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Designed by Polly Ko

Houses planned on prime Moraine land - Gormley area designated urban by province

by Serena Willoughby
The Economist & Sun
Jan. 21, 2006

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Despite legislation that protects the Oak Ridges Moraine, you may see houses going up in a prime area of Gormley the next 10 years.

The swath of land north of Stouffville Road along Leslie Street up to Bethesda Sideroad looks like farmland surrounded by more farmland.

But under the Oak Ridges Protection Act, the land is designated urban. At a meeting Jan. 11, amid a public outcry, Richmond Hill council voted to support a secondary plan from a group of developers to build on the land. The town had little choice in the matter, since the lands have already been designated as urban, planning commissioner Janet Babcock said.

While resident groups and environmentalists were hoping council would uphold a previous argument that development of the lands is premature, Ms Babcock argued "if the development was premature, it should not have been approved by the province."

If developers go before the Ontario Municipal Board with their own proposal, the OMB could approve it without consulting with the town, she argued.

By including plan amendments that include environmental sustainability and adding transportation and transit planning, the town can protect community interests, Ms Babcock explained.

If the town had opposed the development plan and lost, it would have no input, she added.
So why were the lands designated urban by the province? Probably because the town wanted it that way, says Oak Ridges MPP Frank Klees. "Areas that are designated urban are usually areas that have been designated by the local municipality as an area to be developed," said Mr. Klees, who took a leadership role in creating and enacting the act.

He also pointed to the fact the area is close to Hwy. 404, which fits with an urban designation.
As the town and the province point the finger at each other, residents like Carrie Hoffelner complain they have never been consulted.

"The planning has been subject to a completely inaccessible process," she said.
Councillor Elio Di Iorio agreed. He was not present for the final vote last Wednesday on whether or not to support the secondary plan at the OMB hearing.

While he was present for most of the meeting, as resident after resident made their case on why not to support the plan, he left before the vote, saying he's "really tired of having major policy decisions made without the input of the town".

Those with input include Natalie Helferty, a local biologist who presented a plan at the meeting to use the West Gormley lands for renewable power generation, waste management or both.

Placement of the lands, close to major highways and close to a natural gas corridor, make them perfect for a site to convert waste to renewable energy sources to feed back into the grid and generate revenue for the town, she said.

Next week the developers will go before the OMB with the amendments Richmond Hill planners have made to the secondary plan.

While the hearing is not the final step before developers move in, it appears as though, in the case of Gormley West, the Oak Ridges Moraine Protection Act hasn't really protected anything.

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