Thousands of voices are protesting the development of the Greenbelt. But it’s infrastructure issues that could hold back builders

Officially, tens of thousands of Ontarians have said no to opening the Greenbelt to development.

But if their voices can’t make the Ford government change its mind about building thousands of homes on environmentally sensitive land, something else could: the lack of basic infrastructure.

Last week, the province released a summary of letters received in response to its decision to allow 7,400 acres of ecologically sensitive land in the Greenbelt to be used for the construction of 50,000 homes. Among those opposed are municipalities, businesses, farmers, conservation authorities, engineers, city planners and Indigenous groups.

“Overall, there was strong support for continued Greenbelt protections and broad opposition to any removal or redesignation of land under the Greenbelt Plan. Many submissions … have requested the full withdrawal of the proposal,” the province said in a summary of the 29,200 submissions it received in the Environmental Registry posted online. « No changes have been made to the proposal following public consultation. »

Despite letters and dozens of protests, the province moved forward and passed a settlement to implement its plan to remove land from the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine.

It’s the relatively mundane details of infrastructure – or lack thereof – that could put the province’s plans on hold.

So far, senior planning officials from Durham Region, York Region and Hamilton have said it will be difficult to meet the province’s accelerated development schedule by 2025 on sensitive lands of the Greenbelt, given the time needed to plan and build infrastructure.

« The proposed Greenbelt deletions raise several service, schedule, financial and environmental impacts and may, in fact, not advance the Province’s stated desire to build more homes faster than here 2025,” Elaine Baxter-Trahair, Durham’s chief administrative officer, wrote in a December 14 report to the regional council.

« Regional staff respectfully recommend that the Province focus on working with all parties involved…to redouble efforts to fast-track units already in the planning process, rather than redirecting attention by removing areas from the Belt. » of greenery that were not considered to accommodate growth,” Baxter said. -Trahair, adding that the area already has 33,000 project-approved homes and condos awaiting construction.

According to the province’s conditions set for Greenbelt lands, « significant progress » on housing approvals must be made by the end of 2023, construction of a new home can begin no later than 2025, and the developer will fully finance the necessary infrastructure up to face.

If the above conditions are not met, the government will begin the process of returning properties to the Greenbelt.

“To build complete communities, developers will need to develop and submit detailed plans for these sites that include public infrastructure. This could include stormwater management, roads, active transportation, community centers, schools, hospitals, and long-term care components. Developments will require planning approvals from the municipality and developers will still need to obtain the necessary approvals to ensure adequate environmental protection before any construction can begin,” said Victoria Podbielski, spokeswoman for the minister. of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark.

“The government has been clear from the start that we will only move forward if these conditions are met. If we are not satisfied with the plans presented, the province is prepared to return properties to the Greenbelt,” she said in an email.

But the affected cities say these Greenbelt lands were never intended for development and were never included in long-term infrastructure development plans.

« Since the Greenbelt was expected to be protected in perpetuity, servicing solutions for these lands simply were not developed, » Baxter-Trahair said.

Additionally, she says, environmental assessments for roads, water or sewers are required and would not be possible by 2025.”

In November, after promising never to touch Greenbelt lands, the Progressive Conservative government of Doug Ford backtracked and decided to open 15 areas of Greenbelt lands to development.

They also decided to add thousands of hectares of land in the town of Erin to the Greenbelt, without any consultation with the town.

The province said these 15 areas were chosen because they were near existing settlement areas and could be serviced by pipelines and water in the short term.

However, in a staff report, Hamilton’s chief planner Steve Robichaud said a review showed « the land does not meet the criteria for land usable and ready for near-term development ». Three areas totaling 1,400 acres in Hamilton are to be removed from the Greenbelt.

He said these areas will require a proper maintenance plan, studies to assess which sewage or stormwater systems are not at risk, and environmental studies of wetlands, woodlands, habitats of species at risk and major water recharge areas. All of this “would call into question the short period of time”.

In a staff report to York Region council this month, chief planner Paul Freeman said « housing to meet the province’s target is better suited to areas with existing or planned services than peripheral areas better suited to protection by the Greenbelt Plan ».

York Region’s own water and wastewater services are already at full capacity, given the province’s decision to cancel Upper York’s sewer solution and expand use of the York Durham sewerage system – which met resistance from local residents and municipalities.

Tim Gray, from environmental group Environmental Defence, says the government’s plans make no practical sense.

“I think it will become clear that development cannot proceed at these sites in the face of widespread and deep opposition from municipalities and citizens,” Gray said.

Noor Javed is a Toronto Star reporter who covers city news and covers municipal 905 politics. Follow her on Twitter: @njaved


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