NGFA's Campaign to Save the Forest
One of the ten largest forests in the Lake Simcoe watershed, the North Gwillimbury Forest is a priceless natural asset for the Town of Georgina. It stretches all the way from the north end of Keswick to Jackson’s Point – an area more than three times larger than Vancouver’s Stanley Park.
In 1984 the Town of Georgina passed an official plan amendment to allow a 1,073 unit Maple Lake Estates (MLE) mobile home park to be built on 500 acres in the Paradise Beach-Island Grove wetland in the North Gwillimbury Forest. The approved development has remained dormant for over 30 years.
In 2004 the Ministry of Natural Resources designated the Paradise Beach-Island Grove wetland as “provincially significant”. According to Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement, no development is allowed on provincially significant wetlands in southern Ontario.
Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority
The MLE property is owned by the DG Group (formerly Metrus). To proceed with a mobile home park development, the DG Group would need to obtain a Section 28 permit from the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA).
There are ten Conservation Authorities in Central Ontario. Historically all of them have prohibited the building of subdivisions on provincially significant wetlands except the LSRCA. Specifically, in 2008, the LSRCA established a Subdivisions-in-Wetlands policy which appears to provide approval for the building of subdivisions in provincially significant wetlands. According to our lawyer, Leo Longo of Aird & Berlis LLP, the LSRCA’s Subdivision-in-Wetlands policy is “illegal”.
On April 24, 2015 the LSRCA voted to repeal its Subdivisions-in-Wetlands policy, effective June 1, 2015.
In May 2015, the DG Group submitted a Section 28 permit application to LSRCA, pursuant to its illegal Subdivisions-in-Wetlands policy for approval to proceed with the MLE mobile home park development.
According to the LSRCA’s regulation passed pursuant to the Conservation Authorities Act, the Authority can only issue a Section 28 permits for developments that will not affect the “conservation of land”.
Therefore, the LSRCA does not have the legal authority to issue a permit for this 1,073 unit development which would destroy a provincially significant wetland and drive a stake through the heart of the North Gwillimbury Forest by splitting it in two.
If the LSRCA gives the DG Group a Section 28 permit, we will ask the Divisional Court for a judicial review of the LSRCA’s decision and an injunction to prevent the DG Group from proceeding with its mobile home park project.
The Town of Georgina
York Region’s new Official Plan prohibits development in the North Gwillimbury Forest’s wetlands and significant woodlands. That is, the Region’s Official Plan prohibits development on approximately 90% of the MLE property.
According to the Planning Act of Ontario, the Town of Georgina must bring its Official Plan and zoning bylaw into conformity with the Region’s Official Plan. That is, the Town is legally obliged to repeal MLE’s 32-year-old planning approvals for a mobile home park. Unfortunately, the Town’s new Official Plan does not prohibit development on MLE’s wetlands and significant woodlands. Therefore we are appealing the Town’s new Official Plan to the Ontario Municipal Board. We expect that our appeal will be heard in the summer or fall of 2017.
Development Approvals Swap
The DG Group asked the Government of Ontario to approve a development approvals swap that would allow it to build a conventional subdivision on farmlands and an aquifer it owns between Deer Park and Boyers Roads in exchange for surrendering its development approvals for a mobile home park on leased lots in the Paradise Beach-Island Grove wetland.
We did not support the DG Group’s proposal as these prime farmlands are off limits to development according to the Greenbelt Plan and the Official Plans of the Town of Georgina and the Region of York. We are very pleased to note that on January 11, 2017 Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs, Bill Mauro, said “no” to the DG Group’s request.
There is a better swap option involving allowing DG Group affiliates to increase development density on their lands in the Keswick urban area. This has the added benefit of reducing sprawl, avoiding leapfrog development, and locating development in a designated urban area rather than on prime farmlands. Georgina Council has the authority to grant additional density on these lands, so it can offer the DG Group a clear benefit for transferring the ownership of its MLE lands to a public body.