The Toronto Star
NEWS, Tuesday, August 28, 2001, p. B01
Housing downgraded on moraine
Panel recommends banning large estates from countryside

Brian McAndrew

More land would be protected from housing development on the Oak Ridges Moraine under a revised proposal from a provincial advisory committee that will be announced today.

The Oak Ridges Moraine advisory panel has dropped a recommendation that would allow the construction of large estate developments in some rural areas one of the most controversial elements of the land-use proposals on the 160-kilometre-long ridge. Such estate lots consist of a large house on at least half an acre of land.

Ron Vrancart, who chairs the advisory panel, was to make the announcement today at the start of public hearings into the committee's recommendations to divide the moraine into areas that would be protected and others where development would be allowed.

"There will be no new subdivision development in the countryside," Vrancart confirmed yesterday.

"That wasn't our intent when we made the recommendations, but that's how it was interpreted. We wanted to ensure the countryside is maintained for rural and agricultural uses," he said.

"It's a big step forward," panel member John Riley told The Star about the last-minute revision made during a committee meeting Friday.

The panel comprising environmentalists, elected municipal officials and representatives of the housing, gravel pit and agriculture industries was appointed to come up with land-use recommendations after the Ontario government imposed a six-month development freeze on the environmentally sensitive moraine starting last May.

The moraine, which stretches from the Niagara Escarpment in the west to below Rice Lake in the east, was created about 12,000 years ago when two fingers of a retreating glacier pinched together and left behind a layer of crushed debris. The thick sand and gravel deposits of the moraine act as reservoirs, feeding the headwaters of several local rivers and providing drinking water for more than 200,000 people.

The panel hurried over eight days of meetings in July to come up with the land-use proposals that were announced earlier this month.

The inclusion of estate development in an area called Countryside, which covers 38 per cent of the moraine (74,100 of the entire 195,000 hectares), came under immediate fire from other environmentalists, who said the large homes on big lots were no more welcome in rural areas than are high-density subdivisions.

"I'm happy they've dealt with the estate issue. That's been a sore point for us," said Josh Matlow, a campaigner with Earthroots conservation group.

The first of four hearings begins at 7 p.m. today at the Uxbridge town arena, where Vrancart was to announce the revision before opening the meeting to public commentary.

The advisory panel recommends dividing the moraine into four categories with varying levels of preservation:

Natural Core: An area covering 35 per cent of the moraine (68,250 hectares), where such features as forests, kettle lakes and other wetlands would be protected from new development with the exception of farming and existing gravel pits.

Natural Linkage: Made up of woodlots, wetlands and rural areas that would link core areas along with other natural corridors, such as river valleys running north and south of the moraine. This 17 per cent (33,150 hectares) would have the same controls as Natural Core but would allow new sand and gravel pits for the aggregate industry.

Settlement: Covering 10 per cent (19,500 hectares) of the moraine, these are urban areas where local municipalities have already approved housing and other commercial and industrial uses.

'I'm happy they've dealt with the estate issue. That's been a sore point'

Countryside: The panel has recommended against new subdivision development in this rural and agricultural area. This segment would allow commercial and industrial development, along with such major recreational activities as golf courses and ski hills.

Some housing would be permitted in small developments around existing hamlets on the moraine, Vrancart said.

The panel also recommended setting restrictions on the commercial and development aspects of the Countryside area.

"You might want to have a place where they make pies that's industrial, but not an auto factory," said Riley, who is also science director at the Nature Conservancy of Canada. The conservancy is a national non-profit organization that has bought more than 1,000 hectares of the moraine for preservation.

In addition to the Uxbridge meeting, public hearings will be held tomorrow at the Caledon Community Complex in Caledon East; on Sept. 5 at the CIBC Leadership Centre in King City; and on Sept. 13 at the Lions Community Centre in Cobourg. All meetings begin at 7 p.m.

The province intends to create legislation this fall to provide land protection on the moraine.