It’s a new beginning for Ontario’s 1.8 million acre Greenbelt.
On January 10, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was in Newmarket to announce a significant new designation to Greenbelt legislation, which will make it easier for municipalities to add public land to what is already the largest greenbelt in the world.
The new Urban River Valley designation will allow municipalities to retain flood protection controls over the urban rivers they intend to make part of the Greenbelt.
Why is this significant? Burkhard Mausberg, CEO of Friends of the Greenbelt, explained it to me:
“What you find with urban rivers is that they are very complex systems. Designations under the current Greenbelt legislation say [municipalities] cannot build on their Greenbelt land, period, but that couldn’t be applied to urban rivers because they often need special flood protection provisions,” he said.
In Toronto, for example, after Hurricane Hazel dumped more than 11 inches of rain on the city is less than 48 hours, the city took action to provide greater flood protection in the Don and Humber river valleys. But under current legislation, once lands have been designated as part of the Greenbelt, no further development is possible, even when the purpose is to protect lives, habitats and property.
“The cities that voted for expanding the Greenbelt into their rivers – Toronto did, as well as Oakville and Mississauga – their planners realized that we cannot accept the current designation because then we can’t make adjustments to the flood protection provisions,” Mausberg said.
Weeks of public and stakeholder consultations announced in late November have concluded with the creation of the Urban River Valley designation, which will allow cities to cede river valleys to the Greenbelt while retaining the right to plan and construct flood protections.
“But you’re not allowed to build a condo or anything like that,” Mausberg said.
Ontario’s Greenbelt wraps around the southwestern tip of Lake Ontario from Niagara to Durham Region and north towards Beaverton on Lake Simcoe, with a thin, snaking strip of green running from Orangeville north to Owen Sound and up the Bruce Peninsula to Tobermory.
It protects an estimated $9 billion worth of prime agricultural and ecologically sensitive land while performing roughly $2.6 billion in air and water cleaning services annually.