On Friday, March 23, moments after the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) Board unanimously approved a Section 28 permit application to allow the DG Group to proceed with a 1,073 unit residential development on Maple Lake Estates land located in Island Grove, the standing-room only crowd erupted with jeers of “shame on you.”
As members of the LSRCA board, Georgina Mayor Margaret Quirk and Georgina’s Regional Councillor Naomi Davison presented a resolution of Georgina council passed at an emergency meeting held on March 22. The resolution asked the LSRCA to exercise its mandate to conserve and protect the environmentally significant land and decline to issue a section 28 permit on the Maple Lake Estates property. However, Mayor Quirk and Regional Councillor Davison recused themselves during the LSRCA closed meeting discussion and did not vote on the matter when it was tabled. It was explained that Ms. Quirk’s and Ms. Davison’s decision to recuse themselves was based on a perception of conflict of interest and bias based on their already established position to decline the permit application.
The LSRCA staff report, which recommended the approval of the Section 28 permit, was criticized by Jack Gibbons, a spokesperson for the North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance during a deputation at the board meeting. “It is our submission that the Conservation Authority does not have a legal authority to issue a Section 28 permit for the proposed Maple Lake Estates project,” he said. “First, it would be contrary to the Provincial Policy Statement which prohibits development on provincially significant wetland…second, it would be contrary to the Conservation Authorities Act and third, it would be contrary to the Conservation Authorities own watershed development guidelines which prohibit the building of subdivisions on provincially significant wetlands.”
Mr. Gibbons urged the LSRCA board members not to be influenced by a possible court challenge by the DG Group if the board voted to decline to issue the Section 28 permit. “You must not allow yourselves to be bullied by large developers,” he said. “We need strong political leaders that are willing to stand up to bullies.”
Mr. Gibbons released a statement after the vote and said, “Of course, there was no need for the LSRCA to strike any sort of deal with DG Group as it had full authority to deny the Section 28 wetland permit, but the board made it clear through its actions that it is much more interested in serving a developer’s interest than those of residents or the environment it is supposed to protect.”
Ward 3 Councillor Dave Neeson, a staunch advocate to protect the MLE lands against development was visibly disappointed by the results of the vote. A statement released by the Town of Georgina following the Board’s decision said “Georgina council will meet on Wednesday, April 4 at 9:00 am with legal counsel for a closed session to review and consider all options at its disposal.”