Transitional Developments on the Moraine
When the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act (ORMCA) and ensuing Plan (ORMCP) were passed in 2001 and 2002, there were a number of applications for development already in process on the Oak Ridges Moraine. Some of these applications had received initial approvals, and were thus ‘grandfathered,’ meaning that these developments would not be subject to the new protection afforded by the ORMCP. Other applications had been started, but no approvals granted. These developments are considered ‘transitional’ and are exempt from all but a few sections of the ORMCP protection.
Our work with the Westhill case in Aurora, where developers are trying to sneak an inappropriate transitional golf course and residential development onto a sensitive and allegedly protected portion of the Oak Ridges Moraine, has focused our attention on the larger threat posed by these outstanding development applications.
Not only do transitional and grandfathered developments have a loophole allowing them to by-pass some or all aspects of the ORMCP, but no one with any branch of government, academia, or the public is tracking how many of these developments exist, or measuring what their cumulative impacts may be on the Oak Ridges Moraine’s sensitive ecological and hydrological features. The issue here is that information regarding these developments is embedded in records kept by the 25 separate municipal planning departments for settlements on the Moraine.
Over the summer of 2009, Earthroots did a canvass of all of the planning departments on the Moraine to try and gain a sense of how many outstanding developments exist. Our initial research yielded a best guess estimate of approximately 30-40 transitional and grandfathered developments on the Moraine.
Not accounting for or even identifying these developments is a huge oversight on the part of the provincial government, and points to the general unwillingness of the province to ensure proper monitoring of on the ground activities on the Moraine, or implementation of their landmark ORMCP. While the number of outstanding developments Earthroots was able to locate was significantly lower than we expected, this issue is still extremely concerning, as these developments have a green light in perpetuity to by-pass some of the most progressive aspects of the ORMCP.
Unfortunately, despite numerous attempts at fundraising, the number of outstanding development applications we discovered on the Moraine was not large enough to attract the foundation funding that would be required for Earthroots to engage in a full scale project investigating and tracking transitional and grandfathered developments on the Moraine. However, how new legislative protection like Ontario’s Greenbelt and the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan deal with outstanding development applications will continue to be a huge issue for the Province.
Earthroots and Ecojustice, formerly Sierra Legal Defense Fund, are still working on the precedent-setting Westhill case, which will largely determine how strictly these outstanding developments will have to conform to the ORMCP. In addition, as part of our ongoing work to address issues affecting water on the Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt, Earthroots is currently engaged in a collaborative research project examining case studies across the Oak Ridges Moraine, Niagara Escarpment, and other areas of Ontario’s Greenbelt. We will be including an examination of grandfathered developments within the Greenbelt as part of this project, allowing us to further examine and comment on issues surrounding these problematic developments prior to the 2015 review of the Greenbelt. For more information, click here.
It is our hope that through or work on Westhill, we will be able to set a solid precedent ensuring that transitional developments on the Moraine must strictly comply with key tenets of the ORMCP, effectively closing the door on any developments that would pose threats to sensitive Moraine features. Similarly, through our research on the Greenbelt, we anticipate generating traction for the issue and recommendations to ensure that protection policies like the ORMCP, Greenbelt, and Lake Simcoe protection plan do not allow harmful developments to by-pass protection.