Recently, York Region voted to seek provincial government approval for their draft Regional Official Plan. Shockingly, this draft plan proposes to allow development on the Oak Ridges Moraine portion of the Greenbelt. The draft plan violates the Provincial Planning Act that mandates that municipalities must complete and submit plans that comply with provincial law, policies and plans. The approval of the York Region plan depends on the provincial government overriding the development prohibitions of the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges plans.
As the Greenbelt Act stipulates that the Greenbelt must remain permanent and can not be reduced in size, Minister of Municipal Affairs, Steve Clark is only left with two options to allow York Region to do what it wants. First, he can remove land from the Greenbelt for development and replace it with equal or more land or secondly. he can introduce legislation to amend the Greenbelt Act itself.
Doing either of these things will effectively mean the end of the Greenbelt, sparking a potentially devastating landslide of requests for development that would see the destruction of natural areas and critical farmland.
So what are the consequences of the provincial government allowing York Region to develop the Greenbelt?
- It will harm farmers and nature: A growing spider web of subdivisions, roads and factories in the Greenbelt would adversely impact the ability for forest fields and wetlands to absorb rain and clean our air and water. It would also impact local wildlife’s ability to naturally move, forage and breed, and reduce plants ability to pollinate and disperse seeds. Furthermore, as development increases the buffer zone between agricultural land and residential/ commercial zones will be reduced. As the Ontario Federation of Agriculture has said, this can give rise to conflict between farmers and new arrivals in the countryside, impeding normal farm practices and undermining the long-term viability of farming in affected areas. Additionally, creating a mechanism to remove farmland from the Greenbelt would erode the incentive for high capital investments in farm infrastructure.
- Creating a “Swiss-cheese” Greenbelt: In 2017, the provincial government reviewed the current Greenbelt boundaries as part of the legislatively required 10 year Greenbelt Plan review. At that time they received over 700 requests from developer landowners to remove land from the Greenbelt. In the end, only minor adjustments were made to refine the mapping from when the Greenbelt was established in 2005. The rest of the requests were denied because approval of these requests would have resulted in islands of development within the Greenbelt. Of course these new housing subdivisions, factories and big box stores would also have required roads, sewers and water supply. Therefore they would have needed to be linked to towns and cities outside of the Greenbelt and a spider-web of development would have begun to weave its way through protected lands.
- Setting an irreversible, dangerous precedent: Once a developer or a municipality is allowed to remove land from Greenbelt protection what would stop the next proposal from being approved? Once this happens the Greenbelt ceases to be a meaningful protection mechanism and opens a Pandora’s Box, where sprawl could take over critical green spaces..
- Making Farmland less affordable: If Greenbelt protection is not permanent and farmland is seen as open for development, there will be a significant impact on its value. Permanent protection keeps farmland more affordable for the purpose of farming because land speculators are less likely to buy it.
- Harming those who followed the rules: Landowners or developers who have played by the rules and worked with the municipal planning system to get their land approved for development would be competing with someone who had sidestepped this public process and secured a development approval in the Greenbelt.
In summary, allowing land inside the Greenbelt to be approved for development would make the Greenbelt no more protected than the lands outside of it and signal the demise of southern Ontario’s most important farm, forest and climate protection tool.
Please write to Minister Steve Clark and tell him to keep his and Premier Ford’s promise to protect the Greenbelt and reject York Region’s attack.