By: Mike Anderson

In what could be called a David and Goliath battle, David has emerged the victor.

The North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance (NGFA), a local environmental lobby group formed more than eight years ago to fight the proposed Maple Lake Estates (MLE) subdivision in North Keswick, won its appeal this week at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), formerly the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

“This is a victory because it shows that people can defeat a town hall, and they can defeat a large developer when the municipal government and the developer are not acting in the public interest,” says Jack Gibbons, chair of the NGFA.

“We always said that this proposed development was illegal, and now LPAT has confirmed what we’ve been saying for so many years.”

According to Mr. Gibbons, the LPAT decision legally obliges the Town of Georgina to amend its MLE zoning bylaw to prevent development on 92 per cent of the MLE lands that are to be designated an “Environmental Protection Area.”

“This protects the North Gwillimbury Forest,” says Mr. Gibbons. “It means that development cannot go ahead. We’ve saved one of the ten largest forests in the Lake Simcoe watershed forever.”

“It also sends a very clear message to the town that if it ever thought that it could roll back existing protections, it’s not going to be successful.”

Mr. Gibbons — to avoid any loopholes—also wants Georgina Council to pass an interim control bylaw to prevent development of the MLE lands before the new zoning bylaw is approved.

However, in a press release issued on Dec 20, the town indicated that it is not prepared to take any action until after the Jan 15 council meeting.

The DG Group, the project’s developer, had been given the green light to move forward with MLE, a massive subdivision to be built on a 494-acre section of the North Gwillimbury Forest, considered to be environmentally sensitive woodlands and wetlands.

The proposed MLE subdivision was to include 1,073 detached homes on fully serviced lots.

Although Georgina Council at various times declared its opposition to the MLE development, it also claimed its hands were tied as the area was designated by the town’s official plan to be an area of growth and was approved for major development by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

Georgina Council’s —on-again, off-again— opposition to the MLE development was further confused by the town’s recent decision to oppose the NGFA appeal at LPAT.

“It was odd that even though they claimed they didn’t want to see the lands developed, they did fight our appeal at the LPAT. That made no sense,” says Mr. Gibbons.

“It’s understandable that the DG Group would fight our appeal to protect their private interests. But why the town decided they had to hire a lawyer and a planning consultant and spend over $70,000 to fight our appeal is beyond me.”

Mr. Gibbons says that Ward 3 Councillor Dave Neeson was the only one on council who opposed the urban residential designation that allowed development in the North Gwillimbury Forest.

“He was the only one who said the official plan should be amended to designate these ecologically sensitive lands as an environmental protection area,” says Mr. Gibbons. “I think this makes him a hero. He was the politician that was proved right.”

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