Simcoe County was listed as one of the priority areas to expand the Greenbelt in 2018. Our wealth of shorelines, forests, wetlands and moraines, makes Simcoe County a prime candidate to ensure large swath’s of Ontario’s natural heritage, farmland and water are protected.
With urbanization pressures and the health of Lake Simcoe declining, not to mention the dire need to act on climate change, for which the Greenbelt provides part of a natural solution, now is the time to ask the government to include Simcoe County and the remainder of the Lake Simcoe shoreline into an expanded Greenbelt.
The Greenbelt was created in 2005 to:
All of these pressures are particularly acute in Simcoe County.
This is why more than 100 community groups, including the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition and Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, asked the province to nearly double the size of the Greenbelt to add 1.5 million acres of land containing vital water resources.
In Simcoe County this includes almost 300,000 hectares of land covering the Lake Simcoe watershed, the Oro Moraine, the Nottawasaga River Watershed and the Minesing Wetlands, which supply and purify clean drinking water for most residents of the county.
More recently, it has become clear that the Greenbelt plays an important role as part of a natural solution to climate change.
By absorbing carbon from the air it helps mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and by slowing and absorbing water it helps adaptation efforts that address the impacts of climate change, such as flooding.
By growing the Greenbelt we can increase these benefits in a way that also enhances our collective health and wellbeing.
The Greenbelt also helps ensure that the way we develop our communities is done prudently. By putting a check on sprawl it encourages development of complete communities, within which people can live, work, and play without having to commute elsewhere. This benefits taxpayers as the cost of sprawl, including infrastructure maintenance, as well as externalities associated with increased pollution and environmental degradation, are reduced.
The updated section of the Greenbelt Plan, section 3.1.3(1), clearly outlines that the Greenbelt does not further restrict on-farm uses:
“All types, sizes and intensities of agricultural uses and normal farm practices shall be promoted and protected and a full range of agricultural uses, agriculture-related uses and on-farm diversified uses are permitted based on provincial Guidelines on Permitted Uses in Ontario’s Prime Agricultural Areas. Proposed agriculture-related uses and on-farm diversified uses shall be compatible with and shall not hinder surrounding agricultural operations.”
The Greenbelt Plan (section 3.1.5) elevates the importance of local agriculture by encouraging the inclusion in the planning process of opportunities to support and enhance it in various ways, including the development of a regional agri-food sector, the creation of agricultural advisory committees, and by minimizing land use conflicts and protecting agricultural resources.
On-farm diversified uses are subject to section 3.2.5 (specifically 3.2.5(7)), which states:
“…new buildings and structures for agricultural, agriculture-related or on-farm diversified uses are not required to undertake a natural heritage or hydrologic evaluation if a minimum 30 metre vegetation protection zone is provided from a key natural heritage feature or key hydrologic feature. In addition, these uses are exempt from the requirement of establishing a condition of natural self-sustaining vegetation if the land is and will continue to be used for agricultural purposes.”
The Greenbelt Plan (section 3.1.3(5)) emphasizes the primacy of agriculture over non-agricultural uses by explicitly stating that other land uses should not negatively impact agriculture:
“Where agricultural uses and non-agricultural uses interface, land use compatibility shall be achieved by avoiding or, where avoidance is not possible, minimizing and mitigating adverse impacts on the Agricultural System, based on provincial guidance. Where mitigation is required, measures should be incorporated as part of the non-agricultural uses, as appropriate, within the area being developed.”
The Greenbelt does not lower farmer to farmer sales value. Farmland prices have steadily increased in the Greenbelt at 10% or more annually (total 41% over 4 years) according to MPAC. Moreover, farms in Waterloo that are already protected by a regional Greenbelt, with policies modelled after the provincial Greenbelt Plan, have been shown to have the highest farm revenues in the province ($410,210 Waterloo vs. $304,977 provincial average).
The Greenbelt is effective at stopping the loss of farmland to development. Since its inception until 2014, zero hectares of farmland has been lost to development in the Greenbelt proving its effectiveness in preserving agricultural land for food production. Conversely, outside of the Greenbelt, 7,500 hectares of farmland has been lost to development in that same time frame.
Within the Protected Countryside designation of the Greenbelt, as outlined in section 220.127.116.11, non-renewable resource activities (including mineral aggregate) are permitted and subject to all other applicable legislation. So, it is possible for aggregate to be located close to market and continue operations depending on the location of the operation within the Greenbelt.
However, the increased standards of the Greenbelt on aggregate operations, in certain areas, should be viewed as a net benefit to the community.
As stated in section 18.104.22.168, when a new non-renewable resource activity is proposed within the Natural Heritage System, key areas are protected from these activities, including significant wetlands, habitat of threatened or endangered species and significant woodlots. The language in this part of the plan clearly prohibits “new mineral aggregate operation and no new wayside pits and quarries, or any ancillary or accessory use” (22.214.171.124 (a)).
“The inherent conflicts between aggregate production and the protection of natural areas arise because many of the highest quality aggregate deposits in Southern Ontario are found in areas of great ecological and social significance.”The Greenbelt would reduce conflicts in these areas and preserve the ecological integrity of our most sensitive spaces.
Any new application for aggregate mining outside of sensitive habitats has increased obligations to demonstrate how the connectivity of water systems and natural heritage will be maintained before, during, and after aggregate extraction, as well as an obligation to show how the water resource systems will be protected or enhanced (section 126.96.36.199). Mandating consideration for the long-term health of our water resources is a net benefit to the community and environment at large.
In prime agricultural areas new applications must include an agricultural impact assessment, as well as consider how the connectivity of nearby agricultural systems will be maintained or improved. The onus is not on the farmer to adapt to new aggregate operations, including increased truck traffic, noise, or decreased air quality. Rather, the responsibility lies with the aggregate operation to consider its impact on agriculture and adapt its practices accordingly.
The aggregate industry has history of non-compliance with the Aggregate Resources Act, with, according to figures gathered by the MNR, 100 out of 121 operations non-compliant, as well as a frequent failure, incommensurate with the notion that activities are “interim use”, to return to sites pre-existing features or otherwise natural functions, with “most operators … not conducting progressive or final rehabilitation as required.”
The policies within the Growth Plan already determine where growth can occur. The most recent Growth Plan clearly prioritizes growth to primary settlement areas, as outlined in Growth Plan section 6.3.4.
Recent studies estimate that there is enough land for development. The Neptis Foundation found there to be 103,200 hectares of Designated Greenfield Area (DGA), defined as “the area within a settlement area that is not built-up area,” in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Another estimate finds 31,400 hectares in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (note the different area sizes)(Note: The MGP study distinguishes between “vacant” and “committed” DGA. The Neptis study looks at DGA as defined in Places to Grow.)
Changing planning regulations to allow for building the “missing middle”, or development suited to multiple unit buildings, often a few to several stories high, on lots currently used by single family homes would do much to improve housing supply and add ‘gentle’ density. This is a key element needed in many of our urban areas.
Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.
We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.
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