Recent Media Coverage

Newsmaker 2013: Georgina forest advocate group makes progress in 2 years

By Heidi Riedner

Georgina Advocate

January 2, 2014

At the beginning of 2013, it remained to be seen if a newly formed environmental group could mobilize groups and residents to create a broad, grassroots coalition against development in most of the North Gwillimbury Forest.

More open for debate was if that voice could affect choices made at decision-making tables.

Almost two years after the first informal meetings took place between Metrus — the development company behind a proposed 1,000-plus home subdivision project known as Maple Lake Estates — and property owners in the Roches Point area, the North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance is forging new ground by making the 494-acre parcel of property a landmark case of property rights being tested under new environmental policies.

The group, spearheaded by chairperson Jack Gibbons, has also proved John Q. Public still has a voice in shaping its community through mobilizing social media, fostering a 1,000-signature petition and garnering the support of the public and some environmental heavy hitters in its campaign to protect provincially designated significant wetlands.

The David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence, Ontario Nature, Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, Aware Simcoe and North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance joined forces last year to ask the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority to protect the Paradise Beach-Island Grove provincially significant wetland in the North Gwillimbury Forest in a letter sent to the conservation authority chairperson at the time, Georgina Mayor Rob Grossi, in May.

The alliance also claimed a major victory for the environment after Metrus Development Inc. withdrew an Ontario Municipal Board appeal regarding the property early in the process.

With a potential swapping of lands regarding the Maple Lake project now on the table involving discussions between the town, Metrus and the province, Georgina’s planning issue is precedent setting.

Opening up the Greenbelt Plan for discussion to accommodate any potential swap is “uncharted waters” for the town, Mr. Grossi said.

In fact, it may be the first time the plan would be amended for a site-specific situation, according to town planning director Harold Lenters.

While a solution may be ironed out for the Maple Lake lands, there could also be repercussions for other properties in Georgina due to any tinkering at the provincial level that would bypass municipal planning controls, Mr. Grossi added.

The mayor also suggested if the town or conservation authority ever gets the disputed Maple Lake lands, as the alliance would like, there better be people or groups willing to step up and help with its preservation.

While the issue may have germinated from the alliance objecting to Metrus using a 28-year-old planning approval for a trailer park to turn a large piece of the North Gwillimbury Forest into a subdivision, the matter has grown to epic proportions with significant implications for future planning.

Whether or not current planning legislation trumps legal development rights remains to be seen.

Legal wrangling between planning consultants and lawyers on both sides of the issue continues about interpretations of planning documents, but the ultimate victor will be residents.

They can be satisfied they have had a say regarding the shape of their community and can feel confident those elected on their behalf, as well as town staff, have examined every avenue in the decision-making process.

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