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Vaughan residents ‘shocked’ by planned development on sensitive land

Toronto Star,
Noor Javed News reporter, and Adam Martin-Robbins Vaughan Citizen,
June 24 2016

Marina Dykhtan spent months looking for the perfect home in Vaughan. At the top of the self-proclaimed nature lover’s list of must-haves was that the house back onto a ravine.

So when a two-door-garage home in Maple came on the market in 2007, the mother of three jumped on the listing, and loved what she saw: a backyard that blended in with a thick forest behind it, the sounds and sights of rare birds flying overhead, and chipmunks peeking in from beyond a chain fence.

Before she sealed the deal, Dykhtan says she did her due diligence and asked the city about the likelihood of development on the neighbouring property, which she knew was privately owned. Dykhtan and other neighbours said they were told by the city’s planning department that such a notion was far-fetched. “It’s environmentally protected land. It won’t be developed for 99 years,” Dykhtan said she was told.

A decade later, the 4.5-hectare environmentally sensitive property at 230 Grand Trunk is at the centre of a development saga that residents say has left them feeling “betrayed” by the city.

Developer Cam Milani is proposing to build 105 townhomes on Oak Ridges Moraine land that is believed to contain a number of endangered and rare species. Earlier this year, an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) settlement was struck between the developer, the city and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) that allows the land to be developed based on further environmental studies.

The city says the details of the settlement can’t be made public because of confidentiality provisions. Milani did not respond to requests for comment about the development.

Residents say they feel misled by the city, and don’t know what to believe anymore. Dykhtan said she was “shocked” when she saw a sign for the development proposal on the property late last year. “For me, it’s like my whole belief was destroyed because . . . the only reason why we moved there was I, personally, wanted to be closer to nature and I wanted to see the trees and the birds,” she said.

The property was previously owned by landowner Eugenio Iacobelli, who spent much of his life trying to see the land developed. He appealed the city’s designation of the land as natural areas within the Oak Ridges Moraine to the OMB.

“The land had always been protected as open space,” said local Vaughan Councillor Sandra Racco, who added that the city even considered buying the property at the time to protect it, and had plans to defend the land at the OMB hearing.

And that’s the city position the residents remember. “It was clear the city always told us they were on our side,” said local resident Furio Liberatore.

Residents say that changed after April 2015, when Milani’s Dufferin Vistas bought the property from Iacobelli’s widow for nearly $4 million, according to land registry papers. According to a condition of the sale, the final payment would be made in the first week of October 2015, once the outstanding OMB hearing was over – and under the condition the land could be developed.

The hearing never happened. On Sept. 30, residents were told in a letter from the city that the OMB settlement had been reached.

Residents say they were shocked when they received the notice of settlement – and have been searching for information since then.

“I don’t know how we got to this,” said resident Codruta Papoi, speaking at a TRCA meeting. “Everything has changed since this developer took over.”

Residents wonder how a piece of land considered off-limits for decades managed to get a stamp of approval from the TRCA and the City of Vaughan.

The city says it “appeared at the OMB in support of a settlement,” with Milani. “We cannot specify the nature of the settlement negotiations with the appellant or discussions that took place in closed session in respect of the settlement as that would breach confidentiality requirements.”

The TRCA says it alone intervened on behalf of the environment. At a heated TRCA meeting last month, the conservation authority blasted Vaughan for leaving it “alone at the altar” to protect the environmental features of the land.

“TRCA was placed in a unique situation of attending an OMB hearing in opposition to the proposed land use designation without the support of the provincial, municipal and regional partners,” said Kathy Stranks, a manager in the CEO’s office, in a letter about the development.

“The normal process is that the TRCA and the municipality work together . . . and in this situation we were on our own to make sure the environmental policies were implemented,” said Carolyn Woodland, senior director of planning, green space and communications with the TRCA.

The OMB settlement divides the land into three parts: an eastern portion that contains significant wetland and endangered species that will not be developed, a middle portion that requires further study, and a western portion, where the woodlot once stood, which has been approved for lowrise development.

In a motion passed in May, the TRCA said any further settlement would have to include the involvement of all levels of government and consider all environmental policies.

Extensive studies are needed before the land can be approved for further development, Woodland said.

Racco says she has convened a working group of residents to sit down with Milani and find a mutually agreeable plan for how development takes shape. She wants to avoid the matter ending up at the OMB again, and the possibility of “losing control,” she said.

The property still needs to be rezoned before a subdivision could be built. At a public hearing for zoning this week, the TRCA weighed in on the developer’s request and said the studies submitted by Milani on the environmentally sensitive lands were “incomplete” and “deficient.” Staff is expected to do a peer review of the studies and bring a report forward to council on the subdivision plan in coming weeks.

Liberatore says it’s the “responsibility of the municipality to protect and conserve environmentally sensitive lands. I feel that the municipality is failing in this respect,” he said. “I hope the city has the best interests of the residents moving forward.”


The property at 230 Grand Trunk Ave. contains large, mature trees and, on the eastern portion, a seasonal stream, wetlands and steep, “hazardous” slopes leading into a valley. It has an assortment of wildlife that experts have described as “significant.”

Butternut tree

[image]A butternut tree. (courtesy of ONTARIO NATURE)
This is a medium-sized tree species classified as endangered in Ontario. The tree, which produces edible nuts, can reach up to 30 metres in height. The butternut can be recognized by its compound leaves made up of clusters of small leaflets arranged in a featherlike pattern. The site features four medium-sized trees.

Green frog

A green frog at Reptilia in Vaughan. (PETER POWER FOR THE TORONTO STAR)

The site is said to be home to green frogs, who live in or near shallow, permanent bodies of water such as springs, swamps, brooks, ponds and lakes. In winter, they hibernate underwater.



The largest frog in North America, bullfrogs need large permanent bodies of water to breed, but may spend part of the summer in smaller ponds. They are typically found in water along a well-vegetated shoreline and are known for their voracious appetite, eating virtually any animal they can swallow, including insects, birds, mammals and even other bullfrogs. Though not identified as a species at-risk, bullfrog populations have declined in due to harvesting for their legs, considered a delicacy.

Eastern wood-pewee

An Eastern wood-pewee. (GLENN BARTLEY)

Though not found on the property, this bird is believed to be in the vicinity and so could be affected by new development. The small, forest-dwelling bird, which reaches up to 15 cm long, is deemed a species of special concern due to several factors, including habitat loss. Adult birds generally have greyish-olive upper parts and pale under-parts, with pale bars on their wings.

Source: OMB, Government of Ontario, Ontario Nature