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Last minute staff memo against urbanizing farmland fails

A last minute staff memo as well as strong opposition from environmental groups and within Durham Regional Council, failed to stop the passing of a plan to urbanize more than 9,000 acres of farmland.

“Durham lost big time,” Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier told Durham Post.

The vote took place on May 25.

The region presented five growth scenarios for Durham. The Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), representing land developers in the Greater Toronto Area, lobbied for a modified scenario (Scenario 2A). Planners saying the BILD option overstates the land need and constitutes an unworkable outcome.

“We spent 10 hours listening to our staff. We had 17 delegations and three advisory committees [Durham Region Roundtable on Climate Change, the Durham Environmental Advisory Committee, and the Durham Agricultural Advisory Committee), who all said no to Scenario 2A,” Mayor Collier said.

“I supported staff’s recommendations of Scenario 4 as it allowed a modest amount of urban settlement area expansion to meet the growth needs of the region for both residential and employment. It met all of our targets and it protected Ajax from the opening up of lands in northeast Pickering and the protection of the headwaters,” he said.

Mayor Collier pointed out environmental defence spoke, 17 different groups spoke, two in support and 15 opposed, three environmental groups opposed, nearly 100 pieces of correspondence opposed, staff opposed and ten out of 27 regional councillors opposed. “But it was just a big waste of time. They rubber stamped at 16 to 11 after 10 hours of of debate”.

Regional Council endorsed, what Collier says is “a developer-recommended growth scenario” to urbanize more than 9,000 acres of farmland. “I commend the councillors who sought better than the status quo and advocated for sustainable land use and livable communities”.

At the May 25 Regional Council meeting, professional planning staff questioned the methodology of the BILD Scenario. It does not take into account previously approved Employment Area conversions and Major Transit Station Areas, leading staff to caution that it overstates the land need and detracts from the region’s sustainability policies and obligations. Even more, they questioned whether the province would approve it due to its noncompliance to provincial policy. Despite this commentary and the work of staff through the last three years, their advice was ignored, Collier pointed out.

Carruthers Creek headwaters

“This short-sighted decision makes the urbanization of the Carruthers Creek headwaters not only possible, but likely. Leapfrogging the Greenbelt to develop a community of 60,000 people in north east Pickering greatly increases the risk of downstream flooding in Ajax. To date, developers have proposed only the minimum measures to mitigate the negative impacts,” said Collier. “Ajax Council is fighting for the inclusion of the headwaters in the Greenbelt. This position is supported by the Durham Environmental Advisory Committee, and community and environmental groups”.

Ahead of the June 2 provincial vote, a Nanos Research poll for the Globe and Mail found the vast majority of Ontario residents are uncomfortable with paving over farms and greens spaces to build new homes. “I call on the party leaders to take this to heart and join their Ajax candidates in pledging to include the Carruthers Creek headwaters in the greenbelt should they form government,” said the Ajax Mayor.

He said climate change is here and we must protect this ecologically sensitive system. Urbanization will only exacerbate the problem.

Those opposed to the plan say:

  • The BILD Scenario would include additional farmland within the urban area beyond what is required to achieve the provincial forecasts;
  • It moves further away from achieving net-zero;
  • By providing for less compact communities, the BILD Scenario places higher priority on automobile travel;
  • It assumes future communities will be: spread further afield, less compact, where proximity to transit and cycling facilities are likely to be more remote and less economical;
  • It would require transportation networks to connect at greater distances, moving people less effectively while making transit use less efficient; and
  • It would place more farmland under pressure for urbanization than is necessary to achieve the region’s population forecast to 2051.

Earlier Story

Call to stop plan to urbanize 2,600ha of Durham farmland

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