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Proposed Development in Aurora Threatens Integrity of Oak Ridges Moraine Protection

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The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act (ORMCA) and the Greenbelt Act came to fruition after years of steadfast lobbying from determined environmentalists, concerned citizens, and members of municipal government.  Both the ORMCA and the Greenbelt Act are highly lauded pieces of legislation that symbolize important strides in the right direction by affording more protection of valuable greenspace.

The Ontario Provincial Government has received acclaim for their initiatives to tackle the serious issue of urban sprawl in Southern Ontario.  The government has done an admirable job of promoting the Greenbelt by putting up signs along the highway which inform drivers when they are crossing into the boundaries of the Belt.  They have also produced informative guides illustrating the importance of supporting local farmers and the diverse range of food options the Greenbelt provides.  However, now that a couple of years have passed and the celebrations have died down, what is actually happening on the ground?

Unfortunately, the answer is not a positive one; both the ORMCA and the Greenbelt Act have ultimately fallen short of creating meaningful, solid definitions of protection to ensure that preservation of nature is the top priority.  Presently, there is a proposed development on the Oak Ridges Moraine that is extremely controversial.  Westhill Redevelopment has applied to the town of Aurora for an amendment to the town official plan, a rezoning, and a draft plan for condominiums. The proposal consists of 75 condominium units, which are dependent on well water, a common element road, a private water and wastewater treatment plant, an 18 hole golf course, a club house, parking lot, several storm water ponds, and two reservoirs for treated waste water.  The site falls within both the "protected countryside" and "natural linkage area" designations of the Oak Ridges Moraine.  Natural linkage areas have some of the strictest levels of protection found within the ORMCA, and developments of this nature are strictly forbidden within them.

To approve a project of this type undermines the Liberal government’s promise to keep the Moraine protected, and contradicts the public desire to protect our watersheds.

Golf Courses:  Serious Threat to Water Supply and Quality

Water scarcity is a pressing issue across the globe, and the situation in Aurora is no exception.  There is serious concern that this proposed development, on an essential landform like the Oak Ridges Moraine, will put significant strain on an already over-extended water supply.  There are currently 17 golf courses within an 8 km radius of the site and creating an additional one will only increase the existing pressures on local water supply; golf courses generally require an unsustainable quantity of groundwater to operate.

Despite a façade of greenness, golf is not environmentally friendly.  There are significant environmental problems pertaining to the impacts of the various chemicals used to maintain a green image.  These chemicals have been shown to contaminate groundwater, particularly when combined with the irrigation practices used to maintain golf courses. 

Westhill Redevelopment argues that their golf course will need significantly less water than the surrounding ones, which is a cause for extreme skepticism considering the standard requirements.  Even if a modest use of groundwater could maintain a golf course, the development is not even close to achieving a water balance.  For adequate groundwater recharge to offset the water that the proposed development will pull from the Thorncliffe Aquifer, the Westhill development will require 50% more land without any additional water taking.

Another cause for concern is the abundance of ecologically and hydrologically sensitive features on or within close proximity to the development site.  The ORMCA clearly stipulates that development and site alteration are prohibited in a key natural heritage area or on hydrologically sensitive feature yet it is clear that this development will have negative ecological impacts. Equally concerning is that the environmental assessments regarding the proposed development are insufficient.  In particular, there have been inadequate attempts to show the cumulative impacts this type of development will have on the Oak Ridges Moraine.

If a development that alters the hydrology of a critical landform (one that is supposed to be protected both ecologically and hydrologically) is allowed to proceed, then the years of study, energy and money invested in the process of creating the ORMCA will be undermined.  Westhill’s proposed development is the litmus test for the highly praised Act; if it by-passes the ORMCA this will set a dangerous precedent and potentially open the doors to detrimental development in other areas across the Moraine and the Greenbelt.
 
Aurora Town Council has made the decision to oppose the Westhill Development.  For municipalities that are so heavily reliant on developer fees, this was a symbolic and progressive move.  Unfortunately, town council doesn’t have the final say in this.  The developer appealed the decision to the OMB, which has the power (and the tendency) to overrule municipal rulings.  Lawyer Rod Northey, representing several citizens from the town of Aurora, had requested a special joint hearing with the province’s environmental review panel.
 
Unfortunately, the OMB decided against the special joint hearing with Ontario’s review panel.  Mr. Northey appealed this decision and the Ontario court heard his case for a consolidated hearing on Friday, June 20th.  The motion was before the court because there are three layers of approval required: the planning act approval, the environmental assessment approval and the water resources act approval.  Concerned residents of Aurora, lawyer Rod Northey, and the environmental community have been seeking a consolidated hearing because this is the one mechanism that would bring everything together, integrating all three layers of approval.  The presence of the environmental review tribunal would be an incredibly valuable asset, as this would mean that there would be a greater understanding of the environmental issues presented, and that planning decisions would take hydrological and ecological factors into account. 
 

Take Action!

The Ontario Provincial Government needs to formally declare an interest in this case, which would result in the Ministry of the Environment being a party at the OMB hearing in October.  Their presence would give the case a significant amount of clout, providing us with much need assistance in the OMB, which unfortunately tends to make decision that favour business.

Please write a personal letter and tell the government to stand up to the measures and ideals spelled out in the existing legislation as well as how important it is for them to be a party at the OMB hearing.  

Please contact:  

The Honourable Jim Watson 
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
17th floor, 777 Bay St.,
Toronto, ON  
M5G 2E5 
Phone: 416-585-7000
Fax: 416-585-6470

The Honourable Dalton McGuinty  
Premier of Ontario
Legislative Building, Room 281
Queen's Park 
Toronto, ON
M7A 1A1 
Phone: 416-325-1941
Fax: 416-325-9895 

 

Background information / points to include in your letter: 

  • The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act (ORMCA) received widespread recognition for the strong levels of protection afforded to ecologically important areas and threatened watersheds.  As citizens of Southern Ontario, we are very proud of the Ontario Provincial Government for introducing this legislation.

  • By introducing the ORMCA the government responded to the need to protect vital watersheds, and address the rapidly growing population in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

  • One of the big omissions in the government’s approach to protecting farmland and curbing suburban sprawl is the fact that new golf courses are allowed on the Moraine.

  • Premier McGuinty and Minister Gerresten (Minister of Environment, former minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing during the inception of the Greenbelt) showed great leadership in introducing the ORMCA.  The proposed development in Aurora is not only controversial (in terms of how much local opposition there is to this application) but if it is allowed to proceed it will set a precedent and potentially open the doors for more environmentally devastating developments on the Moraine.

  • We need the Ontario Provincial Government to continue to take on a leadership role in regards to protecting this important landform; the Ministry of the Environment must put its foot down when it comes to new developments in ecologically sensitive areas.  The government should declare a formal interest in the Westhill case and become an official party at the OMB hearing.

  • Ontario has almost half of the country’s species at risk.  40% of Ontario’s species at risk are found within the Greenbelt.  Constructing a golf course in close proximity of vital wetland areas, habitat for endangered and rare species, valleylands, woodlands, and the headwaters for the East Holland and Rouge Rivers, contradict the spirit of the Greenbelt legislation.

  • As citizens residing in Southern Ontario, we have significant concerns about how these monocultures are taking more than their fair share of groundwater.

  • There are already 17 courses in an 8 km radius, many of which are struggling to stay in business.  WE DO NOT NEED ANOTHER COURSE.

  • Ontario has more than 50% of Canada’s best farmland, yet we import more food products per capita than any other province in the country.

  • Considering the rising costs of fuel, and critical environmental issues such as habitat loss and species decline, the government needs to concentrate on preserving what farmland we have left, not converting it to another golf course. 

 


Or feel free to cut and paste our template letter below into a Word document (please change the text to reflect your own personal views):

Honourable Jim Watson
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
17th floor, 777 Bay St.
Toronto, ON   M5G 2E5
Phone: 416-585-7000        
Fax: 416-585-6470

Dear Minister Watson,

The Oak Ridges Moraine is one of the most important landforms in Southern Ontario.  When the Ontario government introduced legislation to protect the Moraine, I celebrated their strong dedication to address the environmental problems associated with suburban sprawl.  However, communities along the Oak Ridges Moraine, and citizens from across Ontario are becoming increasingly concerned about ‘transitional’ development applications.  There is great uncertainty from the public over the fact that transitional developments (applications that were in process, but had not received initial approval when the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act passed) may be allowed to by-pass the protection afforded under this legislation.
 
A prime example of this is the proposed Westhill development.  A precedent setting battle has begun in Aurora, where the Town Council, concerned community members and environmental organizations are trying to prevent Westhill Development from sneaking a “transitional” 18-hole golf course and 75 homes onto an area that is granted some of the strictest protection under the ORMCA.
 
A fundamental feature of the ORMCA is to protect ‘hydrological integrity.’ However, considering that there are already 41 golf courses operating on the Moraine, this goal is seriously compromised. There are 17 golf courses within an 8 km radius of the Westhill development. Exemplifying issues stemming from the massive amounts of water being allocated to these courses is the fact that Aurora has already been experiencing groundwater shortages, and as of 2001 has been forced to supplement its municipal water supplies with water from Lake Ontario.  

Aurora has voted against this development, but the ultimate decision will be made by the Courts.  Lawyer Rod Northey’s motion for a consolidated hearing was rejected in March, but he is in the midst of appealing this decision.  A consolidated hearing, drawing on the expertise of the Environmental Review Tribunal, would be a tremendous asset to the case, as it would require a panel consisting of people with more environmental expertise than a standard OMB proceeding. This expertise is a critical feature for a case with such significant environmental and hydrological implications. 

To ensure meaningful long protection of the Oak Ridges Moraine and its sensitive water features, we need your ministry to:

•    stand behind the ORMCA, and declare a provincial interest in this case,
•    clarify that the consolidated hearings act does apply to Westhill and similar cases so that this legislation can improve the OMBs handling of appeals dealing with environmental issues,
•    stand up for people of Ontario, and ensure that unsustainable development does not continue to deplete our critical aquifers,
•    place a moratorium on new, or expanding golf courses in the Greenbelt,
•    work with the Ministry of the Environment on developing strict conservation measures, including guidelines limiting the use of groundwater and dangerous chemicals for golf courses.

Thank you for taking the time to review my concerns - I look forward to receiving a response from you.

Sincerely,

 

For more information please contact Earthroots Campaigner Josh Garfinkel by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 416-599-0152 x15.