York slams province over sprawl

Cites double standard as massive employment zone sanctioned on 400
Sep 10, 2009 04:30 AM
 
Phinjo Gombu
urban affairs reporter

Provincial plans to allow large employment zones along Highway 400 in Simcoe County could suck jobs out of York Region just as the region is spending billions on transit and other infrastructure meant to combat sprawl.
Such development, particularly in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil, may also damage Lake Simcoe and undermine Ontario’s new Lake Simcoe Protection Act, York Region staff say in a report passed by the regional planning committee yesterday.
The report echoes concerns expressed last week in York’s official response to something called the Simcoe Strategy.
The “strategy,” released by the province in June, calls for more urbanization than originally envisioned in Simcoe County and requires an amendment to the Places to Grow Act, a long-term plan to curb sprawl and manage growth.
The move came under fire from critics earlier this year. It’s feared that allowing a massive employment zone along the 400 – in a deal quietly negotiated among the province, municipal officials and major developers – will lead to unchecked sprawl from the northern edge of the Greenbelt to Barrie.
“Developers and employers seeking lower land prices are likely to gravitate to the new provincial employment area designations in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil,” the York staff report states.
“This trend may compete with employment growth from York Region where significant investment in infrastructure has already been made,” the report continues, adding that York may now have difficulty meeting its own long-term employment forecasts.
Billions of dollars are being spent on the Viva bus rapid transit network, roads and plans for live-work communities and intensification within the region.
The report asks that the impact on GTA municipalities be studied before the province opens up new fronts for development in Simcoe.
It repeats York’s long-held position that leapfrogging development over the Greenbelt will “exacerbate existing issues of congestion” for commuters who travel between Simcoe and the GTA.
It says the province has yet to undertake a formal review of such development.
It also questions the government’s double standard – challenging York Region’s proposed employment zones south of the Greenbelt, while supporting the Simcoe zones.
Because there’s more growth being forecast now in Simcoe, York officials and politicians are pushing hard for the controversial Bradford Bypass, a highway linking Highway 400 to Highway 404 – which the province has so far insisted is not on the books.
York Region is now calling for widening the 400-series highways and building 12 new modified interchanges – building on concerns expressed last year about the lack of planning for public transportation that would link Simcoe and the GTA.
At one point, the province was prepared to challenge the proposed employment zones in Simcoe before the Ontario Municipal Board, saying there was already more than enough land approved for development.
But under pressure, in part from concerns that Toromont, a Vaughan manufacturer and distributor of heavy equipment, might move to Manitoba if it weren’t allowed to relocate operations to the Highway 400 corridor, the province changed its tune.
Officials now say the new zones are more appropriately located.