Environmentalists fear provincial changes mean Greenbelt is open for development
Environmentalists and critics are accusing Premier Doug Ford of breaking a promise to protect the two-million-acre Greenbelt from development with changes they say endanger wildlife and drinking water, setting Ontario’s environmental protections back 40 years.
The Progressive Conservative government’s proposed changes to the planning act will undermine the province’s anti-sprawl smart growth plan, the Greenbelt Act, the Great Lakes and Lake Simcoe Protection acts and the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, said Environmental Defence executive director Tim Gray.
The changes were announced Thursday as part of Bill 66, the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act.
It would allow municipalities to obtain provincial approval to use a new open-for-business zoning bylaw that would bypass some of the existing development requirements. The bylaw would only be available if the municipality could prove a development would create 50 jobs for places with populations under 250,000 or 100 jobs in larger municipalities. Of eight Ontario municipalities with more than 250,000 people, five are in the Toronto region.
“The aim is to have all provincial approvals in place within one year so qualifying businesses can begin construction,” said an emailed statement from a spokesperson of Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark.
Conditions would remain on the building, material and other design elements of the employment projects but municipalities would not be required to provide advance notice of the bylaw’s adoption.
The new tool is the kind of opening environmentalists have feared since Doug Ford was caught on video during the election campaign telling developers he would open up the Greenbelt if he became premier. He walked back the remarks after the video was released.
“There is no longer any rational approach to land designation so all areas that we’ve carefully considered being worthy of protection no longer have that protection. Anyone with a property just has to convince Queen’s Park to give them an exemption and (that’s) all it (needs) to go forward for development,” Gray said.
While the bill is driven by job creation, retail and residential components can be part of the projects which qualify for the bylaw’s use, he said. (Source: Toronto Star)