Queen’s Park awaits development proposal that critics fear would shrink the Greenbelt – TheRecord.com

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark, shown in St. Catharines on July 29 2020.

By Robert BenzieQueen’s Park Bureau Chief

Noor JavedStaff Reporter

Mon., Nov. 15, 20212 min. read

As Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark awaits York Region’s formal proposal to open up the Greenbelt, he insists Queen’s Park wants to expand the swath of protected lands, not shrink it.

“We haven’t received the request from the region so we will wait until the request is forwarded,” said Clark, underscoring his February edict to expand the 800,000-hectare Greenbelt.

“We’ve been very clear in terms of our requests to regions,” he said Monday at Queen’s Park.

In a first for the Greater Toronto Area, York Region voted last month to open up 240 hectares of protected Greenbelt lands near proposed developments in Markham and Vaughan.

As part of an amendment to their official plan, called ROPA 7, council voted 15-6 to redesignate some sections of land — called “Greenbelt fingers” for their unique shapes that outline the river corridors — from “agricultural” to “rural.”

That change would open up land that had previously been off limits to development for use as parks, trails, playing fields, golf courses, as well as potential industrial uses.

City and regional staff, the Toronto conservation authority, environmental groups and the non-partisan Greenbelt Foundation all opposed the amendment.

They are concerned the decision would both set a precedent for other developers — and have broad implication for nearly one million hectares of protected green space and farmland across southern Ontario

“The provincial government has repeatedly demonstrated its support of existing Greenbelt boundaries and announced its commitment to enhance the scope and quality of its natural and agricultural systems. In our opinion, ROPA 7 runs contrary to this provincial policy commitment,” Edward McDonnell, the CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation, said in a statement.

York’s staff report said that the region had sought clarification from the province about whether the land could be redesignated.

In response, the province outlined what could be built in land designated rural, but did not comment on whether Greenbelt lands were allowed to be redesignated for such uses.

McDonnell, in his submissions to York Region, said the province took a position when it issued a minister’s zoning order (MZO) to fast-track a subdivision project in Vaughan last year that was bordered by Greenbelt fingers.

That MZO changed the zoning so the project could be expedited. The MZO clearly designated the Greenbelt land as such, said McDonnell.

“I was clear in terms of the parcel of land in terms of my MZO,” Clark emphasized, “but we’ll wait and see what the request is from the region.”

York Region chief planner Paul Freeman said ROPA 7 and the public record related to it have been “sent to the province for approval consideration.”

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Noor Javed is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering city news with interest in 905 municipal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @njaved