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Ontario backtracks on plan to include Greenbelt land in Caledon, Ont., zoning order amid pushback

The Ontario government says Greenbelt land will not be part of a new subdivision it’s proposing to fast-track in Caledon, weeks after residents were warned the province planned to use its authority to develop on a portion of the protected area.

The township, located about 45 minutes northwest of Toronto, held a meeting on Thursday night to discuss a proposed amendment to a ministerial zoning order (MZO) that would have opened for development 141 hectares of what is mostly farmland near the future site of Highway 413 — an area that included 41 hectares of protected Greenbelt land.

MZOs are a planning tool that lets the province bypass local planning rules and expedite projects it wants built. 

Shortly before Thursday’s meeting, the province told both CBC Toronto and the town that contrary to what was included in the proposal, Greenbelt lands would remain protected. The area covered by the MZO amendment will now be 100 hectares.

Town planning staff, the local fire department and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority were all critical of the proposal to build on the land along Hurontario Street and McLaughlin Road, south of Old School Road.

The abrupt change of plans comes as the Ford government continues to face intense scrutiny about its plan to build housing on 15 sites across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) that were removed from the Greenbelt last December.

Two weeks ago, the province’s auditor general found the government’s process for choosing those sites favoured a small group of well-connected developers who now stand to make billions of dollars. The ensuing controversy prompted the resignation of the housing minister’s chief of staff and triggered a potential RCMP investigation into the matter.

Caledon residents who learned of the proposed MZO amendment after the public was notified on Aug. 3 were outraged to see Greenbelt land included in the proposal.

At the public meeting, Caledon resident Cheryl Connors urged council to oppose the MZO. 

“It’s not good for the people of Caledon, it’s not good for us as taxpayers,” Connors said at the meeting.

“The environmentally sensitive features on that site will be harmed by putting dense housing development right there,” Connors said, speaking earlier to CBC Toronto before the meeting. 

MZO would benefit member of prominent developer family

The saga started almost three years ago, according to Town of Caledon documents.

The province issued an MZO in July 2020 to allow several major developers to build a new neighbourhood in the Mayfield West area of Caledon. The landowners included Brookvalley Project Management, Fieldgate Developments, Laurier Homes, Mattamy Homes, Paradise Developments and The Conservatory Group.

Last year, Brookvalley Project Management — run by Nick Cortellucci of a prominent family of developers based in Vaughan, Ont. — submitted a proposal to build 4,551 mostly single family homes on land it owns  adjacent to the area covered by the 2020 MZO.

Town of Caledon staff recommended councillors rejected that proposal earlier this year, arguing the application was “premature” and “incomplete.” Council referred the matter back to staff for more planning work.

In a public notice posted to its website on Aug. 3, 2023, the town said it received notice the province was proposing to amend the 2020 MZO to expand the area it covered to include 141 hectares currently used primarily for rural residential, agricultural and environmental purposes. If approved, the order would have allowed residential and commercial development, and would have downgraded environmental protections on Greenbelt lands.

A satelite map shows green areas and three areas bordered by thick black lines.
The Town of Caledon provided this map showing the areas, bordered in thick block lines, covered by the province’s proposed MZO amendment. The areas in green show areas of the Greenbelt included in the areas covered by the proposed MZO amendment. However, the province now says the amendment won’t include protected lands located within the Greenbelt. (Town of Caledon)

The Town of Caledon made clear on its website that it did not request the MZO, saying it was at the “sole discretion” of Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark.

In comments responding to the proposed MZO amendment, staff in Caledon’s planning department said the “majority low-density” development proposed for the lands will lead to “incomplete communities and sprawl” that will promote driving and go against the town’s official climate policy.

“Low density residential is outdated and does not support Caledon’s climate change goals, the Caledon green development standards, and general good planning,” staff said.

In its comments, the conservation authority said it opposed development on the site because of natural hazards, including floodplains associated with tributaries of the Etobicoke Creek, and the inclusion of Greenbelt land.

A man standing at a podium.
Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark has the ability to issue ministerial zoning orders (MZOs), which allow the province to bypass local planning rules and expedite development. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Chris Poulos, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said the ministry received a request for an MZO for the Mayfield West lands in Caledon on June 1, 2023, and, in accordance with the Planning Act, began consulting the public the next month.

“Through the consultation process it was brought to our attention that the amendment — as submitted by the proponent — contained a section of lands located within the Greenbelt,” Poulos wrote in an email statement. 

“While feedback is still under review, any consideration of this amendment would not include protected lands located within the Greenbelt.”

CBC Toronto requested comment from Brookvalley Project Management but didn’t receive a response.

‘We’re not planning with purpose,’ resident says

This is just the latest MZO the province has issued in Caledon, a town with a population of 76,581 as of 2021 expected to grow to 300,000 by 2051.

Aerial (drone) images of areas slated for development after province issues a MZO for some land, including Greenbelt land near Caledon, close to Brampton. Areas slated for development, farmlands, current developments already under construction.
A drone image of an area slated for development after the province issued a MZO for a portion of land, including Greenbelt land near Caledon, close to Brampton. (Patrick Morrell/CBC News)

In March 2022, the province issued an MZO to allow for the construction of 4.5 million square feet of industrial buildings by developer Tribal Partners. It issued another in September 2022 to allow the Rice Group to build a massive industrial park east of Torbram Road.

According to local media outlet The Pointer, Ford’s Progressive Conservative government has issued four MZOs in Caledon since 2020, only three of which had the support of the local council.

“Municipalities have lost their ability to govern.”– Cheryl Connors, Caledon resident

Connors, the concerned resident, said the province’s use of MZOs with increasing frequency removes public input and municipal decision-making power over planning.

“Municipalities have lost their ability to govern and are turning into agencies of the provincial government where they have no say on when, where and how development occurs and who’s paying for it,” she said.

Caledon resident Kathleen Wilson, who advocates for good local governance, said the MZOs in Caledon are benefiting individual developers, not residents.

“We’re not planning with purpose,” said Wilson, who also spoke to CBC Toronto before the public meeting. We’re planning because some developer bought some farmland for a really great price and they want to make a lot of money off of it.”

Wilson said the most recent MZO amendment won’t lead to the construction of affordable housing, estimating the homes that will be built there will be sold for at least $1 million.

Following Thursday’s public meeting, Caledon staff will prepare a report for council that will include comments from town agencies, departments and the public.

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