Caledon mansion development threatening local water now in the hands of OLT
When the Belfountain Community Organization filed its appeal of a development permit for 75 rural estates within the small hamlet’s borders—issued by the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC) this past August—Caledon Mayor Annette Groves promised that the Town would stand with residents and file an appeal of its own once council reconvened for the fall term. Despite pushback from the owners of the land, the Town, in a decision last week, was true to its word. The move not only signals Caledon’s stance in backing local residents, but also protects the Town from a hefty $20 million bill that could arise should wells run dry from overuse.
Impacts on local drinking water, mostly provided through existing wells, is a significant concern for residents should the large development project move forward and place increasing pressure on the groundwater system in the area.
The Manors of Belfountain (MOB) project has existed as a concept since the 1980s. In the years since, it has been feverishly opposed by the local community and has never been able to solidify approval and get shovels in the ground. Instead the land has shifted owners, each with a slightly different vision on how to double the population of the quaint hamlet.
The Manors of Belfountain could double the population of the small rural hamlet.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
The original owners of the land, Enterac, filed a draft plan of subdivision with the Town in 1988. The proposal detailed the development of 73 residential lots and was denied by the NEC. The owners appealed the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board (now the Ontario Land Tribunal) who affirmed the decision of the NEC, but did state that the lands had “potential for residential development”. Following this decision, Enterac tried again proposing 48 residential lots, but the lands were sold before any decision could be made.
The Manors of Belfountain Corporation currently own the land and are proposing 75 rural estates and a park bordered by 53 acres of open space. Despite the NEC declaring in 1990 that development could not continue at such a scale, the decision making body gave MOB the go ahead in July, much to the dismay of local residents.
The proposed Manors of Belfountain subdivision development.
(Town of Caledon)
“This property has changed hands several times since I moved to Belfountain 25 years ago,” said Toby Cadham. “Because each new owner realizes that it cannot be developed due to the lack of water, the limitations on safe septic systems, and the potential impacts of septic and wastewater on people’s existing wells and water sources.”
“The science keeps saying the same thing owner after owner and the Town keeps making the same decision, the right decision, to not allow a development that could have disastrous effects,” he added.
Mark Flowers, a lawyer with Davies Howe and legal counsel for the Manors of Belfountain, argued that each proposal allowed for the current owners and developers to learn from previous studies in order to improve the present application.
“This conditional approval was several years, if not decades in the making, with the current application dating back to 2018, and previous versions of the development proposal for these lands dating back to the 1980s,” Flowers said.
Despite the disapproval of Town council, the decision remains largely out of their hands, with the future of the project now in the hands of the OLT. Two appeals related to the MOB project are currently before the provincial tribunal. When the most recent draft plan of subdivision was submitted in 2018, the Town did not make a decision within the 180 day time frame allotted under the Planning Act, leading the MOB Corporation to file an appeal.
On the matter of the NEC decision, a permit was granted on a series of conditions that the applicant would have to adhere to.
Dissatisfied with the conditions of the permit, the Town of Caledon voted last week to file a protective appeal. This buys council and residents time and “ensure(s) that council has the opportunity to consider its position on the development permit, as well as the draft plan of subdivision already under appeal as a whole and so that council can also receive advice from planning and legal staff on the merits of the appeal and the proposed development,” Groves told the community in August.
Flowers says MOB was prepared to accept the conditions detailed by the NEC.
“Although our client did not believe that all of the proposed conditions of approval were necessary, it was prepared to accept these conditions as the basis for moving forward, recognizing that these conditions had arisen from an extensive and collaborative process that involved all of the public agencies including the Town,” Flowers stated.
Many of the homes in Belfountain rely on private wells to pull water into their homes. With the large development proposal, there are concerns the groundwater may not be enough to support the influx of new residents.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Following changes made to the appeal process by the PC government under Premier Doug Ford, OLT decisions more often than not sway in favour of the developer. An investigation undertaken by the Hamilton Spectator analyzed all rulings made by the OLT between January and mid-August of 2022. Of the 178 decisions, 172 were in favour of the applicant, with the municipality or public entity winning just six times.
Changes the PC majority has made to various pieces of legislation have eroded the control of municipalities, conservation authorities and the public over local planning decisions, resulting in a 97 percent success rate of private applicants.
But the Town is doing everything in its power to maintain opposition to the project, despite a recommendation from staff and urging of the developer against recommendation from a confidential staff report. Council is standing with the best interests of the community, but also protecting itself from a hefty price tag to provide the community with running water, which some say will be inevitable when 75 additional residential wells cause the water supply to run dry.
“It’s essential to rely on sound science first,” Cadham said, noting that the Town has previously not allowed development of this scale in areas dependent on septic systems and residential wells for water and wastewater services.
Belfountain residents have gathered many times to organize opposition to the proposed development.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer files)
Manors of Belfountain is relying on a series of hydrogeological studies completed by various consultants which concluded the dolostone aquifer found below the site—one of the most prolific in Ontario—will replenish itself through rainfall and infiltration. But as has been seen in major developments in suburban areas such as Brampton, an increase in impervious surfaces (surfaces that are paved over and do not allow water to permeate) decreases the volume of water infiltrating the ground which can lead to lack of water availability in the local water table. The construction of large estates with massive land footprints and concrete swimming pools along with a twisting collection of local roads will result in lower levels of infiltration compared to the present open field.
“As part of the current application, extensive studies were undertaken by the applicant together with peer reviews conducted by various public bodies including the Town of Caledon,” Flowers stated.
But when it comes to the impact on existing wells, the applicant points to a series of historical well tests. The dates these tests were completed remains unclear. Residents of Belfountain state that current well testing has been lacking.
“It’s important to note that the current owner discontinued the well testing and despite a long list of conditions laid out by the Niagara Escarpment Commission prior to development, the developer has taken no actions to address the conditions of approval,” Cadham, who had his well tested in a previous study, noted.
A groundwater consultant for the BCO residents group, Ken Howard, and Garry Hunter, a hydrogeologist, concluded that in order to avoid hydrogeological consequences, a maximum of 38 dwellings should be constructed on the lands, practically half of what MOB is proposing.
Howard, a hydrogeologist with over 30 years experience in the public and private sector, a professor at the University of Toronto, and an executive with the International Association of Hydrogeologists, was not satisfied with the work produced on behalf of the developer. Reliable values of the amount of water within the aquifer is absent and the minimum test requirements do not accurately represent what the total water quality extracted would be, he concluded.
He predicts that each household on a one-acre lot will use an average of 2,250 litres per day for a daily total of 168,750 litres with all 75 lots combined.
While the BCO and the MOB argue over the specific data of how much water will flow, the Town of Caledon will be on the hook if wells run dry.
Paul Montgomery, a property and business owner in Belfountain, presented council with three scenarios that could unfold should the development continue. The best case scenario would be that the studies completed by the consultants for the developer are correct and there would be no impact on water quality or quantity in the community. However, given supporting evidence from Howard and Hunter, this scenario seems unlikely.
The second scenario would be that some wells run dry. In this scenario, the Town would be offsetting the costs to provide those homes with municipal water, with the additional property taxes earned from the new homes. In Caledon, the average property tax sits between $6,000 and $10,000 per year. If 75 homes are built, this will provide the Town with approximately $750,000 in additional revenue. But if this money needs to be used to supplement water supply, there will be little, if any, benefit for the Town.
The worst case scenario would be that all existing wells run dry or become contaminated with nitrates from construction. In order to provide municipal water for the entire hamlet, the BCO estimates this would cost the Town $20 million, using data from the Region of Peel based and comparative costs of running municipal water to other rural villages in Caledon.
It is a risky bet for the Town which, while in the midst of becoming an independent municipality due to the dissolution of the Region of Peel, is already struggling financially.
The risks are driving Belfountain residents to persevere, with many determined to fight until they see shovels in the ground.
“Some level of development on the land is inevitable, located as it is within the village urban boundary,” David Kendall, a senior resident who has spent the better part of his life in Belfountain, said.
In order to keep development to a minimum, Kendall and his wife made MOB an unconventional offer.
“On condition that a much reduced development of 15 lots over 45 acres is permitted, my wife and I of Caledon Mountain Drive, are prepared to arrange the payment of $1 million to the developer,” he announced to council last Tuesday. In exchange, Kendall is asking that the developer provide the remaining 130 acres to the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy Trust (EBC) to become a permanent public park. Since the land is worth more than one million, it has been discussed with the EBC that the developer would receive a tax credit.
MOB made no mention of this offer in their delegation and Kendall did not respond to The Pointer’s question on whether any private conversations have occurred between himself and the landowners.
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