The Board of Directors for the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) will decide next week whether or not to approve a staff recommendation that will allow the development at Maple Lakes Estates (MLE) owned by the DG Group, to move forward.
A staff report, which goes before the Board on Friday, March 23 recommends the Section 28 application, dated May 21, 2015, be approved upon the condition that the DG Group transfers 397.8 acres (161 ha.) of abutting and adjacent property into the hands of the public.
Of the 880 acres (356.3 ha) of land owned by the DG Group in the area, just over 400 acres (195.3 ha.) will remain in their possession. Of that, the report says, 178 acres (72.18 ha.) will be impacted by the MLE development.
The transfer of land into public ownership is a recommendation staff made to mitigate and offset the environmental impacts of the development. These impacts include forest fragmentation, tree and vegetation removal and loss or disturbance to wildlife and their habitat.
“The lands that will be transferred to public ownership to either the local or regional municipality are significant in size and will represent the largest mitigation/offset opportunity considered by LSRCA to satisfy the conservation of land requirements,” staff wrote in their report.
Approval of the application for a Section 28 permit is the final hurdle required before the MLE development can go ahead.
Jack Gibbons, a spokesperson for the North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance has been opposing the MLE development for years based on the belief that it is illegal to destroy a provincially significant wetland that is protected by the Provincial Policy Statement.
But according to York Region, the Town of Georgina, the LSRCA and the DG Group the subdivision approvals for the MLE lands (which includes an Ontario cabinet approval) predate environmental policies now in place and the plans were exempted during each policy update.
But Mr. Gibbons disagrees.
“The Conservation Authority’s staff recommendation to permit the destruction of Paradise Beach Island Grove provincially significant wetland in the North Gwillimbury Forest is illegal,” he said after reading the LSRCA staff report. “We hope that the board members on Friday will move to reject the permit application and save the forest.”
Mr. Gibbons was also not convinced that the transfer of 398 acres of private land into public ownership mitigates the environmental loss of the wetland should the development go ahead.
“It provides no environmental benefit. The lands they are planning to transfer to public ownership to the town or the municipality, are already off limits to development,” he said. “They are already in the Green Belt and protected from development.”
For the benefit of the Board members who will vote on the recommendations, the LSRCA report provided an historical account of the situation to date.
It states the 1,073 unit proposed recreational residential retirement community received Town of Georgina approval in 1984 through an Official Plan Amendment which was subsequently appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). After the OMB approved the MLE proposal, it was reaffirmed by the provincial cabinet in January 1988 through an Order-in Council. The subdivision plan was registered in 1992.
“The zoning and planning status of the Maple Lake Estates development has been recognized in all provincial planning legislation and policies approved to date including the following: Greenbelt Act and Plan; Lake Simcoe Protection Plan; and the Provincial Policy Statement,” the report says.
In October 2004, after the majority of the MLE property was recognized as a Provincially Significant Wetland by the Ministry of Natural Resources in 2003, the Ministry sent a letter stating “…existing Registered Plan of Subdivision predates the Ministry’s recent wetland work and recognizes the legal status of the Plan to be implemented as proposed, without due regard to the wetland complex”.
Since 2015, the LSRCA, York Region, the Town of Georgina and the DG Group have sought permission from the Ontario government to transfer the DG Group’s development rights to the property in the Green Belt which is now being considered for transfer to public ownership. The province has denied their request.
Mr. Gibbons says if the Board approves the Section 28 application, his group will seek a zoning order from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to strip the Maple Lake Estates lands of its development approvals.