‘They’d rather build homes than plant trees’: Environmental and landowner groups clash over Smithville expansion plans

·3 min read

Developers and environmental groups clashed over the finer points of Smithville’s expansion plan recently, debating how much protected green space is too much.

The Township of West Lincoln is currently planning how to manage the expansion of Smithville as the population is predicted to more than double by 2051. A public meeting on June 27 proved to be controversial, with environmental groups coming out in support of the natural heritage systems (NHS) target, and developers casting doubts.

Township staff are currently working out the finer points of the plan in a motion known as Official Plan Amendment 63 (OPA63), which details the zoning of residential districts, transport corridors and, crucially, natural heritage systems.

The Official Plan allocates 30 per cent of land to be set aside for woodlands and wetlands which would prevent development, and OPA63 has proposed buffers and linkages across the urban area to protect wildlife corridors and natural features.

Ahead of the meeting, a local community group promoting environmental and responsible growth showed up at the township’s offices supporting the plans.

Linda Sivyer, a member of the Community for Responsible Growth, said the group was pleased with the “nice balance” between residential, employment and industrial areas, and they were “particularly happy to see the natural heritage areas.”

They were, however, concerned landowners and developers might object to the details of the NHS.

“They’d rather build homes than plant trees,” said Sivyer.

Representing the Smithville Landowner Group, Paul Lowes called the 30 per cent natural land coverage “arbitrary” and argued it would be “punitive to certain landowners, particularly the farmers.”

He also predicted that it would lead to further expansion in the future to make up for the land the Township could have used within the current plans for development.

Jennifer Meader, counsel to landowners who own land intended to be included in the expansion, also argued against some of the finer points.

She argued that the extent of the “no development areas” is “not properly based in science … and they are not required to protect the natural heritage features in the community at the level that they are proposed.”

She also argued that they created an “imbalance” between policies intended to protect the natural heritage areas, and policies requiring compact forms of development using services and infrastructure efficiently.

The representatives for the landowners and developers also criticized the residential densities, which Meader called “inappropriately low.”

She warned that “if the stakeholders are not able to work together, OPA63 will certainly end up before the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) for adjudication.”

“As I’m sure council is well aware,” she warned, “the tribunal is very alive to the ongoing housing crisis: part of their current mandate is to get housing supply to market. So, if this is simply pushed off to the OLT, that will create risk to the township and will cost the taxpayers money.”

Later in the hearing, Coun. William Reilly said township staff will proceed with the plan professionally and he has “no concerns whatsoever about the OLT, and we know that people can take us to the OLT for just about anything, so why would we even take that into consideration tonight?”

Mayor Dave Bylsma said, “I’ve really come to appreciate the tension … that exists between development on the one side … and then, of course, the environment and natural heritage … and there’s always a tension.”

Director of Planning Brian Treble said township staff would take all the comments on board and review the policy before reporting back in the future.

“I’m not going to say that what’s been drafted tonight is exactly the way it’s going to look in final form and I’m not going to say it’s going to change, either,” he said.

Staff will review comments made at the meeting and others received, and provide a recommendation report for council to vote on at a future meeting.

Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting