ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE AND OAK RIDGES MORAINE LAND TRUST
Toronto, Ont. – A religious order, whose Trustees include key players in land speculation and greenfield housing construction, is requesting Council approval of a request for a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) that would let it build (among other things), a hotel development on the Greenbelt and the natural core area of the Oak Ridges Moraine. The surprise request, set to be considered by King Township Council on Monday, December 14th, is causing concern among King Township residents and environmental NGOs due to the location of the proposed development and the anti-democratic manner in which the proposal is being advanced.
Augustinian Fathers (Ont.) Inc., presently controls a modest monastery and shrine on one corner of an isolated, largely-forested and wetland-covered 814-acre Oak Ridges Moraine estate. They are seeking to convert it to a sprawling multi-use commercial complex, which would include among other things a hotel, conference centre and the now customary token seniors-centre-in-the-middle-of-nowhere. These are not permitted uses on this vital and very sensitive part of the Oak Ridges Moraine. Unlike normal municipal planning processes, the issuing of an MZO, as requested, would not provide any opportunity even to assess the wider consequences of building near or within the vital Mary Lake and Seneca Lake wetland complex, let alone to determine how and whether those consequences could be mitigated.
While the considerable Provincially Significant Wetlands on the site would ordinarily engage the protection of Conservation Authorities, that protection was undermined last week, with a new law that forces Conservation Authorities to permit destruction ordered through a Minister’s Zoning Order and to negotiate a “pay to slay” agreement that would allow the developer to pay a fee in exchange for the right to destroy the natural values.
“If King Council endorses the request for an MZO and the Minister then issues it, it would add to the list of MZOs that have been issued that permit development in previously protected wetlands, river, valleys and forests,” said Tim Gray, Executive Director at Environmental Defence. “It would also be the first one ordered on the Greenbelt where Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark has promised to avoid at all costs.”
Regarding the surprise MZO request, CEO Susan Walmer, Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust said:
“An MZO on the Oak Ridges Moraine beside a kettle lake wetland complex that feeds the East Humber River? Slipped onto the final King Council meeting of the year? This is not a Happy Holiday greeting. Citizen action in the 1990’s created the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and citizens must now protect it. Development on the Moraine without proper environmental studies and public input is not acceptable now and never will be.”
King Township Councillor Debbie Schaefer was similarly concerned:
“It would be a total mockery of the three year process King has just gone through to create a new Official Plan if King Council were to endorse this MZO. The new Plan was just approved by York Region in October 2020. Every other landowner needs to follow the process of making an application with extensive, comprehensive studies assessing the environmental impact of any changes, including the introduction of municipal services to this area which is outside the urban boundary of King City. King prides itself as being a good steward of the Oak Ridges Moraine. To endorse changes proposed without the necessary studies would be a terrible violation of our own principles. Furthermore, endorsing a MZO, which by its nature, precludes public consultation is very inconsistent with King’s belief that effective planning of our community requires public engagement.”
Concerned citizens have a very short time to make their opposition to the MZO known to King Township Council. Written comments should be submitted to the Township Clerk at email@example.com by 12:00 p.m. (noon) on Monday, December 14th. Comments will form part of the public record and will be circulated to Council. Those who wish to oppose the MZO through an oral submission (by audio-telephone) should also pre-register with the Clerk’s Division at 905-833-4068 or email firstname.lastname@example.org by 12:00 p.m. (noon) on Monday, December 14th. They should provide their full name, address, telephone number and the item they wish to speak to. Upon receipt of registration, you will receive a confirmation email with instructions for participating by telephone.
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For more information or to request an interview, please contact:
Sarah Jamal, Environmental Defence, email@example.com
Susan Walmer, Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust, firstname.lastname@example.org