York Region councillors have voted to ask the Province of Ontario to open up portions of the Greenbelt located along the 400 series highways for development.
At a committee of the whole meeting on Oct. 8, regional councillors and mayors debated a motion that sought to reiterate a request to the province to develop a process allowing municipalities to access site-specific lands for employment use if deemed necessary through a municipal comprehensive review.
Whitchurch-Stouffville mayor Iain Lovatt, who is looking to develop areas along Highway 404, said that cities currently with designated employment lands (an area designated in an official plan for business and economic activities) along the 400 series highways are able to gain financially, but his municipality has the same budget pressures without the same opportunity for revenue generation.
“There’s no reason to paint all of our local financial realities and a site-specific request of the province with a brush that we are opening the entire Greenbelt,” said Lovatt. “It shouldn’t be an all or nothing proposition.”
Richmond Hill regional councillor Carmine Perrelli supported the motion and said nobody knows their municipality better than the local council, there would be opportunities for the public to have input during the municipal reviews and the motion was not an attack on the Greenbelt.
Markham mayor Frank Scarpitti said anyone suggesting the motion amounted to open season on the Greenbelt was stretching.
“This isn’t saying to the province, ‘Take all of the lands along the 400 series highways and remove them from the Greenbelt.’ ”
The motion passed by an 11 to five vote.
In response to the vote, the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, which includes over 100 groups and individuals that work together to protect the Greenbelt, launched an initiative to not only stop development but to bring more lands into the Greenbelt.
According to a statement, groups throughout the Golden Horseshoe will work together to ensure municipal councils understand the benefits of sustainable, public transit-oriented growth and protection of natural areas and farmland and that members of provincial parliament of all parties commit to stopping urban sprawl and increase protection of the Greenbelt in their COVID-19 recovery plans.
Debbie Gordon of Save the Maskinonge, part of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, said she is concerned that development and paving of the Greenbelt will hinder the ability of the natural aquifer to recharge, negatively impacting water quality in the region. She also noted the motion was opposed by the York Region Federation of Agriculture, which wrote a letter to York Regional Council stating that existing employment lands should be developed at higher density to protect agricultural land needed to feed a growing population.
Gordon said there are already sufficient employment lands in York Region.
“Of course I want businesses to be here and to have space,” said Gordon. “I think you have to look at future generations. You can’t have short-term gain at the cost of Ontario to not have clean drinking water and food.”
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, when questioned at Queen’s Park about the motion prior to the vote, expressed the provincial government’s support for the Greenbelt.
“I can tell the members of the house and every head of council and every councillor in every community across Ontario that if you’re going to give us a request to develop property within the Greenbelt, we have one short answer: No.”