Crombie Panel’s ‘De-Freezing’ Proposal Threatens Ontario’s Precious Niagara Escarpment Lands

One of the most effective strengths of the 2005 Greenbelt Plan and Act responsible for its creation was the good impact they had on protecting the Niagara Escarpment from urban sprawl.In the preceding years, it had become apparent that the biggest glitch in the otherwise strong 1985 Niagara Escarpment Plan (NEP) was the relative ease with which urban expansions were allowed to take place – even when made the focus of complicated battles before the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).The largest urban expansion was a massive one involving over a thousand acres in the City of Milton.  A smaller expansion impacted  fruit land in St. David’s in Niagara-on-the-Lake through a subdivision known as Bevan Heights. When the Ontario Liberals came to power in 2003, the government of then Premier Dalton McGinty properly imposed a ministerial zoning order that halted a great deal of urban sprawl, including development applications that were being reviewed by the OMB.Some of these applications – even on tender fruit land in the Niagara municipalities of Grimsby and Lincoln – were eventually approved since the sites impacted were later placed outside of the 2005 Greenbelt   boundaries. However, many of the development prohibitions that were reaffirmed were those within the Niagara Escarpment Plan Area.The Greenbelt Act and Plan effectively modified the NEC plan by imposing a 10 year prohibition on urban boundary expansions. One of the important decisions that the Crombie panel faced, was this. Would his panel recommend to the provincial government that this ban be extended for another decade until the next NEP  review.Although the Crombie Panel avoided using the provocative word ‘unfreeze’ in their report, they are effectively saying that this should be done in regard to potential urban expansions on the Niagara Escarpment. This is spelled out in Recommendations 19 and 20 on pages 77 to 79, which call for the lifting of a freeze on urban expansions into Niagara Escarpment Rural lands.Such expansions would  be permitted during five year reviews of municipal plans, required by the Planning Act and the Provincial Policy Statement(PPS), in municipalities across the province.Although the protection of the Niagara Escarpment enjoys widespread popular support, few are aware of its vulnerability to urban expansions.In Niagara, there are two areas in the Escarpment Rural lands where urban expansions in the past have been proposed. One a few years ago, bizarrely recommended  in the Niagara Water Quality Protection strategy, was in Grimsby, south of the Niagara Escarpment.A more serious threat is an area currently protected by the Escarpment Plan, north of Mountain Road in Niagara Falls, where on lands largely in high quality grape production, an urban expansion was recommended in submissions to the Crombie panel by both the City of Niagara Falls and Niagara’s region government.In Hamilton, there are a number of places where lands now frozen from expansion could be vulnerable. Such areas are near the Devil’s Punchbowl, Rock Chapel, Cherry Heights, Glenwood Heights, Copetown and Parkview Heights.In Burlington, if the freeze were to be lifted,  there is an opportunity for expansion near a hamlet known as Zimmerman.Milton still has Escarpment Rural lands on the edge of its urban zoning boundary and in Halton Hills, such lands are adjacent to urban settlements such as Marywood Meadow and Moore Park. In Grey County potential urban areas are in locations close to Georgian Bay such as Thompson Ride Road and Elm Street.Urban expansions in the Niagara Escarpment Plan area are an absurdity, and the Crombie Panel’s call for “Mainstreaming Climate Change” in Section 8 (pages 137-43 of the panel’s report) is simply a joke if sprawl is permitted here.However, using the simple requirements of the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) would direct urban expansions to less environmentally sensitive areas.This reality not only justifies continued ban on settlement expansions on Escarpment lands into the next Plan review, but as a permanent feature of provincial planning.- John BacherJohn Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario and long-time member of the citizen group, Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society. A past contributor of posts to Niagara At Large, his most recent book is called ‘Two Billion Trees and Counting – The Legacy of Edmund Zavitz’. John also works with the Greenbelt Program Team at the Sierra Club of Canada Foundation.This post was originally published at: Niagara At Large: An Independent Site for News and CommentaryFor more on the Crombie panel and how to review a copy of its report click on the reports title here – Planning for Health, Prosperity and Growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe: 2015 – 2041. – or click on the report’s Executive Summary.