This is a guest blog by concerned residents of Claremont, Ontario.
In May 2018, Premier Ford wrote: “Unequivocally, we won’t touch the Greenbelt […] people don’t want me touching the Greenbelt.”
In June 2020, he said: “We’re not going to touch the Greenbelt, I will never touch the Greenbelt.”
Yet through an apparently intentional act of omission, his Government is helping to facilitate a grave threat to the protection of the Greenbelt.
At the heart of the matter is agricultural land that is adjacent to the hamlet of Claremont, in north Pickering. It is Greenbelt land. It is designated as Countryside Area under the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (which is part of the Greenbelt.) It was classified as a Prime Agricultural Area in the system mapping done in 2018 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. As such, it has protections in the Provincial Policy Statement.
This land should be safer-than-safe from development, right? Wrong!
What’s the Story?
A developer has sought permission from the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) to proceed with rezoning applications submitted to the City of Pickering in 1990 by a former landowner. The current developer wants to build 70 estate homes on the field, even though:
- In 1998, the Ontario Municipal Board approved the lands as agricultural
- In 2006, the Minister of Municipal Affairs refused the development proposal and modified Pickering’s Oak Ridges Moraine official plan and zoning by-law to keep the land agricultural
- In 2017, during the Greenbelt Plan Review, the Minister and Cabinet rejected a further attempt by Pickering to allow the development and, in so doing, confirmed the land’s status as agricultural
When the case was first heard by the LPAT (in 2018), the presence that day of Ministry of Municipal Affairs lawyers suggested that the Province would be defending the land’s multi-level protections. Instead, having stated for the record that the land was on the Oak Ridges Moraine (which is part of the Greenbelt), the Ministry (subsequent to the change in government) made no further appearances or submissions in the procedural hearings. It has fallen to local citizens to fund a challenge and carry the Greenbelt torch.
What’s the Concern?
Approval of the rezoning application would trigger a significant and unprecedented Moraine boundary change, and would help ease the way for other attempts to take land out of the Greenbelt. The case against the rezoning attempt points out that those 30-year-old applications have been decided against repeatedly by the Province, so the applications no longer have status and the LPAT has no jurisdiction to hear the developer’s appeal.
By rights, the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs should be making these arguments. Its silence has allowed the developer, Pickering, and Durham Region to avoid any mention of the Province’s earlier decisions. This in turn has led to a series of flawed LPAT decisions, the latest of which came down in the developer’s favour.
What Are the Consequences?
The parcel of land may be small, relatively speaking, but if its protections are removed, the negative consequences will reverberate the length and breadth of the Greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Moraine. If the Province fails to uphold its own decisions to protect the Greenbelt, it will open up avenues that other developers will try to exploit. We do not want the little hamlet of Claremont to go down in history as the place where the undoing of Greenbelt and Moraine protections got its start.
With no tier of government stepping up to defend these protections, local citizens are now taking the matter to Divisional Court. The motion seeking leave to appeal will be heard (virtually) on the morning of December 2, 2020. We have urged the Premier to ensure that his Government will be represented at the hearing, to uphold Ontario’s land-use and conservation policies as well as the decisions of the OMB, two prior Ministers, and Cabinet. We don’t know if this will happen.
You Can Help Us
If permanent Greenbelt and Moraine protection is as important to you as it is to us, we urge you to copy/paste/adapt the following letter, or write your own message to the Ontario government:
Dear Premier Ford,
A developer has resurrected long-dormant applications to rezone a farm field adjacent to the hamlet of Claremont in north Pickering, intending to build 70 estate homes on the property. The land is on the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine. Rezoning would trigger an unprecedented Moraine boundary change with potentially devastating consequences for both the Moraine and Greenbelt.
The applications date from 1990 and have already been decided against by the Province at least three times (in 1998, 2006, and 2017). Nonetheless, an appeal has now resulted in a favourable decision by Ontario’s LPAT. In the absence of any provincial intervention, it has fallen to concerned local citizens to seek reversal of the decision in Divisional Court.
Your Government has vowed not to touch the Greenbelt. Excellent! But the Government’s silence on this particular matter has been deafening and contradicts your promise to Ontarians. I urge the Province to step up and defend its land-use policies. Please ensure that the Moraine and Greenbelt remain protected for us for generations to come.
Consider sending to:
Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, Steve Clark: firstname.lastname@example.org
Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister, Ernie Hardeman: email@example.com
MPP Peter Bethlenfalvy (its his riding): firstname.lastname@example.org
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