Natural Heritage and Agricultural Systems across the Greater Golden Horshoe need to be mapped realistically NOW by the province, instead of allowing municipalities to mark a few isolated ‘representative pieces’ around existing and proposed settlement areas on their Official Plans with no real commitment to save any of those areas. For too long, developers, the OMB and the courts have favoured the development of parcels of land, completely ignoring their significance within their larger Natural Heritage setting. It is time for development to reflect the characteristics of the landscape, instead of re-shaping it according to the developers’ intention to pack in more houses. In the current process of development, large amounts of ‘basement dirt’ are removed and dumped elsewhere … too often, this is done without oversight in remote Natural Areas and along Rural roadsides. As an example, someone really needs to look at the vast changes to the landscape west of Highway 27 on Highway 9 at the site of a former small airport. The land in that area has been raised many metres due to the dumping of large amounts of dirt, even though the owner has not obtained a Site Alteration Permit. Until recently, there had been ongoing disputes over which level of government had authority over which aspects of the site as the dirt continued to pile up. Ontario needs to ensure confusion (and reluctance) bred by bureaucratic overlap is not permitted to undo the intentions of planning for Natural Heritage and Agricultural Systems. Ontario needs to control its dirt.
In addition to the soil being extracted for all those basements, there are also piles of other rejected waste. The Ontario Soil Regulation Task Force explained how the amount of refuse from building sites in Ontario equals a mound measuring one square kilometre to a height of 25 metres every year, but that has probably increased in 2017. What’s in it and where is it going? Usually, we can see the piles being dumped on rural lands, though others find their way into natural areas. Where is the PROVINCIAL monitoring? Ontario will have to demonstrate real commitment to mapping and conserving Natural Heritage and Agricultural Systems which have been whittled away for the sake of more development. For Ontario, growth has become the equivalent of a gambling addiction where the consequences of the habit are never considered by the gambler. Look at the growing piles of litter and expanding areas of invasive species, such as phragmites, garlic mustard and dog-strangling vine, that are thriving along Ontario’s roadways and invading remaining Natural Areas. The province needs to formulate a response to these problems which are despoiling what remains of the natural landscape. The response must include ACTION, not just a position paper full of intentions that will be filed and forgotten.
In the case of Natural Heritage features, there are far too many cases where provincially-designated Class 1 to 3 Wetlands are criss-crossed with roads and ‘filled in’ for subdivisions and lawns where the residents will later band together and grumble to have the remaining wetland food complex eradicated (with pesticides, or more filling) because they don’t like insects that are key to the survival of other wetland species, such as fish, birds and amphibians. Development should never be permitted within or near floodplains and wetlands. Where development can be accommodated away from floodplains and wetlands, the homes established in areas with a high water table should not have basements where sump pumps remove water on a near-continuous basis. What a waste of energy! In such areas, homes should be built on piers, allowing space for water to flow around the structure without flooding into the home. Furthermore, people need to be educated about the characteristics of the local area. If we want to live on the landscape more wisely, perhaps it is time to legislate a cap on the size of houses. which have been getting larger and larger over time.
Right now, we are witnessing ever more fragmentation of the landscape as Ontario continues to approve more expansive developments connected by widened highways (Highway 400 for instance) and more widened and new bridges which are being driven right through the Greenbelt up to Innisfil in a 'concession' made to Toromont Industries by Dalton McGuinty's government in 2009. For a reminder, see https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2009/05/14/critics_slam_province_for_rezoning_farmland.html
I wonder how Ontario can claim to want to control and reduce GHG emissions when recent provincial efforts seem to be to the contrary. Furthermore, HOW will Ontario live up to its public position re: protection for the ORM, Niagara Escarpment (NE) and the Greenbelt (GB) when all formative (and approved) development plans over the past 50 years are already grandfathered into associated ORM, NE and GB legislation? The GB plan must be reviewed every 10 years, while developers continue to get a free pass on their old plans approved decades ago. Christopher Hume of the Toronto Star once noted “ … there is no argument for approvals that last forever. Throughout the U.K., the limit is five years at most, sometimes only two. Approvals there don’t come with the property. They aren’t passed on from generation to generation as in Ontario, a land speculator’s haven.”
Through the 2009 Study of the Aggregate Resource in Ontario (SAROS), we known Ontario has committed itself to the extraction of at least 186-million tonnes of aggregate EVERY year between 2010 and 2030 "close to markets", promising 98% will be 'produced' (mined), most coming from the ORM and NE. Ontario has no similar firm position on producing food "close to markets" so its primary interest as the major purchaser of aggregates, is not consistent with its stated goal for Greenbelt protection.
Finally, will we ever be able to have a mature public discussion on the need to develop 'population targets' that stabilize the human population and control industry in Ontario in order to achieve a healthy quality of life in addition to the goals for conservation and connection of remaining natural landscapes and their associated indigenous & migratory species? Communities will always need qualitative improvements in the form of maintenance, repair, upgrades and replacement of structures and infrastructures, so constant expansion is not a prerequisite for all planning. In a number of cases, reconnecting natural systems will involve setting aside intervening lands for rehabilitation. As we all know, preservation of natural areas is far less expensive than restoring or rehabilitating altered lands, but Ontario has been in the land-severing business for too long. Now, the province needs to re-discover its Natural Heritage by undoing mistakes of the past.
Ontario has 'recovery plans' for a number of species in decline, but their numbers are not recovering because their habitat is not really protected. Instead, Ontario ‘mitigates’ against loss, implicitly encouraging destruction of habitat. For instance, a forest may be removed, while artificial ‘habitat’ such as bird houses or bat boxes will be offered peremptorily as ‘alternate accommodation’ even though the habitat that once supported their natural nesting sites and food sources will be bull-dozed and replaced by roads and subdivisions, including some new trees. Mating and maternity areas may differ geographically from roosting and feeding areas, so the boxes are inadequate and merely ‘symbolic’ of Ontario’s lack of genuine commitment to conserving species (and landscapes) at risk. For example, see https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/06/29/its-june-so-its-high-time-for--bat-studies.html
There are glimmers of hope around the Greenbelt, but planning needs to be better established so it cannot be 'undone' in the complete absence of public input, such as the concession mentioned earlier, which, in 2009, opened a large area of the young Greenbelt (established in 2005) to large new developments. It was so exasperating to see good farmland taken out of production -- then, a sign for 'New Employment Land' appeared in some areas. Would that be warehouses or Big Box stores? That farmland had been working hard for decades to produce food, and farmers work long hard hours. It was almost an insult to see that land suddenly designated to 'Employment' when it had been productively 'employed' long before being 'drawn out' of the Greenbelt by the province.
[Original Comment ID: 211006]
Submitted February 12, 2018 11:08 AM