Phinjo Gombu
Lawyers for the province have walked away from an Ontario Municipal Board hearing into a controversial industrial development zone rather than make submissions on a secretly negotiated deal with developers that cleared the way for it.
The sudden absence of two government lawyers from the hearing in Bradford West Gwillimbury yesterday highlighted the complicated legal contortions involved in the approval of the project in Bradford, which goes against the principles of the province’s own Places to Grow plan.
Susan Schiller, chair of the hearing, had asked provincial lawyers to make submissions but her request was ignored and yesterday the province’s lawyers did not appear. With no government reports in support of the deal, it was left to the developer’s own planners and the town to sing the project’s praises.
Critics fear the massive industrial and manufacturing development around Highway 400 and County Road 88 will mark the start of unchecked sprawl north of the Holland Marsh towards Barrie.
Months ago, provincial planners were opposed to the proposal, but earlier this year the province quietly negotiated a deal with developers and the local municipality that would allow Vaughan-based equipment company Toromont to relocate its manufacturing and distribution facilities there.
The deal, which would pave the way for other employers to move into the new zone, requires Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson to issue extraordinary zoning orders to override anti-sprawl legislation.
Last week, the province announced it would hold consultations on further urbanization along Highway 400. A local residents’ group and Environmental Defence said the Bradford hearing should be adjourned until that process is completed. Michael Melling, lawyer for the developers, argued the project conforms to growth plans, and asked the board to approve it but hold a decision until the minister’s zoning orders are in place.
Larry Clay, assistant deputy minister of municipal affairs, said the province left the hearing after being satisfied that the terms of the settlement were properly addressed.
The hearing was completed in three days, with the chair reserving a decision until a later date.