Phinjo Gombu
Staff Reporter
Toronto Star
The Ontario Municipal Board has upheld a precedent-setting decision by the Town of Oakville to preserve an extensive network of linked natural heritage corridors as the “first priority” and foundation for a massive residential development plan for about 50,000 people.
The proposed development is slated for mostly farmland and forest lots in an area bounded by Dundas St. W., Ninth Line, Tremaine Rd. and Highway 407 – one of the last large blocks of developable land left in Oakville.
The town’s proposal means an unprecedented 900 hectares, or more than one-third of the 3,400 hectares of developable land, will be preserved as green space, something Oakville Mayor Rob Burton calls a “breakthrough” and a first in green planning in Ontario.
The ruling is expected to have ramifications across the GTA, especially in other high-profile developments in the works such as the provincially planned green-and-sustainable community for about 70,000 people on the Seaton Lands in north Pickering.
It’s also expected to play a significant role in how the province’s internationally lauded Places to Grow Act is implemented. The act is an attempt to contain urban sprawl by promoting intensification and growth in already built-up urban areas in the Golden Horseshoe.
The OMB ruling marks the end of a decade-long battle by town planners and activist-turned-politicians such as Burton, who fought to ensure the proposed development would adhere to the planning principles of “new urbanism,” particularly in being more transit- and pedestrian-friendly.
“This is a wonderful day when you think of the 10 years worth of work that so many people have put in to create this green day,” Burton said yesterday.
“Clearly, times have changed and it’s time for developers to get with the action,” Rick Smith, executive director of the activist group Environmental Defence told the Star. “There has been a sea change (in planning principles) with the advent of the Greenbelt.”
The town has won a series of successive, hard-fought victories over developers who initially tried to fight the Natural Heritage System idea of planning at the OMB a few years ago and then abandoned the battle.
Most of the developers settled with the town in August, but a handful continued to fight, asserting their right to develop lands the plan had designated for green space.
“It’s in perfect time with what the public thinks,” Burton said of the OMB decision. “The public today demands and expects green planning.”
He said the town began its “systems-based” idea for planning long before the provincial Greenbelt legislation came into being.
Town officials have always emphasized that the planned system of linked open spaces, woods and wildlife corridors, along water systems such as Bronte Creek and Sixteen Mile Creek and their tributaries, preserves an area 20 per cent bigger than New York’s Central Park, bigger also than Vancouver’s Stanley Park and almost double the size of Toronto’s High Park.
Until now, the notion of “linked natural heritage” corridors has typically been an afterthought in planning GTA developments – or at least secondary to the goal of putting in as many housing units as possible.
Smith said the ruling sends a message to other municipalities that linked-systems planning is here to stay.
“The board finds that in setting policies and boundaries in this Secondary Plan, the Town has done an admirable job of balancing the need to provide land to accommodate (provincially) mandated growth with the equally important need to maintain a vital, healthy natural heritage system,” OMB vice-chair Susan Campbell wrote in the decision.
She called the town policy a “superior and forward-looking method of protecting the province’s natural heritage.”
Burton said the impact would be felt in places like Seaton, in north Pickering, because planners from the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing helped Oakville in its fight to preserve the Natural Heritage System corridors.
As in north Oakville, plans for Seaton would set aside significantly larger amounts of green space along river valleys and woodlot corridors