Toronto –The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) has given the green light to develop a 750 hectare “Strategic Industrial Employment Area” along Highway 400 at Highway 88 in Bradford West Gwillimbury. The ruling is conditional on a special Minister’s Zoning Order being issues.
Confusingly, with this ruling, the province has approved one of the areas under consideration in its Simcoe Area Growth Strategy, before the public comment period for the Strategy ends on September 2, 2009
“The removal of hundreds of acres of prime agricultural lands just north of the Greenbelt seriously weakens Ontario’s Places to Grow Act and will threaten the Greenbelt when it comes up for review in 2015,” said Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director, Environmental Defence.
The OMB’s decision (PL07121) says, “The evidence before the Board is that virtually any expansion of development within Bradford West Gwillimbury would likely occur on prime agricultural lands,” (12). The Provincial Policy Statement only allows prime agricultural areas to be used for non-residential uses if there are no reasonable alternative locations which avoid prime agricultural areas. Simply following Places to Grow and not developing in the Bradford area could be one such ‘alternative’ since there are thousands of acres of approved and vacant employment land in the GTA. 
“At a time when consumers are supporting local food production in record numbers it is alarming that the Province does not appreciate the role agriculture plays in the economy of Ontario,” said Rob Keffer, a seventh generation dairy farmer in the area.
The Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury and a development consortium, including Metrus and Geranium Corporation (the developer of the proposed Big Bay Point mega-marina in Innisfil), made the case for the employment area along the unserviced Highway 400 because the Town’s previous employment area plan relied on the 400-404 Link, which the McGuinty government promised not to build. But environmental groups are concerned the OMB decision in fact opens the door to both areas being developed in the future.
Should the Employment Area be built, Campaign Lake Simcoe believes this will simply be a foot in the door for developers to push for more. The OMB has rubber-stamped the first step in a massive new sprawl project for Bradford/Bond Head. Significantly, Geranium itself on its website says that “Our Bradford-Bond Head development will by 2031 provide a unique live-work community for up to 70 000 additional people.”
OMB Chair Susan Schiller’s decision concludes that Places to Grow is “not clear” on whether employment areas may be located outside of settlement areas, but she ruled in any event it is acceptable in Bradford West Gwillimbury. This broad reading of Places to Grow worries planners who applauded its direction that settlement areas include a mix of uses, including employment areas. The OMB’s approval of a massive employment area, miles from existing homes, sets a dangerous precedent for approving developer-initiated schemes that don’t make communities more liveable.
“This decision is conditional on the Minister intervening and issuing MZOs that on their face undo provincial policy. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said David Donnelly, Counsel to Environmental Defence. “Why is the provincial government acting as real estate agent for this company, ignoring Places to Grow and issuing MZOs for this developer?”
“This process is a joke,” said Claire Malcolmson, coordinator of Campaign Lake Simcoe. “Developers have been buying up land and initiating Official Plan Amendments in Simcoe County for years, and the Province watched quietly. After its own Growth Plan conformity deadline, the Province feigns trying to stop the train with its Simcoe Area “Vision” for Growth. This rewards particular developers and seriously undermines the integrity of all the Province’s good planning work.”
Last week, the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance released Places to Sprawl: Report on Municipal Conformity with the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, as provided for under Ontario’s Places to Grow Act. Initially, the province gave all municipalities up to three years to ensure that their growth plans were in compliance with the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. That deadline has come and gone and as of July 31, 2009, only six of the 89 affected lower tier municipalities had passed the requisite growth amendments with the vast majority of them waiting on upper tier conformity to provide direction or their growth.
Places to Sprawl is available to download for free on the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance web site –
www.greenbeltalliance.ca.
 
About Campaign Lake Simcoe: Campaign Lake Simcoe is a partnership of Environmental Defence, the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and Ontario Nature and welcomes participation from all citizen groups who care about Lake Simcoe.
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For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Mike Layton (416)323-9521 x 257