This is a guest blog by Kevin Thomason
When governments want to be sneaky, they make announcements when they think no one is paying attention. And that’s just what the Township of Wilmot tried to do.
Late on Christmas Eve, the Township of Wilmot announced a Special Council Meeting to support a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) request in Wilmot Township. The MZO announcement was only one sentence, providing nothing other than an address and the name of two development firms, along with the date of the special meeting which was on the first working day after the holidays, January 4th.
For the first few days after the surprise announcement, citizens could not learn anything about this MZO despite significant efforts. Councillors reached on Christmas Day and Boxing Day had no details, there was no Staff report, and there was no information on the Wilmot Township website.
When we finally learned more, the details were staggering
On December 29th, Wilmot finally released a lengthy 158-page Staff Report, showing an astounding 1,200 residential homes for just part of the two farm properties covered by the MZO, followed by plans for an entire new town with thousands of homes, apartments, retail, commercial and seniors facilities known as Wilmot Village.
As feared, Wilmot Staff seemed supportive of the MZO and spent numerous pages of the Staff Report trying to justify the developments and the MZO as good planning. It is unclear if there have already been in-camera meetings about the development, or if this is all simply at the request of the land speculators, though certainly someone had been working on this development for a long time.
What is clear is that “good planning” should be determined through proper planning processes – not crammed through by Minister’s Order over the holidays, intentionally limiting public consultation, questions, and participation.
The good news is that the community was watching and able to react quickly. Thanks to major pushback from the community over the holidays and at the January 4th meeting, where delegations from community groups, environmental groups, agricultural associations, and citizens all voiced considerable concerns, the council’s final vote has been delayed to February 28th.
If you are concerned by these developments, the use of MZO’s or by the approach of Wilmot Township, have your say by writing to Wilmot Councillors to urge them to say “No” to this Christmas Eve request for an MZO. Click here to learn more and find ways to take action.
More Troubling Implications for the Region of Waterloo
What’s even more troubling is that this MZO could have far-reaching consequences for the Region of Waterloo – and other Regions across the province, by threatening to bypass the Region’s official growth plan review. Why have an integrated regional planning process that includes lots of community input if the Minister of Municipal Affairs can approve such major developments, bypassing all coordinated planning with the stroke of a pen?
The concept of good planning, collaborative governments, and communities working together will no longer exist when it is a free-for-all of developers and municipalities that by-pass all local and regional planning processes – which is what an MZO does. We’ve already seen an avalanche of MZOs from the Minister and Premier – who have declared openly that they are eager for them and for development at any cost.
This MZO is not just a problem in theory
There are also serious issues with the proposed development on this site.
Firstly, these subdivisions are planned to be directly adjacent to the Alpine Chemical Fertilizer Plant. Canadian regulations require that hazardous chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia be stored 1.5km from any town boundary or building to be occupied by people due to the danger of explosions, with a best practice of 3km. An MZO would override most regulations and eliminate most environmental assessments to even determine what the risk is to these proposed developments. The public has no little idea what is manufactured and stored at this chemical plant site or what the risk may be.
Second, while these proposed subdivisions do not appear to breach the Countryside Line (the long-term boundary of urban growth), they push right up to its boundaries, which will inevitably pile on the pressure for future sprawl out into the countryside. Again, MZOs can override all of our local protections such as the Countryside Line, Protected Countryside, Source Water Protection Areas, with no recourse, completely undermining these hard-won environmental protections.
Thirdly, there is still the overarching issue that putting thousands of new homes on remote Wilmot prime farmland far from most jobs, shopping, education, is neither good nor sustainable planning in a climate crisis. How can we reduce our emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 by placing thousands of additional cars travelling vast distances daily to reach distant communities on regional roads?
There is still time to say no
Minister Clark has declared repeatedly that he won’t approve MZOs without local Council approval first – so we need to make sure that our voices are heard both locally and provincially against the ongoing stream of MZOs being issued to developers.
If you live in Waterloo region, or if you have friends or family who do, now is the time for you to act. We need people to speak up and e-mail and phone Wilmot Staff and Councillors along with MPP Mike Harris Jr.. We also need volunteers to appear as virtual delegations on Zoom at the Wilmot Township February 14th Council meeting, and to share this concerning news with others in the community. Find out more here.
This is a guest blog by Kevin Thomason, Vice-Chair of the Grand River Environmental Network