Striking a balance

Ontario's sweeping greenbelt policy aims to protect precious agricultural land while still allowing for urban growth

Larry Crandall, the Hamilton Spectator

Striking a balance


These three young deer took a break from grazing in a wooded area yesterday morning at the end of Green Ravine Drive in Ancaster to have their picture taken.

John Burman The Hamilton Spectator - Oct. 29, 2004

Ontario's sweeping greenbelt plan will freeze urban development in Burlington north of Highway 5 but open up the agricultural lands surrounding John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport.

And it offers the strongest protection yet to Niagara's tender fruit and grape growing region.

Greenbelt legislation introduced by the Ontario government yesterday shores up Burlington's northern urban boundary at Dundas Street and Highway 407, stopping development there.

It challenges the city to change from a suburban into an urban community.

At the same time, draft legislation for Ontario's Growth Management Plan -- which was also introduced by the government yesterday -- shows large tracts of rural land on either side of Hamilton airport as areas for future growth.

The seeming contradiction is the hand-in-glove result of two major planning documents the Ontario government brought in yesterday to dictate where growth will and will not occur.

The Greenbelt Protection Plan would limit development on more than 7,000 square kilometres from Niagara Falls along the escarpment past Hamilton, across the Oak Ridges Moraine north of Toronto, to Rice Lake near Peterborough.

The legislation was introduced yesterday by Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretsen in conjunction with legislation from Infrastructure Minister David Caplan to create a 10-year infrastructure growth plan for the province.

Caplan's plan would cover the areas outside the greenbelt and would manage growth of transit, roads and other infrastructure -- in short, where growth will occur.

Hamilton Mayor Larry Di Ianni said the greenbelt plan protects land in Waterdown and around Winona from development. But he welcomed the designation of property around the Hamilton international airport.

The government, he said, "is doing what it said it would.

"We have a little of both, protection for sensitive lands and space for growth."

Halton Chair Joyce Savoline is delighted the Ontario government has returned to the planning table with major policy statements after nearly decades of absence. But she is concerned that greenbelt documents show 90 per cent of the region's agricultural land below the escarpment is not protected.

She is hoping to get that changed before the legislation is finalized Dec. 16.

Mayor Rob MacIsaac said Burlington is beginning the change from a suburban municipality to an urban centre. A strong growth boundary will begin to turn growth back in on existing available land with in-filling and intensification development.

"That (development boundary) is the city of Burlington's choice," he said. "We decided we wanted to protect our farmlands, our rural areas to the north."

MacIsaac, who chaired the province's Greenbelt Task Force which solicited opinion and designed the belt last summer, said he does not believe the greenbelt will drive housing prices up in the urban centres.

The Hamilton-Halton Home Builders' Association said the greenbelt is unnecessary as legislation to protect the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine is already in effect and will only drive up home prices.

"The minute you impose artificial barriers to growth, land prices will increase dramatically," association president Fred Toy said yesterday.

He also said the greenbelt will force homebuyers to move beyond the protected zone for affordable housing and they will commute, adding to gridlock and pollution.

Dave Stewart, of Mattamy Development Corporation and a Greenbelt Task Force member, said the plan seeks a balance between the need to protect greenspace, while providing for employment and coming population growth.

The plan is intended to encourage growth in cities and towns outside the belt. But it will also allow expansion of towns and villages inside it, provided existing water and sewer services can accommodate growth.

The draft greenbelt plan legislation covers 1.8 million acres from Niagara Falls to Peterborough.

The land is protected from development in the meantime by a freeze ordered by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing when the task force began work on it.

"The plan will set strict limits on urban boundaries," MacIsaac said.

"Areas not currently zoned for urban development will be protected. The plan will deliver policies and guidelines for how lands can be used."

The plan assumes these boundary controls are needed because the Golden Horseshoe is one of the fastest growing regions in North America. About four million more people are expected to move into the area by 2031.

That means heavy development pressure on farmland, forests and other environmentally sensitive areas.

The plan pleases grape and tender fruit growers who say the kind of protection extended in the greenbelt legislation has been a long time coming.

Donald Ziraldo, president of Inniskillin Wines and a member of the provincial task force, said the extra protection for the wine and tender fruit growing region was crucial.

Public meetings on the plan are scheduled for Hamilton Nov. 18, Oakville Nov. 10, Burlington Nov. 16 and St. Catharines Nov. 23.

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