NEWS, Wednesday, November 5, 2003, p. A23
hustle to save moraine pledge
Government seeks pact with builders Tory deals put promises in
and Caroline Mallan
The new Liberal
government is scrambling to cut a deal with developers that would
save at least part of a disputed section of the Oak Ridges moraine
from being cleared for housing, sources say.
that Premier Dalton McGuinty can't live up to his election promise
to stop construction of 6,600 homes, Municipal Affairs Minister
John Gerretsen is to announce today a temporary freeze on development
while a compromise is worked out.
refused to answer media questions about moraine talks yesterday.
no comment ... we will talk in due course," said the veteran
the fledgling government has discovered the previous Conservative
regime signed ironclad contracts with developers as part of its
much-celebrated deal to protect the environmentally sensitive
greenbelt north of Toronto.
are confident they can still strike a deal that will protect some
of the disputed land, a far cry from the cornerstone promise to
stop all 6,600 homes that were allowed to proceed despite an all-party
agreement in 2001 to protect the land that is often referred to
as the rain barrel for Toronto.
In their platform,
the Liberals said: "The Eves government secretly approved
a plan to build 6,600 new homes on one of the most sensitive spots
on the moraine in Richmond Hill.
We will stop
Conservative government's deals allow subdivisions to be built
on seven blocks of property scattered throughout the area bounded
by Bathurst St., Bayview Ave., the Jefferson Sideroad and King
the Oct. 2 election, McGuinty repeated his message, telling reporters
he was using the media to send a message to the developers who
were constructing new homes on the moraine and opening sales pavilions
to attract potential homeowners to halt their efforts. On Oct.
16, McGuinty vowed to make good on the Liberals' campaign promise
to protect the moraine, even if it meant scuttling construction
already under way and cancelling house sales already made.
a very clear signal. It's been out there for a very long time
now," he said. "We're committed to putting genuine protections
to the Oak Ridges moraine, and we've said we're not going to allow
the construction of those 6,600 homes."
As a result
of McGuinty's warnings, builders involved on the moraine said
two weeks ago they were voluntarily closing their sales offices
until Nov. 5 pending discussions with the province. In a newsletter
yesterday, the Greater Toronto Home Builders Association notified
members the voluntary sales hiatus was set to expire today.
lawyer Clayton Ruby says the new government can still prevent
the pristine land from being paved over if it has the political
In a legal
opinion for Environmental Defence Canada, Ruby concludes the government
has a clear path of action to protect the taxpayer from liability
arising out of the government's commitment to stop construction
on the most sensitive part of the moraine.
the moraine doesn't have to cost a bundle. It's clear and simple-
the government can stop the construction and limit the amount
of money developers unfairly take from the public purse,"
Ruby said in a statement.
opinion says the Legislature can pass legislation that would allow
expropriation of the developers' land. The legislation could also
limit compensation for developers to their out-of-pocket expenses
in buying the land, and not for any "improvements" to
it, Ruby says.
director of Earthroots and a former Liberal candidate, denounced
news a deal is even being contemplated that would see some of
the homes proceed. "They aren't just breaking their promises
to environmental groups, they are breaking their promise to the
people of Ontario and we are feeling very betrayed," he said.
But Neil Rodgers,
president of the Urban Development Institute, an umbrella organization
that represents the developers, said if a compromise is reached,
it will demonstrate the Liberals respect existing contracts.
over the planned 6,600 homes erupted months after the Tories froze
development on significant portions of the moraine in November,
2001. As part of the legislation, a last-minute deal between environmentalists
and developers was brokered by former Toronto mayor David Crombie.
That agreement was supposed to shift development from the contentious
Richmond Hill lands- the subject of a long, acrimonious Ontario
Municipal Board hearing- to provincial lands in Pickering.
But in June,
2002, then-municipal affairs minister Chris Hodgson signed a rare
minister's order giving Richmond Hill developers the right again
to build houses on the moraine. The order directed Richmond Hill
city planners to change the zoning bylaws and amend their official
plan to allow the controversial developments.