s policies regarding development on provincially significant wetlands in line with other authorities in the province.

The draft guidelines recently endorsed by the town have also been given the stamp of approval from Ontario Nature, the David Suzuki Foundation and Ducks Unlimited.

Based on research done by the David Suzuki Foundation, Gibbons estimates the NGF’s wetlands provide $8.8 million of ecological services, such as water filtration and flood control, per year.

Over the next 100 years, the cumulative benefits of the NGF’s wetlands would be $880 million, he added.

The authority board will hear deputations on its draft guidelines at its board meting March 27.

The new watershed development guidelines are scheduled to come before the board for potential approval April 24.