If the province’s proposed changes go through next month, among the properties that will be added into the Greenbelt is Brisbane, a hamlet with a public school, small businesses and sprawling subdivisions, that sits adjacent to several hundred privately owned farms.If the province’s proposed changes go through next month, among the properties that will be added into the Greenbelt is Brisbane, a hamlet with a public school, small businesses and sprawling subdivisions, that sits adjacent to several hundred privately owned farms.

As part of its plan to open 7,400 acres of the Greenbelt to development, the province pledged to add 9,400 acres — most of them in the town of Erin.

When the province announced earlier this month it was opening up 7,400 acres of the Greenbelt to expedite development because of the housing shortage, it also pledged to put 9,400 acres into the protected zone in a land swap.

But almost all of the government’s proposed additions are centred in just one place: the town of Erin.

The decision to suddenly bring approximately 7,000 acres of this small farming town west of Caledon into the Greenbelt — with little consultation or scientific rationale, critics say — has many asking why and how the decision was made.

Edward McDonnell, CEO of the non-partisan of the Greenbelt Foundation, said the land to be added into the protected area “includes farmland … and there appears to be existing development happening there.

“So one has to wonder — what is the larger rationale behind this decision?”

At a council meeting last week, staff for the town of Erin asked a similar question. They had told the province earlier this year it was “unnecessary” to have the town’s lands added into the Greenbelt, given existing municipal protections for farmland in the area.

Critics say the decision to add this 7,000-acre area into the Greenbelt makes little scientific sense nor will it do much to protect the Paris Galt Moraine — an extensive 130-kilometre ecologically sensitive area, created by glaciers, that provides drinking water for thousands of Ontarians — which the province says has shaped its decision.

“For the Paris Galt Moraine to be truly protected, the most recent discussion was asking for protection of at least 40,000 acres. Now they aren’t even doing a quarter of that,” said Kevin Thomason, spokesperson for the Greenbelt West Coalition, which has long pushed for the moraine to be protected. “It’s such a token amount, that it’s not going to be impactful in any way.”

According to the province’s proposal, the land was chosen because it is in the Paris Galt Moraine, an area that runs from Orangeville, around Guelph and down into Haldimand County, and includes the headwaters for many rivers and streams. Its unique geology also filters, stores and recharges groundwater that is used by more than 800,000 people in towns along the Grand River watershed, including the city of Guelph. Not having to pipe in water from one of the Great Lakes saves hundreds of millions of dollars.

Nazaneen Baqizada, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said in an email that the proposed expansion “includes prime agricultural land to support a healthy and vibrant agricultural system and captures natural features such as wetlands and woodlands adjacent to moraine functions area.”

Baqizada added that the “proposed Paris Galt Moraine boundary was mapped using both natural (e.g., natural features, natural heritage system) and surveyable (e.g., lot and concession lines, roads) boundaries to support implementation,” she said. “The government previously consulted on adding parts of the Paris Galt Moraine to the Greenbelt, and the decision to expand the Greenbelt in this area was made in part based on the results of these consultations.”

But at the town council meeting last week, Jack Krubnik, director of planning for Erin, said the province’s proposed expansion doesn’t match its own mapping of the moraine.

“If the province does intend to move forward, I would propose they have a closer look at the Greenbelt expansion into Erin so that it better aligns with the identified moraines,” said Krubnik. “Presently, it doesn’t align well with it.”

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, who has twice brought in a private member’s bill to protect the entire moraine, said it’s also unclear why this “tiny little sliver of the Paris Galt Moraine is being added versus other parts of this large area. The government has provided no rationale.”

If the province’s proposed changes go through next month, among the properties that will be added into the Greenbelt is Brisbane, a hamlet with a public school, small businesses and large homes, that sits adjacent to several hundred privately owned farms.

The hamlet of Brisbane within the town of Erin will become part of the protected Greenbelt if the land swap proposed by the Doug Ford government goes through.

An employee of Stewart’s Equipment in Brisbane — a truck rental business also proposed to be added into the Greenbelt — said the Star’s phone call was the first they had heard of the proposal and said they didn’t know enough about the situation to comment on record.

At the Erin council meeting, town staff said it was too early to determine the implications of such a change on residents. But generally, farmland in the Greenbelt is restricted from development. Designated settlement areas in the protected area, such as Brisbane are allowed limited development.

In addition to the town of Erin, the province will also add into the Greenbelt 13 publicly owned lands in so-called Urban River Valleys across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

The province had pledged to add the same valleys into the Greenbelt in the spring, but had not yet done so.

According to the province’s calculation, the Urban River Valleys land amounts to an additional 2,400 acres.

“This is already protected land,” said Thomason. “This land is already owned by the government — the areas around creeks and rivers that face no development threat and had no possibility of ever being developed.”

Earlier this year, the province conducted a required consultation on the Greenbelt and left out the addition of the Paris Galt Moraine, saying impacted municipalities and landowners “raised concerns” about the protection of this land while municipalities were in the middle of finalizing their 30-year growth plans.

It’s unclear what changed between May and now.

Critics also add that despite the province’s claims, “all land is not equal” and the region’s specialty crop lands — often with Class 1 soil — cannot simply be replaced with any available farmland.

“I think the government is making a completely false equivalency in saying this is one for one land swap, because it’s not,” said Schreiner.

“We don’t support land swaps. All farmland is not equal,” said McDonnell.

Among the land that has been removed from the Greenbelt includes farms in Niagara Peninsula and the Duffins Rouge Agriculture Preserve – both considered to have some of the best soil in the country, he said.

“This land is effectively irreplaceable.”

Noor Javed is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering city news with interest in 905 municipal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @njaved

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