My last article illustrated the loophole that developers exploit to clear forested land long before any rezoning or development approvals are granted. The particular example was of a tract in New Tecumseth where 30 acres of trees are being removed by Tecumseth Estates under the guise of “agricultural expansion”.
In case readers think this is an isolated incident, it’s not difficult to find other examples. In fact, the same developer pulled a similar stunt in Innisfil, although on a much smaller scale. In 2011, under the name Alriz Development Ltd., an application was made for a Special Permit to clear approximately 3 acres “to expand an existing agricultural area”. This was a small portion of 135 acres on the 7th Line, 100 acres of which was agricultural.
“An application was originally received to clear 6 acres (3.7 ha.) of woodland on the property. A preliminary review by County staff and subsequent investigations by the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) identified wetland features which led to a reduction from the original proposal. The Town of Innisfil, LSRCA and County Planning Dept. had no objection.”
The same family of development companies is active in Innisfil under the name of Previn Court Homes with land holdings in Alliston, Barrie, and Caledon.
Although described as agricultural expansion, “In reality the land is being deliberately prepped for development by denuding it of ecological features … The few municipalities that have uncovered this practice have largely been unsuccessful in resolving this perceived abuse of the planning system.”
(Prepping the Land for Development, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, 2011)
The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario noted in 2011 that “three-quarters of Southern Ontario’s woodlands and wetlands have been destroyed since the beginning of the 19th century”. We’re only beginning to understand the importance of natural features in the urban environment:
A new study illustrates that, within cities, urban tree lines often follow the fault lines of health, economic and political disparity… In a new Toronto-based study, researchers have found that city trees, especially those lining our streets, are linked to “significant, independent, and reliable increase in health benefits,” and that even small increments of street trees could lead to marked health improvements.
The multi-authored study, “Neighbourhood Greenspace and Health in a Large Urban Centre,” using high- resolution satellite imagery and questionnaire-sourced health perception research, found that adding more trees on your street, in terms of health perception, was like getting a hefty salary boost… The idea of preserving and increasing our urban forest is not a squirrelly idea, but represents sound science, wise urban planning, and a far-sighted investment in public health, as well as a potentially powerful tool in addressing ecological disparity.”
(Want a Healthier, More Just City? Plant Trees”, Stephen Scharper, July 2015)
Maybe that’s why many residents are so vocal about preserving a ‘rural’ atmosphere – they just instinctively feel healthier and wealthier.
In spite of laws and regulations at every level, there are those that seek to circumvent them. It wouldn’t be necessary if developers and planners adhered to the spirit of the law, genuinely incorporated environmental considerations into their proposals instead of putting development on roughly the same level as strip mining, and didn’t try to squeeze every dime out of a piece of real estate by dodging municipal tree bylaws.
I’ve suggested before that what might be needed is a publicly accessible Watch List of developers documented behaving badly as a caution to municipalities and residents.