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 matter. The developer appealed the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), who have the power (and the tendency) to overrule municipal rulings.
In hopes of strengthening the town’s case at the OMB, Aurora’s legal council and lawyer Rod Northey, representing several citizens from the town of Aurora, requested a special joint ‘consolidated hearing’ that would include the OMB and the province’s Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT). When a development deals with sensitive environmental matters, there are often appeals that must be heard by both the OMB and the ERT. For example, with Westhill there are three layers of approval required: the Planning Act approval, the Environmental Assessment approval and the Water Resources Act approval. To streamline such hearings and ensure that environmental issues are considered alongside planning concerns, the province passed the ‘Consolidated Hearings Act’ in 1990, which sets a precedent for bringing both the OMB and ERT together for a joint hearing.
Concerned residents of Aurora, lawyer Rod Northey, and the environmental community have been seeking a consolidated hearing because this mechanism would combine all three approval layers together. Furthermore, the presence of the ERT would be an incredibly valuable asset during the hearings, as this would mean that there would be a greater understanding and sensitivity to the preserving ecological and hydrological integrity.
Unfortunately, the OMB declined the request for a consolidated hearing, a decision which is now being appealed by Mr. Northey. Earthroots has gained status to intervene as a ‘friend of the court’ during these hearings, to 1) provide a unique perspective regarding the importance of considering the cumulative impacts of development on the Moraine, which our research on surrounding golf courses has shown are not being properly considered, and 2) to speak to the importance of integrating planning decisions with environmental concerns through a proper interpretation and application of the Consolidated Hearings Act. To be determined in these upcoming hearings, the OMB does not have the discretionary right to refuse a request for a consolidated hearing in a case like Westhill, where the Consolidated Hearings Act clearly applies.
While decisions regarding whether or not the Westhill’s OMB hearings will be heard solely by the OMB or by a joint panel of the OMB and ERT, are now in the hands of Ontario’s court system, we still need your help! As Westhill is the first transitional development to go to the OMB, it will set a precedent as to how the OMB interprets the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act (ORMCA), and applies this act to all future transitional developments. If Westhill is allowed to by-pass key tenets of the ORMCA, this will open the door to more development across the Oak Ridges Moraine.
The Ontario Provincial Government needs to formally declare an interest in this case, to ensure that the ORMCA is interpreted and applied as originally intended. Having the presence of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing as a party at the OMB hearings would help to ensure adequate protection for the Oak Ridges Moraine, giving extra clout to the arguments being made by the town of Aurora and its citizens, that this development is inappropriate and in violation of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act.
Please write a personal letter and tell the government to stand up for the measures and ideals spelled out in the existing legislation by declaring a provincial interest in Westhill’s OMB hearings.
The Honourable Jim Watson
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
17th floor, 777 Bay St.,
The Honourable Dalton McGuinty
Premier of Ontario
Legislative Building, Room 281
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.
- 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 that overlaps with 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 and Oak Ridges Moraine legislation.
- As citizens residing in Southern Ontario, we have significant concerns about how golf course monocultures are taking more than their fair share of groundwater.
- There are already 17 golf courses in an 8 km radius of Westhill, many of which are struggling to stay in business. WE DO NOT NEED ANOTHER!
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 Housing17th floor, 777 Bay St.
Toronto, ON M5G 2E5
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 approvals 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, there are already 69 golf courses operating on or near the Moraine, 17 of which are within an 8 km radius of the Westhill development, seriously compromising the goal of protecting hydrological integrity. 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.