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York Region groups join chorus protesting development bills

More than 125 organizations across different sectors sign letter calling for changes to housing bill, Greenbelt development
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York Region scholars and environmentalists are joining a chorus for a “big tent” call on the province to change legislation that would overhaul building laws and open up the Greenbelt.

More than 125 organizations, including farmers, housing advocates, planners, environmentalists, unions and health-care workers have released a damning statement on the province’s controversial development legislation. The groups are calling for changes to Bill 23, which overhauls planning laws to push through development more quickly, as well as separate legislation to open up swaths of the Greenbelt for development, including in York Region.

Climate Action Newmarket-Aurora, formally known as Drawdown, is one of the signatories. Member Teresa Ganna said taking land out of the Greenbelt should not be an option.

“It was a very detailed policy for creating that Greenbelt, to preserve our farmland, our food land, which we need,” she said. “You can’t just nibble little pieces away from it and put other pieces into it, it just doesn’t make sense.” 

The province introduced legislation last month to make a series of planning reforms, including removing some development charges and freezing conservation authority fees. It followed that up by proposing to open up sections of the Greenbelt for settlement areas, including west of Newmarket. It has argued both bills will help it reach its goal of building 1.5 million homes and address the housing crisis.

But the moves have garnered criticism from a wide range of sectors, including municipalities. This latest letter from more than 100 organizations and officials breaks down the legislation, critiquing it and seeking changes and/or revocation.

“The proposed changes would not solve the housing affordability and supply crises. Any new supply of truly affordable housing units would be offset by the loss of affordable units through redevelopment of existing rental housing for other uses,” the letter said. 

Local area signatories include professors from York University, the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, Stop Sprawl York Region and York Region Environmental Alliance.

Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition executive director Claire Malcolmson said the legislation has alarmed organizations from all sectors, resulting in much bigger coalitions opposing it. She said although they recognize the need to build more housing, this direction is flawed. 

“We care about the public interest, and we care about the future, and we’re really trying to sound the alarm,” she said.

The letter argues that cutting development charges would essentially amount to a transfer of taxpayer dollars to developers, with municipalities having to make up the lost revenue elsewhere to pay for growth. It is also critical of moves like limiting inclusionary zoning meant for municipalities to secure affordable housing units.

“Even if people only engage in public policy issues when it affects their pocketbooks, it’s time for people to realize that is actually what this is,” Malcolmson said.

Advocates and municipalities are pushing back on the legislation coming forward and urging action from the public. Organizations are also holding rallies in front of MPP offices, with one scheduled in Holland's Landing next Sunday. 

“I don’t know if they will revise it. I think there would have to be a lot of push-back,” Ganna said. “There is a lot of push-back. I don’t know if there’s going to be enough."