Corp Comm Connects

Developers in York Region are seeking changes on Greenbelt
July 9, 2015
By Jennifer Cheng

Landowners are seeking several changes across York Region to remove their lands from the Greenbelt to allow development, which would put the health and state of the provincially protected lands at serious risk, according to an environmental watchdog group.

The requests from 40 landowners, largely developers, came before the province’s May 28 deadline for comments, as it conducts a 10-year review of the four provincial land use plans - the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH), the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan - which manage the region’s development and protect the environment.

The Greenbelt, which runs from Rice Lake near Peterborough, Ont., to Niagara-on-the-Lake, protects 1.8 million acres of land, including the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges Moraine and an area known as “protected countryside.”

Non-profit Environmental Defence’s executive director Tim Gray said that if exemptions are allowed every time there is a desire for landowners to redesignate protected countryside as developable land for subdivisions, then the Greenbelt is “a bit of a joke ... something on a map that has actually no teeth.” He added that it would represent a return to the 1950s and ’60s type of approach to development, which proceeded in a sprawling fashion. “If this review results in a diminishment of [the Greenbelt’s intent to protect farmland in natural areas], then we are going backwards,” he said.

One of the fastest growing areas in North America, the GGH is expected to see about 13.5 million people and 6.3 million jobs by 2041. However, according to the Council of the Regional Municipality of York’s 2041 York Region Draft Growth Scenarios, the rapid population growth can be accommodated via a “whitebelt” (defined as lands deemed neither urban nor Greenbelt) and the existing urban boundary.

Of the 40 landowners’ requests, three are in Richmond Hill, five in Markham and 15 in Vaughan. The remaining ones are all in York Region, too.

Vaughan mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua has made it clear this is a “provincial process,” adding that the province must provide clarity on the process. And yet, Vaughan and other municipalities boldly put forth a map of all the properties within the Greenbelt they want the province to develop, said Gray.

One developer’s request was also singled out and passed in City of Vaughan Council at a council meeting on May 19, when Vaughan deputy mayor Michael Di Biase amended a motion to endorse one specific tract owned by the Milani Group within the Greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Moraine.

“That’s neither fair nor equitable ... [and] blatantly disrespectful to the rest of the development community,” said councillor Marilyn Iafrate, who voted against the motion, adding that this is the time for developers to see how serious the province is on the Greenbelt legislation. They will either leave everything status quo - or they are going to open up the floodgates, she said.