It seems like wetlands still can’t get any respect from many municipal politicians in Southern Ontario. A case in point: The Town of Georgina in York Region is bending over backward to ensure 30-year-old development approvals for a mobile home park that would destroy a provincially significant wetland are not extinguished.
This is despite the fact that Ontario’s supreme planning policy – the Provincial Policy Statement – clearly states that provincially significant wetlands are off limits for development.
But that doesn’t seem to bother the planning staff in Georgina, who insists that the Town can’t stop a giant development company – DG Group — from building in the heart of the one of the 10 largest forests remaining in the Lake Simcoe watershed.
They rely on convoluted claims about the Greenbelt Plan requiring development on this site (wrong) and the weak excuse that the provincial government hasn’t directly objected to the fact that the Town’s new Official Plan actually doesn’t comply with provincial law.
A small community organization – the North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance – has taken on the Town and the development goliath to try to get this abysmal decision making turned around. Thankfully, we have been well supported by Ontario Nature and other conservation minded organizations, such as the South Lake Simcoe Naturalists, in this long quest.
Right now, we are jointly calling for York Region to step in and amend Georgina’s Official Plan to ensure that it prohibits the DG Group from building a 1,073 unit mobile home park on the provincially significant wetland.
There is no question what the people of Georgina want: We have had an outpouring of support in favour of saving this wetland. People here understand that this unique property has far more value in its natural state than as a mobile home park and golf course. They want to see it protected – now.
Unfortunately, the best solution the Town of Georgina could come up with was to suggest “swapping” development approvals for the 500-acre Maple Lake Estate property to another site owned by DG Group that is within the Greenbelt Protected Countryside. It’s a terrible solution and one we are counting on the province to shut down when its Greenbelt review is finished.
DG Group and its affiliates own lands all over York Region and, in particular, have interests in the Keswick area that is actually properly zoned for urban development. If DG Group needs a bonus to let go of a property that by law it cannot develop, this is the place to seek a solution.
Meanwhile, we continue to work with the one – one! – councillor in Georgina who is willing to fight to protect this wetland, Dave Neeson. We need more municipal politicians like him willing to stand up for wetlands instead of sinking under pressure from developers.
Jack Gibbons is Chair of the North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance – a local citizens group that was created 5 years ago to protect the North Gwillimbury Forest and its provincially significant wetlands.