By Chris Simon
Several levels of government have reached an agreement for the significant expansion of the Highway 400 and County Road 88 corridor in Bradford West Gwillimbury.
Major landowners and the governments of Bradford, Town of Innisfil, County of Simcoe, and the province have reached a deal on the development of a 730-hectare stretch of industrial employment land in the 400 and 88 area. The deal comes several weeks before the start of an Ontario Municipal Board hearing into the matter.
“If approved by the OMB, this will be an economic lifeline to the future,” said Bradford mayor Doug White. “It will fill the need for employment lands in our town and strengthen our tax base.”
Both the county and Bradford have identified the need for a strategic industrial employment area in the 400 and 88 area. In fact, town council unanimously supported employment uses for the area in November 2006, after two years of public consultations and technical analyses, said White.
“We are very grateful for the support of the province, the property owners and the county in arriving at this very positive and workable agreement,” he said.
But environmental groups say the agreement violates the province’s Places to Grow legislation.
“Taken together, these extraordinary approvals paint a picture of the county as the Wild West, where developerinitiated projects, not efficient use of servicing and resources, direct municipal plans,” said Robert Matthews, chair of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. “The province needs to remember where it was going, and take the reins.”
Places to Grow — which was passed by the provincial government in 2006 — is intended to guide development planning policies in Southern Ontario. The legislation is supposed to provide transparent and consistent planning, which appears to have been violated by the agreement, he said.
The agreement permits new urban and industrial growth outside an approved and serviced area, while committing the province to support the project during future appeal hearings, said Matthews.
“Planning principles need to be recession proof,” said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence.
“Every business would love a land-use special favour or two from the province in these tough economic times. Paving prime agricultural land and locating new industry in an area unserviced by public transit is a terrible decision in any economy; it’s a recipe for more traffic congestion, smog and urban sprawl. But cutting this deal with a developer behind closed doors without due process makes it even worse.”
But the development will provide jobs for residents throughout the region, said White.
“This is a carefully planned, transit-supportive employment development that will enable Bradford to evolve as a complete community and allow its citizens to work where they live,” he said, noting development approvals or site alteration must comply with the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and plan.
County warden Tony Guergis agrees.
“If approved, this will be a big win for the economic health of the county and for the province,” he said.
Others say the development could impact the nearby Holland Marsh.
“It is decidedly not good environmental or agricultural planning to build a new industrial node beside a flood plain that drains into the Holland Marsh, Ontario’s salad bowl,” said Robert Keffer, president of the Bond Head Bradford West Gwillimbury Residents for Responsible Development, and a seventh generation dairy farmer. “We participated in (Bradford’s) Official Plan process throughout, and then the province and developer go behind closed doors to do this deal and we were completely shut out.
“Had we been there, we would have reminded Premier (Dalton) McGuinty that the lands taken out of Places to Grow protection are 84 per cent prime agricultural, according to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.”
Innisfil mayor Brian Jackson could not be reached for comment.