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Greenbelt hospital? Environmentalists push back on King proposal

Township seeks to put new Southlake site on Greenbelt lands slated for rezoning west of Newmarket
File photo

King is pushing for a hospital in Greenbelt land located west of Newmarket, but environmentalists have pushed back on the possibility of that.

The municipality has been facing some controversy over a proposal to build the new Southlake Regional Health Centre located on the lands located just west of Bathurst Street near the Newmarket and King border. With the province planning to rezone those lands for housing development, King has asked for a fast-track of the new build while simultaneously raising concern and opposition to the provincial Greenbelt rezoning proposals.

King’s Mayor Steve Pellegrini has said they have eyed that location for a hospital for years and that the province would have the authority to put one there. But Environmental Defence program manager Phil Pothen said that would go against the provisions of the Greenbelt Plan. 

“The model of putting a hospital on Greenbelt land,” Pothen said. “It's a failed model, it’s a discriminatory model. It’s not a good way to provide healthcare."

King is coming under scrutiny for meetings held with the new owners of King’s eastern Greenbelt land, affiliated with Rice Group. After securing a commitment that some of the lands would be donated if a hospital could go ahead there, the provincial NDP has said meetings could indicate that the province tipped off developers about unannounced plans to open up Greenbelt development.

Pellegrini has pushed back on that and said King has been examining the proposal for years. He said they had no idea the province planned to open up the Greenbelt for development but felt the province would have the authority to put a hospital there regardless.

“A hospital is a provincial institution. It is permitted in the Greenbelt. We’re not asking for it (the lands) to be removed (from the Greenbelt),” he said earlier this month. “We’re asking for a hospital. It’s no different than a highway or a transit.”

But while the Greenbelt Plan allows for some infrastructure like transit, water services and pipes, hospitals are not included in that definition. 

“The Greenbelt Plan defines infrastructure as: ‘physical structures (facilities and corridors) that form the foundation for development,’” Amar Shah of the Greenbelt Foundation said, adding the definition also includes sewage, electricity generation, telecommunications and oil and gas pipelines, along with transit and water.

“Nowhere on this list is included hospital facilities or even anything like a school,” Pothen said, adding that hospitals are “fundamentally urban in nature and not at all compatible with the Greenbelt.”

Asked about the push back on the idea of a hospital being allowed in the Greenbelt plan, Pellegrini said the province has the authority.

“The Township of King did not request removal of lands from the greenbelt but considers these lands as an ideal candidate for a hospital and fully supports a new hospital on this site,” Pellegrini said. “Hospitals are provincial infrastructure, built and funded by the Ontario government. The province has authority to locate a hospital at any location they deem appropriate.”

Regardless, the provincial rezoning of the land for development could potentially allow a hospital there to go forward. But neither Southlake Regional Health Centre nor the province has yet publicly 
indicated whether it will be the location or what alternatives may be under consideration. 

But with the lands getting bought just a couple of months before the province opened for development, the provincial NDP remains suspicious. The province's integrity commissioner is investigating the Greenbelt decisions in the wake of concern about transactions in the months beforehand.

“It’s strains credulity to claim that the transactions that happened in these lands and others happened without the knowledge of information that was, according to the government, secret at the time,” Phothen said, adding that with respect to the investigations, “time will tell whether they do the right thing.”