Ramara MZO application: undemocratic and environmentally foolish
Rendering of aerial view of Harbour Village at the Narrows. Source: Rama Road Corridor MZO package, Ramara Township
Ministerial zoning orders an authoritarian tool that will cost taxpayers in the long run
By Phil Brennan AWARE Simcoe
The current use of ministerial zoning orders (MZOs) by the provincial government and some municipalities is nothing short of a declaration of war on voters and the environment. And the sad truth is that this authoritarian tool is being used to build bad projects that will cost the taxpayer big time for decades.
One of the more recent examples of attempts to misuse this planning tool is the recent MZO application by the Township of Ramara to approve not one but three separate developments on the shores of Lake Couchiching.
This development is not good for the lake and the environmental impacts will affect the City or Orillia, the Township of Severn, the Township of Ramara, property owners in and near the lake and the Trent-Severn tourism industry. And First Nations’ interests — well, let’s let them tell their own story.
The application has a large portion of the development proposed within a provincially significant wetland, which is currently prohibited under Ontario’s planning laws. It will also infringe on water intake protection zones as well as significant forests.
No doubt the proponents of this project will say that we need the hotel rooms, restaurants, condominiums, townhouses, retirement residences, commercial and retail space. And that would be great — so build it in Ramara but not at the cost of the health of Lake Couchiching. Destroying the lake will only leave us with a white elephant at the end of the day.
The problem with the MZO is that it does not currently require environmental assessments to be completed as per Section 47 of the Planning Act. The only environmental assessment that Ramara refers to justify their application is one that is out of date (early 2000s) and that only applies to a portion of the proposed development.
There are no policies to guide how to build on top of a provincially significant wetland because it’s a bad idea. Mitigation of the damage and offsetting are just nonsense approaches to permit building a bad development.
The MZO removes the statutory consultation process that is so important to good planning. It is through that consultation that we the people, and we the stakeholders and the neighbouring municipalities can force developers to deal with key issues.
MZOs are being used frequently in Ontario as an excuse to get the economy going. But in reality, they are usually bad for the economy as they are being used to bulldoze the environmental benefits that we all get from our wetlands and forests and will result in brutal remediation costs to the taxpayer for long after the developer has gone.
Ontario, let’s get back to using sound planning principles when we build our future — there is no future in the current approach.
Phil Brennan of Severn Township is a retired forester and senior manager