The Ontario Municipal Board has given its approval to develop a 730-hectare Strategic Industrial Employment Area along Highway 400, from the 5th to the 8th lines in Bradford West Gwillimbury.
Of that land, the developable area is considered to be 347- hectares, since the North Schomberg River flows through the area.
The ruling approves BWG’s OPA 15, with OPA 16 (Bond Head) also expected to receive approval soon.
The County of Simcoe had also urged industrial development of the 400 corridor as the best way to attract industry to the region.
BWG and a development consortium, including Metrus and Geranium Corporation, made the case for the employment area along the unserviced 400, because the town’s previous employment area plan relied on the 400- 404 Link, which the provincial government promised not to build.
The agreement calls for a new interchange at the 5th Line bridge over the 400. The move paves the way for the development of the giant Caterpillar dealer (Toromont) at the north-east corner of 400 and the 5th.
Following the development of that interchange, the current Canal Road access will be closed.
Not everyone is happy. Environmental groups are concerned the OMB decision opens the door to both areas being developed in the future.
“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 Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence.
“The evidence before the board is that virtually any expansion of development within BWG would likely occur on prime agricultural lands,” says the OMB, in its decision.
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 that land. 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, said Smith.
“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 just west of the new industrial area, who led opposition to the development.
Those developers along the proposed Highway 404 link seem to be out of luck, at least temporarily. It does not appear that link between the 400 and 404 will be considered until at least 2031.
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’s website says, “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 zones may be located outside of settlement areas, but she ruled it is acceptable in BWG.
“This decision is conditional on the Minister intervening and issuing Ministerial Zoning Orders (which he is expected to do) that on their face undo provincial policy. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said David Donnelly, lawyer for 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?”
OPA 15 calls for prestige industrial development along the 400, with companies allowed to put in their own sanitary systems until town services arrive.
The document also argues that the ecology of the Lake Simcoe watershed will be enhanced, as there are opportunities to mitigate the damage done by agricultural practices.
Development must stay at least 30 metres back from each side of the river.
Heritage buildings in the area will also be identified.
Initially, development will be near the 5th Line and Highway 88 interchanges.
The Bond Head plan included in OPA 16 would see an eventual bypass for County Road 27, around the east side of the hamlet. Development would start in the north-west quadrant and continue clockwise.
Eventually, the hamlet is projected to house 4,400 people, with the Penville Creek having a 30 metre buffer on each side.