The Toronto Star
NEWS, Saturday, February 12, 2000
at the Oak Ridges Moraine
Scenic green space or urban sprawl? The battle lines have been
executive vice-president of Lebovic Enterprises, one of the biggest
suburban housing developers and a major landowner on the moraine.
wasn't supposed to have much impact in one of the first battles
against housing development on the Oak Ridges Moraine.
ago a well-connected local housing developer - the brother of
the mayor - wanted to build a sprawling subdivision that would
have backed on to her family's farm where she grew up in the rolling
hills of Caledon East.
But she persevered
- and won. The picturesque, snow-covered hills behind her horse
ranch north of Bolton remain untouched.
still at it as the resolute executive director of STORM (Save
the Oak Ridges Moraine), the little coalition that takes on development
Now, the biggest
showdown of all is coming between environmental activists and
an army of wealthy developers who would prefer to cover the unique
landform stretching across the top of Greater Toronto with houses.
of the moraine, a ridge pinched together by a pair of glaciers
about 13,000 years ago, is on the line. Will there be a healthy
green belt protecting the headwaters of the rivers and streams
flowing through the country's biggest and most rapidly growing
region? Or is the moraine destined to be just another suburb?
growth threatens the ability of the layers of sand and gravel
beneath the moraine's thin surface of topsoil to absorb rain and
replenish the aquifers that act like massive underground storage
tanks. They feed the headwaters of more than 30 rivers and major
streams flowing through an area of about 1 million hectares between
Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe.
400,000 people in York region rely on the moraine for water. About
the only pure water flowing in the Don, Humber and Rouge rivers
comes from springs gushing out of the moraine.
housing development in Richmond Hill, which includes the highest
point of the moraine in the tiny community of Oak Ridges on Yonge
St., is creating a break in the natural green corridor - the backbone
of Greater Toronto - that stretches 160-kilometres from the Niagara
Escarpment to the southern shore of Rice Lake.
Like the first
time Crandall took on the establishment, the odds are stacked
against her and other allies in the like-minded environmental
community that includes the Kettle Lakes Coalition, Save the Rouge
Valley System, Federation of Ontario Naturalists and Earthroots.
Durham and Peel regions have planned for population growth of
98,000 on the moraine over the next 20 years. There are 14 housing
development proposals in York and six in Durham that would add
another 56,000 people if they are approved.
adding the entire population of Oshawa to the more than 110,000
people already living on the moraine.
see the moraine as fertile territory for investment.
like a farmer," boasts Lloyd Cherniak, executive vice-president
of Lebovic Enterprises, one of the biggest suburban housing developers
and a major landowner on the moraine. "I plant sewers in
the spring and houses pop up in the fall."
grates on environmentalists who believe the development sector
is out of control while the provincial government feigns concern
but fails to act.
this is all about is getting an anti-urban sprawl policy in place
from the provincial government," says Crandall. "The
moraine is the springboard. This is where the (Greater Toronto)
waters begin. If we can't stop urban sprawl here, we won't ever
be able to stop it."
The war for
the moraine is raging on three different fronts near Uxbridge,
King City and on the biggest battlefield of all, Richmond Hill.
In King City,
an Ontario Municipal Board decision is being awaited to determine
if a sewer line will be extended from Bathurst St. in Richmond
Build a pipe
and they will come. The village, just west of Richmond Hill near
Highway 400, would see its population double from 5,000 to 10,000.
Installing a new sewer line opens up opportunity for even greater
hearing is pending over the contentious Gan Eden proposal near
Uxbridge in Durham Region. Joey Tannenbaum, the aging industrialist
and arts philanthropist, wants to turn a family enclave into 2,500
houses and an arts centre that could become a summer home to the
Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
would require a major 22-kilometre extension of the shared York-Durham
sewer system. Both Uxbridge and Durham councils have said no to
the project but Tannenbaum remains undeterred having filed an
appeal to the municipal board even before the councils made their
Regeneration Trust commissioner David Crombie finds a disturbing
trend emerging with developers running to the municipal board
before local councils deal with the issues.
about getting it backward. This gives the right to the developers
to disregard the democratic process," says Crombie, whose
organization is concerned about the future of the moraine's headwaters.
board makes its decisions based on provincial policies - not municipal
wishes - and that has given developers the advantage in having
their way with the moraine, Crombie explains.
There is no
substantive provincial policy for development along the moraine,
just a weak set of guidelines established in 1991 in anticipation
of regulation coming after a $2 million study.
landed on then-natural resources minister Howard Hampton's desk
in 1994 as an election loomed. The Conservatives took over in
1995 and shelved the report with its recommendations that most
environmentalists find acceptable for controlling development.
Tony Clement, who holds both the environment and municipal affairs
portfolios that would be seemingly at odds when dealing with moraine
development issues, has insisted the 1991 guidelines are sufficient.
something in place that is workable if applied properly. It can
provide a balance," Clement says.
He has rejected
calls for a freeze on moraine development until the province can
come up with a development policy.
the province must act quickly to protect the moraine.
the province can put this in context and they have failed to do
that," he says.
developers are pushing ahead, determined to take advantage of
the absence of provincial participation and increased pressure
on municipal planning offices.
planning commissioner Janet Babcock will tell anyone willing to
listen that her department has been overwhelmed by the combination
of the downloading of planning responsibilities by the province
and the large numbers of housing proposals under consideration.
been and we are the battleground for development on the Oak Ridges
Moraine," says Babcock. "For the past three years we
have asked the province for funding for hydrogeology (groundwater)
studies and legislation but the province has said no. We don't
need a freeze on development but we need the 1994 strategy adopted."
have plans for putting 11,000 homes on the moraine at Richmond
Hill. The council will continue debating the proposed rezoning
of the 2,800 hectares of rural and agricultural land on Feb. 23.
council has encouraged housing development on the moraine more
than any other elected body.
also head of the Urban Development Association, insists the development
industry has little influence on the Richmond Hill council despite
the amount of election campaign contributions made to nearly every
with holdings on the moraine contributed more than $20,000 in
Richmond Hill during the last municipal election.
ranged from $1,250 to Councillor Brenda Hogg - the only critic
of the development plans - to $3,200 to Councillor David Cohen.
Only Councillor Joe DiPaola received no contributions.
have an open door to councillors or the planning staff,"
Cherniak said. "I have to fight for every piece of information
been a groundswell of public support to protect the moraine.
are to begin Monday delivering 20,000 small plastic bags of wood
chips gathered from the moraine's Jefferson Forest that has been
cut for Bayview Ave. road expansion.
Glenn De Baeremaeker,
an ardent Rouge Valley advocate and organizer with the Kettle
Lakes Coalition, is behind the drive to whip up community support
to turn the much of the proposed Richmond Hill development properties
into a 1,200-hectare Kettle Lakes park.
were formed by large blocks of ice left beneath the ground during
the glacial period. When the ice melted, the deep, steep-sided
depressions left behind were shaped like kettles.)
is expecting a huge turn-out for the Feb. 23 meeting, moving from
the municipal hall to a Sheraton hotel ballroom.
park, STORM and the Federation of Ontario Naturalists have worked
out several options they want the province to consider to provide
better protection for the moraine.
polices setting boundaries where development would be prohibited.
spending on sewer, roads and water main construction that would
bring the most immediate development proposals to a halt.
per cent of the province's $20-billion SuperBuild growth fund
to purchase land on the moraine for parks.
on allowed housing and golf course developments to help fund parkland
suggests giving developers the chance to build more houses on
other properties in exchange for land holdings on the moraine,
a process known as a density transfer.
question we have to ask with all this development is are we being
fenced in or is the environment being fenced out?" Crandall
Adds De Baeremaeker:
"A lot of these developers just see us as standing in the
way of creating a happy world but public pressure has to be able
to change this tidal wave of urban sprawl."