On Monday Dec 14, 2020, by a margin of six votes to one, King Township Council refused to endorse a “trojan horse” request for a Minister’s Zoning Order that would have permitted a sprawling multi-use commercial complex, including a hotel and conference centre (as well as a long term care facility) on Greenbelt lands, in the functional heart of the sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine.

A Minister’s Zoning Order (an emergency tool being misused at an unprecedented rate by the present government) would have circumvented accepted municipal planning processes and denied residents any say in the matter.  Because of the passage of the government’s Bill 229, Schedule 6, it would also override longstanding Conservation Authorities Act protections that Ontarians have relied on to prevent floods, landslides and contamination and protect important wetlands, forests and significant wildlife habitat.  Granting an MZO would also be yet another a breach of the Government’s commitment never to issue MZOs on the Greenbelt.   

This request marked the first of many likely conflicts  to come regarding the use of MZOs to develop previously protected lands. While the applicant, Augustinian Fathers (Ont.) Inc., was a religious order, its Trustees included key players in land speculation and sprawl housing construction who could benefit from establishing a precedent for Minister’s Zoning Orders being used to force development in the Greenbelt.

Forest King Township
This forest is part of a 814-acre estate in the Greenbelt that once belonged to Sir Henry Pellatt of Casa Loma fame. Photo by Pam Wilson

In addition to its status as being zoned off-limits to development on the Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt, the isolated, largely-forest and provincially significant wetland-covered 814-acre estate is part of the vital Mary Lake and Seneca Lake wetland complex, and is the former forested preserve of Sir Henry Pellatt, the notorious creator of Toronto’s Casa Loma.

King Council members opposed the MZO request for development of this land on its merits, with Mayor Pellegrini saying:

 “Whenever there is an opportunity, I celebrate the Moraine. I am proud of King as a steward of the Moraine; as the proposal violates the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, I cannot endorse it.”  

However the decision was also a fierce and stinging repudiation of Minister’s Zoning Orders in principle.

Said Councillor Eek of Ward 6:  “The use of MZOs is an irresponsible approach to development under the guise of “cutting red tape.”

According to Councillor David Boyd “Asserting Council’s objection to the letter of support [MZO] request sends a clear message to our community that we value their input and recognize it as an essential component in the planning process.”

Mary lake King Township
Mary Lake in the Oak Ridges Moraine, for which the estate is named. Photo by Pam Wilson

Likewise Ward 5 Councillor Deborah Schaefer said “[O]ur Official Plan [OP] has just been approved. It is the outcome of a 3 year process in which citizens throughout King engaged.  An MZO renders an OP to be trivial.  Both MZO’s implied locating growth outside the current urban boundaries of the respective village.  Additionally, the Marylake MZO boldly promised no environmental impact by the proposed activities despite such not being permitted in the Moraine.”

Let’s hope that other municipalities follow the example of King Township and refuse to endorse any requests for a Minister’s Zoning Order from developers or other groups. 

Stay up-to-date on environmental issues. Join our email community.