Wetlands need more protection, OMB told
Tiny frog among species
at risk in 7,800-unit site
Greenbelt plan not enough to protect it, biologist says
by Gail Swainson
The Toronto Star
Feb. 23, 2006
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The province dropped the ball when it failed to protect sensitive
wetlands threatened by a massive housing development, a provincial
biologist has told the OMB.
"These are provincially significant wetlands. They need
the highest level of protection," Steve Varga testified
Varga, an inventory biologist with the ministry of natural
resources, was testifying at an OMB hearing into a 7,800-unit
The site is on 600 hectares of countryside northeast of Elgin
Mills Rd. E. and Bayview Ave. Fifty landowners are involved
in the proposal.
Varga testified that large swaths of the site were protected
from development in the province's Greenbelt and Oak Ridges
Moraine plans, which he helped draft. But the province stopped
short of preserving an additional seven critical spots —
most adjacent to wetlands — that should be added to
the list, he told the two-member panel.
He said including these seven sections, which add up to about
40 hectares, would protect the wetlands, which are home to
the tiny spring peeper frog.
Spring peepers are designated as a local species of concern,
meaning they should enjoy a high level of protection, he told
the hearing, under chair Marilyn Eger and panel member Douglas
The additional protected land would also "logically"
knit together currently unconnected wildlife corridors, Varga
"These are local stepping stones to get wildlife moving
through local tributaries," Varga added.
Varga said the need to protect these particular sites is
stipulated in provincial policy statements and other provincial
But Derek Coleman, an environmental consultant who testified
on behalf of developers last week, said in an interview that
the site has sufficient protections already.
"What is being suggested by Mr. Varga is completely
unnecessary. There is more protection here than anywhere else
in the GTA," Coleman said.
In fact, he said, the recent rash of environmental protections
typified by the Greenbelt plan has created "Green Sprawl."
"By unnecessarily protecting areas, you are pushing
development farther and farther away," he said. The hearing,
scheduled to run 25 weeks, began last week.
The application is the first to be heard by the OMB since
the province passed its landmark Greenbelt plan last March.
About 160 hectares of land protected under the Greenbelt
and Oak Ridges Moraine plans is contained in the proposed
development area, but environmentalists say more needs to
The developers and the town of Richmond Hill are also asking
the board to decide whether a key section west of Highway
404 should be designated employment lands — as the city
wants — or used for housing.
In late December, it was found that much of the site's western
half has an unusually high water table. This means the board
will have to decide whether the high water table should put
an end to some of the plans for a high-density subdivision.
The board could, alternatively rule that mitigation measures
be implemented to allow the development to go ahead.
The hearing continues today.
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