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Newmarket environmentalists concerned by Greenbelt development

Province proposes to open 7,400 acres for new housing projects

Local environmentalists and governments are raising concerns as the province plans to open the Greenbelt for housing development.

The province unveiled the plan Nov. 4, going back on promises Premier Doug Ford made in 2018. Under the proposal, several parts of the protected Greenbelt in York Region would be opened for housing development, including the lands directly west of Newmarket.

Ford promised not to touch the Greenbelt after an outcry against the idea in 2018. But Drawdown Newmarket-Aurora member Peggy Stevens said the announcement timing amidst housing shortages may make challenging it more difficult.

“Now the rationale is, ‘Oh, no, we have this desperate housing shortage,’ … That’s resonating,” she said. “I feel very manipulated by this government … You have to give so much background so that the rallying cry, that they’re taking over the greenbelt, it gets buried.”

The provincial proposal includes 7,400 acres getting opened for housing development, which must begin construction by 2025. The impacted lands are located throughout the province, including in King, Markham and Vaughan. In exchange, the government proposed adding 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt, including 13 urban river valleys.

“These changes are an important part of our government’s balanced strategy to build a stronger Ontario by protecting environmentally important lands while tackling Ontario’s housing supply crisis,” the province said in a news release. “We are fulfilling our commitment to getting more homes built faster so more Ontarians can find a home that meets their needs and budget.”

The lands up for new development include a section just west of Newmarket, south of Miller’s Sideroad.

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said the announcement concerns him and the Greenbelt is a “critical component of growth planning and environmental protection.”

“The site immediately adjacent to Newmarket’s northwestern border will have a significant impact on Newmarket and our infrastructure, and we should have been consulted,” Taylor said. “I hope there will be meaningful discussion about these impacts and Newmarket’s concerns.”

The province has opened a 30-day commenting period for the proposal, with the public having until Dec. 4 to submit it through the government website.

The new developments go beyond what was considered by York Region in its 30-year official plan, according to its chief planner, Paul Freeman. New housing that could be built in these sections has not been accounted for from a servicing standpoint.

“Removal of lands from the Greenbelt Plan for urban development is concerning, as it will create pressure for more,” Freeman said.

But the region is getting its way on Regional Official Plan Amendment 7, which sought to rezone parts of the Greenbelt to be open for recreational parkland while still keeping them within the Greenbelt. This got opposition from environmentalists but was included in the region’s new official plan, which Freeman said is now approved by the province.

There is plenty of land left to develop outside of the Greenbelt, Stevens said. She added though environmentalists are discouraged by the changes, they will still fight against them.

“We’re not giving up."