Government delivers bigger, better park on Richmond Hill lands on Oak Ridges Moraine

Archived Release

Government delivers bigger, better park on Richmond Hill lands on Oak Ridges Moraine

Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing

New planning reforms will protect the public interest, boost public scrutiny and participation TORONTO, Nov. 21 - The Ontario government has improved environmental protection by striking a new agreement for a bigger, better public park on the Richmond Hill Oak Ridges Moraine lands, Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretsen announced today. The park, tentatively called Oak Ridges Moraine Heritage Park, will be three times the size of High Park. The minister also announced that he will move ahead to protect the public interest by introducing legislation to boost environmental protection and inject more transparency and public accountability into planning decisions across the province with significant new planning reforms. "The government has succeeded in negotiating a solution that makes the best of a bad deal," said Gerretsen. "We have provided for a bigger, better public park that will permanently protect this portion of the moraine and the ecological functions it performs." He added that the expanded public park would widen the wildlife corridor, protect more of the most environmentally sensitive lands and protect more of the lands around Philips Lake, which will be brought into permanent public ownership. In addition, development on the Richmond Hill lands will be reduced by 900 housing units, and any development that does take place will be subject to the strict environmental guidelines designed to preserve the natural heritage features of the moraine. "We have also negotiated a contribution of $3.5 million from the developers to the Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation, for stewardship and development of the public park," the minister said. To prevent this kind of bad deal the Tories made from happening again, Gerretsen announced the government will introduce historic new reforms to the Planning Act and will introduce legislation that would establish guiding principles to create a 600,000 acre greenbelt that would help protect important agricultural and natural heritage areas in the greater Golden Horseshoe area from urban expansion. "Our commitment is to give people a real and meaningful voice in the way their communities grow and prosper and we will do that by fundamentally reforming the way land use planning happens in Ontario," Gerretsen said. "Starting today, we are taking the first steps toward a new era of transparency, accountability and public participation in the processes that shape our communities." Proposed reforms would include measures to: - Protect the public interest by preventing developers from forcing unwanted urban expansions. For example, requiring all urban expansions to be initiated by municipal councils would ensure these decisions are made in public, and are subject to public input and scrutiny. - Give members of the public a stronger voice in the planning decisions that affect their communities by doubling the time frame available for municipal review of planning applications. This would also allow municipalities more time to thoroughly study and consider the full implications of development applications. - Ensure that provincial planning policies cannot be ignored, by stipulating that land use planning decisions must "be consistent with," (a much stronger test than "have regard to") the Provincial Policy Statement, which sets out clear priorities for how communities grow and protect the environment. "We are proposing to change the rules so that provincial land use planning policies can no longer be conveniently ignored," said Gerretsen. "Equally important, we will boost environmental protection and make planning processes more open to public scrutiny and participation and more accountable to the people they serve." Gerretsen noted that with today's announcements, the McGuinty government is taking another step forward in realizing its agenda for positive change: "We're bringing forward real, meaningful reforms that will put the public interest first, for a change." Disponible en français www.mah.gov.on.ca Backgrounder ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Ministry of Municipal Affairs November 21, 2003 PROVINCE NEGOTIATES BIGGER, BETTER PUBLIC PARK, MORE PROTECTION FOR RICHMOND HILL LANDS ON OAK RIDGES MORAINE - On November 4, 2003, Minister of Municipal Affairs John Gerretsen issued a moratorium on development on the Oak Ridges Moraine Richmond Hill lands until November 20, 2003, by making a Minister's Zoning Order under section 47 of the Planning Act. - The purpose of the moratorium was to allow time to negotiate additional protection for the Richmond Hill lands on the Oak Ridges Moraine. - The agreement with developers on the Richmond Hill lands slated for development will ensure: - a bigger, better park, with 51 new acres, that ensures moraine lands in Richmond Hill are linked in a continuous corridor with moraine lands to the east and west; - better protection of environmentally sensitive lands around the lakes; - a crucial 35 acres to be brought into the park in one of the narrowest parts of the moraine. Protection of this land means a new connection between Jefferson Forest and the new park and improved protection for Bond Lake; - protection of Philips Lake, which will be brought into public ownership, and lands around Philips Lake; and - a reduction of about 15 per cent, or about 900 housing units, on the site. - Developers will contribute $3.5 million to the Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation for stewardship and development of the park. This contribution will go a long way toward making the new park a reality: with trails, reforestation and access to information on the area. - Public parklands in the Richmond Hill area will measure about 1,100 acres in size. When lands containing the headwaters of the Rouge and Humber Rivers lands (being deeded to the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority) are added in, the total size of the public park will amount to about 1,400 acres -- three times the size of High Park. - To acquire the new park lands in Richmond Hill, the government has agreed to exchange additional lands in North Pickering. Protection of environmentally sensitive lands in Seaton will not be affected negatively by any element of the land exchange agreement. The province intends to consult with the City of Pickering and Durham Region before finalizing the land exchange, expected to happen in the spring. - The additional lands along Yonge Street will improve the public's access to the enhanced park. - The majority of the 949 acres of Richmond Hill lands slated for development have been cleared and readied for development. These lands represent about two-tenths of one per cent of the total area of the Oak Ridges Moraine. Disponible en français www.mah.gov.on.ca Backgrounder ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Ministry of Municipal Affairs November 21, 2003 PLANNING REFORMS TO PROMOTE ACCOUNTABILITY, TRANSPARENCY AND PUBLIC INPUT The Ontario government is proposing reforms to bring more accountability, transparency and public input to the way land use planning decisions are made across the province. The proposed reforms would: - Protect the public interest by preventing developers from forcing unwanted municipal urban expansions. For example, requiring all urban expansions to be initiated by municipal councils would ensure these decisions are made in public, and are subject to public input and scrutiny. - Give members of the public a stronger voice in the planning decisions that affect their communities, by doubling the time local decision-makers have to review and approve development applications. For example, the time frame to consider amendments to official plans would increase to 180 days from the current 90 days. This would allow municipalities more time to study the implications of planning decisions, and would also give local residents greater opportunities to raise concerns and provide input into decisions about how their communities grow and develop. - Ensure that provincial planning policies cannot be ignored, by setting strong, clear, consistent planning rules for municipalities, developers, provincial ministries and the Ontario Municipal Board. The current law only requires that planning authorities "have regard to" provincial policies. The proposed changes would set a much higher standard for local decisions, by requiring they "shall be consistent with" the province's land use policies, as set out in the Provincial Policy Statement. The government will start taking action on its proposed reforms this fall. It will introduce legislation that would, if passed, strengthen public input into the planning process and ensure that provincial planning policies cannot be ignored. Following introduction of legislation, the government will consult with the public on planning reform. The government is also committed to reviewing the role of the Ontario Municipal Board in the land use planning process. On Friday, November 14, the Attorney General announced a change in leadership at the OMB, with the appointment of Marie Hubbard as interim chair of the board. The Provincial Policy Statement The Provincial Policy Statement sets out overall policy directions on matters of provincial interest related to land use planning and development. The principles and three major policy areas of the Provincial Policy Statement are: - managing change and promoting efficient, cost-effective development and land use patterns that stimulate economic growth and protect the environment and public health; - protecting resources for their economic use and/or environmental benefits; and - reducing the potential for public cost or risk to Ontario's residents by directing development away from areas where there is a risk to public health or safety, or of property damage. The current Planning Act requires the province to review the Provincial Policy Statement every five years to determine if its provisions are up to date and sufficient to serve the public interest. This review is underway and will continue while the consultations on planning reforms proceed. The Planning Act The Planning Act lays out the ground rules for land use planning in Ontario. The act sets out how the land use planning system works, who the decision-makers are, the avenues for dispute resolution, and provides for public input. The act: - promotes sustainable economic development in a healthy natural environment within a provincial policy framework; - provides for a land use planning system led by provincial policy; - integrates matters of provincial interest into provincial and municipal planning decisions by currently requiring all decision-makers to "have regard to" the Provincial Policy Statement; - provides for planning processes; - encourages co-operation and co-ordination among various interests; and - recognizes the decision-making authority and accountability of municipal councils in land use planning. Disponible en français www.mah.gov.on.caFor further information: David Ross, Minister's Office, (416)585-6333; Bryan Kozman, Ministry of Municipal Affairs, (416) 585-6185; Audrey Bennett, Provincial Planning and Environmental Services Branch, (416) 585-6072