Grimsby asks for another PC flip-flop as it seeks removal of Greenbelt protection for controversial land parcels
Two parcels of protected land within the Town of Grimsby have long been the source of frustration for Town staff and elected officials. Ahead of the Greenbelt’s creation in 2005, and then again during a review in 2016/2017, officials argued the two pieces of land adjacent to the town’s built-up area should be opened for development. An attempt by then Mayor Bob Bentley in 2015 to get the two properties removed in an exchange for other lands in the community was ignored.
In October 2022, the Town finally got its wish. Premier Doug Ford and his PC government unlocked 15 parcels of Greenbelt land across the GTHA—including the two in Grimsby—and Town officials wasted no time in moving forward with plans for development.
“The process proceeded at an accelerated pace,” a Town staff report states.
But when the Greenbelt Plan imploded in the fall of this year, leading to weeks of scandal; an ongoing RCMP investigation; and reports from both Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner and Auditor General exposing disturbing levels of wrongdoing on behalf of senior government officials, the entire plan was scrapped. It meant Grimsby’s two pieces of land were once again sheathed in the legislative armor the Greenbelt Act provides.
The two parcels (outlined in black) are sandwiched between Lake Ontario to the north and the Niagara Escarpment Plan area to the south and sit close to the town’s western border with Hamilton.
(Town of Grimsby)
Despite the clear evidence of wrongdoing; the deeply flawed process by the PCs that went into choosing the Greenbelt land parcels; and the new housing minister’s desire to move past the entire scandal, Grimsby council is making one last attempt to convince the government to stick to its original plan within their municipal boundaries. On Monday evening, the majority of council approved a motion recommending the PCs once again remove these parcels from Greenbelt protection, and develop an ongoing process that would make it easier for municipalities to remove lands from the Greenbelt that are “evidenced to be appropriate for future developments that would result in no adverse impacts to the Greenbelt.” The proposed legislation from Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Paul Calandra—who replaced Steve Clark after his resignation amid the Greenbelt scandal—would require any future changes to the protected area to go through the Legislature.
In addition, the Town is seeking an $82,000 reimbursement from the Province for money expended over the last year in staff time and consultant fees to study development on the two land parcels.
“It was not budgeted for, took time away from other projects and priorities, involved many hours of overtime work to accomplish, and began and ended based on Provincial guidance,” the staff report states.
Mike Marcolongo, a campaign director for Greenbelt Promise, questioned the “one-sidedness” of the report by Planning staff, which failed to address the benefits of Greenbelt protection in controlling unrestricted urban growth. He also outlined what he perceived as a political price to Grimsby Council if they voted in favour of the recommendations:
“[P]remier Ford, his Ministers and government is paying a significant price. Why would you want to hitch a wagon to that scandal?” he said.
The northern parcel of land is located close to the shore of Lake Ontario, meaning any alterations would have impacts on the migratory birds that pass through the area. In addition, this parcel is directly adjacent to the Biggar Lagoon Wetlands, a popular bird watching location. According to the Province’s own Natural Heritage Mapping System, three endangered species, four threatened species, and six species of special concern have been spotted within the 35.8 hectares of the two sites over the last six months. This includes the Red-headed woodpecker (endangered), a species partially responsible for the federal Impact Assessment Agency stepping in to review the PC’s prized Highway 413; as well as the wood thrush, Canada warbler, and barn swallow (all threatened species. The wetlands are also home to the midland painted turtle and snapping turtle, both species of special concern.
The northern parcel of land the Town of Grimsby seeks to develop sits adjacent to the Biggar Lagoon Wetlands.
Annette Gibbons of the Grimsby Environmental Network reminded Council members of their strategic priorities, which highlighted that “people and the environment matter”. She commented that all eyes were now on Grimsby and that Council had an opportunity to make a decision for the collective good of the community. Gibbons stated that the lands in question had been designated with the highest priority of protection under the Greenbelt legislation, as specialty crop land.
The Town has repeatedly cast doubt on whether the lands were properly designated. The staff report points to an agricultural review study completed by the Town in 2016, which found “the lands in those areas could reasonably be removed from the specialty crop designation”. Councillors from Ward 4 where the lands are located also cast doubt on the designation during Monday’s meeting.
”I am a supporter of the Greenbelt, but we looked at whether the land was viable as agriculture in 2015. These lands do not meet the criteria. They should have never been in the Greenbelt in the first place. They are vacant land. The land next to the lake that is fenced off, was a former church property. It has never been used for agriculture,” said Councillor Nick DiFlavio.
Fellow Ward 4 Councillor Jacob Baradziej echoed the comment.
”[W]e are not talking orchards or vineyards. This is the densest part of our Town and should be identified as such in our Official Plan,” he said.
When Planning staff was questioned on whether tender fruit had ever been grown on the two parcels, they indicated that a 2017 Agricultural Impact Study confirmed the lands had not been farmed that way and lacked the soil and agricultural base to support tender fruit.
While the lands may not be suitable for specialty agriculture, whether they are essential to the Town’s needs was less clear.
Ward 3 Councillor Veronica Charrois, who has been consistently in support of the lands being returned to their Greenbelt designation, asked Planning staff if the lands were needed to achieve Grimsby’s growth targets.
Staff admitted there was no issue meeting growth numbers determined by Niagara Region for 2051, however, there is a concern that proposed legislative changes at a Provincial level could increase those targets.
Councillor Charrois surmised that if the lands were to be kept out of the Greenbelt they would inevitably lead to dense residential development.
Director of Planning and Building, Harold Madi admitted that housing development was certainly the intent for the lands prior to the PC government reversing its designation, but assured councillors that nothing had been decided.
“[N]o one on staff has any preconceived notions on what these lands should be used for or whether they should even be developed. We just want the lands, where warranted and appropriate, to be available for consideration as part of the overall comprehensive review and plan for the Town.”
The Town is currently in the process of reviewing its Official Plan, which guides growth and development in the municipality. The plan is expected to be completed for Council consideration in early 2025.
Madi echoed what other reports have indicated, that there are adequate lands in the Golden Horseshoe to meet the housing crisis “without eating into the Greenbelt”. Yet the staff report he signed off on recommended the exact opposite. The maps attached to the staff report being sent to the PC government as part of its open consultation on the recently tabled legislation reversing the Greenbelt Plan identifies large sections of land the Town would like to open for development.
The parcels outlined in black are those that have seen the Greenbelt designation flip-flop. But as staff identified in their presentation, the area outlined in blue is the entirety of what the Town of Grimsby seeks to open for development.
(Town of Grimsby)
Planning staff confirmed that Grimsby has approximately 2,000 residential units approved but not developed. Director Madi said there remained vast areas to grow in the community, with many in-fill opportunities, though such development was likely to be “stacks”, as opposed to townhouses, condos and row development common to the municipality.
When the recommendations came to a vote, Council was unanimous on the motion of seeking the $82,000 reimbursement from the Province. The motion requesting the Province not return the lands to the Greenbelt was approved 4-3, with Councillors Lianne Vardy, Jennifer Korstanje, Jacob Baradziej and DiFlavio voting in favour and Mayor Jeff Jordan and Councillors Charrois and Don Howe opposed. Councillors Reg Freake and Dave Davoli were absent Monday evening.
The request for the Province to consider developing a municipal process and criteria for reconsidering Greenbelt boundary change requests, passed in a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Jordan and Councillor Charrois opposed.
Mayor Jordan had not provided any comment as to his position on the issues prior to the vote, other than to simply say that “Greenbelt properties are not created equally”, while identifying the environmental significance of Grimsby's Irish Grove Woodlot and Biggar Pond.
When asked for comment on the matter, a spokesperson responded that “as head of Council, Mayor Jordan will support Council's decision to move forward with the recommendations.”
In light of Council's decision the Grimsby Environmental Network is planning to schedule a meeting in the coming weeks and the Greenbelt Promise continues to promote permanent protections for the Greenbelt.
The deadline for comments to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing on the restoration of the 15 parcels of land into the Greenbelt is November 30th.
Email: [email protected]
At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories to ensure every resident of Brampton, Mississauga and Niagara has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you
Submit a correction about this story