York Region mulling plan that 'destroys farmland and natural heritage,' critics warn

·3 min read
Staff are recommending York Regional Council approve an intensification growth rate of between 50 and 55 per cent — leaving some residents worried about what that could mean for the land. (Sue Reid/CBC - image credit)
Staff are recommending York Regional Council approve an intensification growth rate of between 50 and 55 per cent — leaving some residents worried about what that could mean for the land. (Sue Reid/CBC - image credit)

Environmental groups and residents in York Region are speaking out against a plan that they say could open up a lot more unprotected farmland for development.

The issue came up Thursday at a special meeting of York Regional Council, which is looking at whether to expand into rural areas, or increase the density of existing neighbourhoods to accommodate the growth of the region over the next 30 years.

Regional staff pushed a proposal that would see some intensification in urban areas, but also a significant amount of development on what is now farmland.

"This is a plan that would more than double the rate at which York Region is destroying farmland and natural heritage, and it would lock its existing neighbourhoods as well as the new development into basically car dependent patterns for the next 30 years," said Phil Pothen, the Ontario environment program manager with Environmental Defence.

"Until now, York Region has been fairly successful. It's eaten up only around I believe something like 6,000 acres over the past 18 years. And yet it's now set, if it approves this plan, to swallow up 25,000 more acres within the next 30 years," he said.

The current staff proposal would see the urban expansion of 1,865 hectares in Markham-Stouffville, 1,290 hectares in the Vaughan and King City area and 245 hectares in East Gwillimbury.

Sue Reid/CBC
Sue Reid/CBC

The land has not yet been assigned to the green belt or to development, but is "prime farmland," Pothen said.

He said the region should have considered options that don't involve expanding into rural lands.

"Regions like Halton and Hamilton, they are considering options around 80 per cent intensification," Pothen said, adding that would avoid expansion beyond existing neighbourhoods, something he said is "overwhelmingly preferred by residents."

By contrast, the York Region staff proposal recommends council approve an intensification growth rate of between 50 to 55 per cent.

Alexis Whalen, a resident of Markham for 30 years, said she supports growth in existing neighbourhoods but not on the rural land now sandwiched between York Region's urban areas and the greenbelt — a region surrounding the GTA that the province has set aside to curb urban sprawl.

"It's not needed; we can do what we need to do without moving the urban boundary," Whalen told CBC Toronto.

'There is a balance to the approach'

Council will discuss the plan and any potential changes again on Oct. 21.

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said the staff proposal spells out a reasonable way forward.

"Is it the right balance? Is it the perfect balance?" he asked.

"I don't think you can ever get that. But there is a balance to the approach."

However, deputants at Thursday's meeting said they're worried the plan will cause significant environmental damage.

"I have heard no acknowledgement of the limitations of the lake to accommodate more sewage and development," said Claire Malcomson, the executive director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition.

"Your cottaging and water skiing activities are going to be yucky and stinky if you do not take the protection of Lake Simcoe seriously," she said.

"There is absolutely zero indication the lake will be in a better position to accommodate sewage in 20 years."

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