The following article was written by Dr. John Bacher, Greenbelt advocate and a member of Sierra Club Ontario.
Through a threefold series of announcements a process has been set in motion which could result in substantial reductions to the protected area of the Ontario Greenbelt. Lands included within the Greenbelt boundaries are protected from urbanization for a period of ten years. They can be removed only through a high profile provincial level examination.
On the other hand, Rural lands outside the Greenbelt in environmental or agricultural designation/zoning can be urbanized every five years through the process of the periodic comprehensive review of municipal official plans. These decisions are made by municipal councils, subject to appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). Lands taken out of the Greenbelt by municipal plan reviews can be easily paved over through piecemeal planning processes. This will inevitably have harmful consequences to watersheds which are highly stressed and vulnerable to pollution through additional and ill-considered urbanization.
Keeping land within the Greenbelt is the most effective way to safeguard vulnerable streams at risk of further ecological degradation from urbanization. These streams include the Rouge, Bowmanville Creek and the Humber. While there are close to 100 separate parcels being proposed for removal from the Greenbelt, the basic principles against removal of all of them are clear and straightforward. It is important that the province clearly hears that the removals are opposed by those who care for the watersheds and wildlife threatened by urban sprawl.
The Greenbelt boundaries were established only after extensive review. They all are composed of landscapes that are primarily agriculture and forests. Urbanization should, at the least, remain as intended a decade ago directed to the more appropriately situated lands of the “White Belt.” These are agriculturally zoned lands between the Greenbelt boundaries and lands in urban zoning designation.
1. Sixty-Two Parcels Proposed for Removal From Protected Designations in the Niagara Escarpment Plan
Most of the parcels proposed for Greenbelt removal are located with the Escarpment Rural or Protection designations of the Niagara Escarpment Plan. The removals are entirely opposed by the staff of the Niagara Escarpment Commission. All these proposed removals can be viewed on the website of the Niagara Escarpment Commission. (NEC)
While you can view the exact areas proposed for removal from the Greenbelt by viewing all of the proposed 62 removals on the NEC website, a time efficient way of commenting is simply by expressing to the NEC that you support the position that has been taken by their planning staff.
To do so, send comments to the NEC by February 27, 2017 at email@example.com.
2. Four parcels proposed for removal in May 2016
In May 2016 the provincial government proposed that four parcels be removed from the Greenbelt, in three municipalities. The total acreage of the lands proposed for removal has never been announced. Two parcels are in the City of Hamilton, one is in Vaughan and another is in Clarington.
Although the cut-off date for comments on the May proposed areas for Greenbelt removal has technically expired, the government has made no decision on them.
The two Hamilton areas proposed for removal from the Greenbelt are both in close proximity to the Niagara Escarpment. Removing them from the Greenbelt will degrade the bio-diversity of the Escarpment in Hamilton, making it more of a narrow green space, encased in concrete, with reduced potential for wildlife movement.
The area proposed for removal in Vaughan is in the vicinity of Boyd Park. Urbanization here will pressure the construction of roads through natural areas and will degrade the Humber River in a critical headwater area.
The area proposed for removal from the Greenbelt in Clarington straddles Bowmanville Creek. Removal of these lands from the Greenbelt will harm Bowmanville Creek, which supports cold water Brook Trout populations and originates in the Oak Ridges Moraine. Degradation of this stream will also imperil plans to assist in the recovery of Atlantic salmon in Lake Ontario.
If you have not already commented on these proposals, send comments by February 27, 2017, to Landuseplanningreview@ontario.ca, and firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments can also be made through the Environmental Registry.
3. Parcels proposed for removal in January 2017
In January 2017, the province suggested the removal of an additional 58 hectares from the Greenbelt in scattered parcels. Although small in size, these proposals resemble virtual urban boundary expansions which would further degrade streams vulnerable to urbanization such as the Rouge and Humber.
Four of these proposed removals from the Greenbelt, all in the Town of Pickering, which are immediately adjacent to the Rouge National Park. While these are the most egregious of the proposed removals, they simply highlight what is wrong with all of them. The streams and the life they support in the Ontario Greenbelt are threatened by urbanization. As a minimum urbanization should be kept out of the Greenbelt and directed, when an urban expansion is actually required, to the White Belt lands.
Sierra Club Ontario urges you to make your wishes known to the province by February 27.
Blog Image source: Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation website.