Greenbelt review nixes land swap for Keswick development
North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance applauds decision
By Heidi Riedner Georgina Advocate
A war of environmental protections versus development rights in the north end of Keswick is ramping up after a potential land swap got nixed under a provincial Greenbelt review.
For years, the North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance has been fighting to stop a Metrus (now rebranded DG Group) development called Maple Lake Estates pegged for portions of the North Gwillimbury Forest in the Deer Park area of Keswick.
At issue are grandfathered development rights on portions of land deemed significant wetland and woodlands under provincial planning policies.
An Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) appeal may be one of few battlegrounds left after a potential land swap to bump the development out of the forest on to agricultural lands across the street was left dead in the water after results of the province’s land use review were released earlier this month.
Among some 700 requests denied to remove land from the Greenbelt received by the province as part of a 10-year review of the Greenbelt Plan was one regarding prime agricultural lands on the south side of Boyer’s Sideroad just east of Deer Park Road.
Those lands, also owned by DG Group, were floated for a potential “swap” of development rights after discussions between the town, region, DG Group and the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA).
Pursuing a land swap was considered by town council as the best option that struck a middle ground between protecting a wetland feature, while honouring existing development rights that date back to the mid-1980s.
Saving the forest at the expense of farmland, however, was never an option for the NGFA, which claimed a landmark victory in its ongoing battle after the results of the Greenbelt review were released.
Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs, Bill Mauro, took an important stand in turning down hundreds of requests driven by developers to have lands removed from the Greenbelt, NGFA chairperson Jack Gibbons said.
“This is the type of strong political leadership on behalf of the public interest that Ontario needs,” Gibbons added.
To save the wetland “once and for all”, however, the NGFA is taking its fight to the OMB and it wants help from the public.
“OMB appeals are expensive,” Gibbons said, estimating the appeal will cost between $50,000 and $100,000.
The NGFA sent out a plea last week to its supporters seeking financial donations to help fund the OMB appeal of Georgina’s official plan.
Specifically, it wants the proposed urban residential area designation removed from wetland areas on the Maple Lake Estates property, an environmental protection area designation in its place and the area placed within the province’s greenland system.
The town has steadfastly contended, however, the MLE development is recognized since the lands were basically exempted from all the wetland policies under provincial policy statements up to and including the Greenbelt Plan, which designated the MLE land towns and villages, and, in so doing, exempted them from the natural heritage system that is the backbone of the plan and its policies.