• Protecting Water and Farmland in Simcoe County

How Developers Get their Way

In Blog
Feb 8th, 2017

Over the past 40 years or so I have watched land speculators buy up cheap land and somehow get the land rezoned from productive agricultural land into subdivisions or factories. The pattern seems fairly consistent and I’ve had some personal experience with this when I was on Oro-Medonte council.

The developer starts by buying or optioning cheap farmland and preparing a development plan using accredited planners, engineers and other consultants basically as hired guns.

Their experts usually have a lot of experience doing this work so they know how to approach municipal staff and other regulatory agencies. They’re not afraid to use their experience to say that really bad plans are really good plans. Sometimes they run into conscientious municipal and agency staff who try to do their jobs but other times they get inexperienced pushovers who fall for their stories. And of course in the planning world many planners work for both municipalities and developers during their careers.

Meanwhile the developers start schmoozing the elected officials and appear to be such great people. Most elected officials are under the completely false assumption that all development will benefit their community and that growth is inevitable and desirable.

Sometimes the developers do run into elected officials who actually understand that most development costs the municipality money, that farmland, water quality and natural heritage features are more beneficial than subdivisions and that the only real winner is the developer who speculated on the land.

So when this happens the developer brings out the big gun lawyers and heads for the Ontario Municipal Board. Of course this quite often scares smaller municipalities into submission and even the larger, more powerful municipalities (like Simcoe County) will cave in.

Sometimes the developers do run up against politicians who stand firm. Then they can also bring out the really nasty SLAPP suits to attack anyone opposing them. Defending oneself against such a suit can cost individuals tens of thousands of dollars. This frightens off many so-far principled opponents. Fortunately the province has recently brought in legislation banning SLAPP suits so hopefully that avenue for intimidation will be reduced.

Now when it comes to aggregate operations it’s an even more difficult scenario. The old Aggregate Act is more about maintaining the supply of material for developers and construction of roads, infrastructure etc. than it is about protecting our water resources or farmland. Of course you run into the same old boys’ network of consultants that will argue that plans to go below the water table don’t present any threat to local wells or groundwater resources and that accessing the aggregate is more important than residents’ future ability to have water or grow crops.

So that’s my take on how our democracy is working at the moment, and likely always has. I guess that’s why I’ve grown very cynical over the years.

3 Responses to “How Developers Get their Way”

  1. Tom Kinnear says:

    Well said Sandy….You have hit the nail on the head…..They love those Slapp
    suits…..and it takes a lot to fight them…..an unscrupulous developer will
    stop at nothing to get his/her way!
    be well


  2. Anna Romano says:

    It’s all about policy, policy, policy. The Ontario Homebuilder’s Assoc. is the voice of land development and they know how to impact provincial legislation, regulation and policies.

    “OHBA has consistently expressed concern that NIMBYism and local political opposition to intensification is a major obstacle to Growth Plan implementation, There are many examples of NIMBYism that acts as a barrier to achieving provincial planning objectives played out almost daily across the region seen in places as wide ranging as urban communities in Toronto, suburban communities in Brampton and more rural communities in Simcoe County. In some cases, local politics have undermined provincial objectives resulting in both under-zoning and in come cases even down-zoning to satisfy vocal community activists. The province must undertake a more active role to change the conversation around intensification and through long-term education efforts, support a cultural shift where the public will better understand why intensification is occurring.
    OHBA has consistently advocated for better alignment of public policy through resolutions passed at our AMM and at a number of significant provincial consultations over the past few years…”
    (2015 submission to McMeekin and Mauro – Co-ordinated Review)

  3. Anna Romano says:

    On the point of speculation and land grabbing, we need to acknowledge the attractiveness of investing in Canadian farmland which in turn results in the shifting ownership of Canada’s farmland from farm families to investment companies.
    “Canadian farmers risk losing the very land needed to produce our food.
    Younger farmers cannot afford to buy land and many are reluctant to take on the risks of high debt loads.
    Globally, state-owned sovereign wealth funds seek productive farmland outside of their borders to produce food for their own populations, while private investors seek to buy farmland as a safe way to store their wealth and obtain rent income as they wait for food price increases they expect to result from the twin pressures of climate instability and population growth.
    The current policy environment systemically pushes farmers out of business by promoting unaffordable land prices, even-higher farm debt loads, and the concentration of land ownership in fewer hands. With an agricultural model that requires fewer farmers, there is less space for new farmers to occupy. Handing land, skills and knowledge from one generation to the next – an age-old cultural process – is being replaced with a system of financial transactions – a commercial process – that shifts control over land to absentee landlords, investors and lenders and shifts the work of farming to tenants and/or transient, seasonal workers.”
    Losing Our Grip, 2015
    The National Farmers Union recommended that Canada and its provinces and territories develop policies, programs, laws and regulations re. land ownership, protection of farmland for agricultural use, farm financing and farm debt that will promote farmer autonomy and land ownership in the hand of producers.
    Perhaps we should revisit the eight National Farmers Union Recommendations as measures to achieve farmer autonomy and control.
    Losing Our Grip, March 2015, National Farmers Union

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