How Developers Get their Way
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.