Niagara Region makes another attempt  to trigger Urban Sprawl

A Column by John Bacher

Posted April 5th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

Waverly Forest, Niagara Falls, Ontario – Photo courtesy of Nate Torenvliet

Following failed attempts to trigger urban sprawl through a court appeal and numerous amendments to Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment Plan, some of Niagara’s politicians have taken a new course.

This comes in the form of a request this past March from the Niagara’s regional council to the Ontario government to amend its Growth Plan as part of the ongoing Coordinated Review of four provincial land use plans.

The proposed changes to the Growth Plan would permit what are in effect urban boundary changes through the creation of “Special Policy Areas”.

These Special Policy Areas would all be located in the Niagara  municipalities of Thorold, Welland, Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Port Colborne. The motion attempts to resurrect a scheme from four years ago to promote urban sprawl through an extension of the urban service boundary along the Queen Elizabeth Highway (QEW) through currently-agriculturally designated lands in southern Niagara Falls.

This was supported by the City of Niagara Falls. But the proposal was dropped in order to secure provincial support for the establishment of the Niagara Regional Official Plan of a “Gateway” economic zone.

Farmlands in southern Niagara Falls, adjacent to the QEW, are interwoven in a mosaic with provincially significant wetlands, including a unusual forest, the Waverly Woodlot. It contains ancient tall old growth forests and a rare tract of Black Gum Trees – the oldest of which is 600 years old. It also hosts rare Buttonbush communities, which provide habitat for a regionally rare beautiful bird, the Wood Duck.

Old growth black gum forest and vernal pool – Photo courtesy of Nate Torenvliet

Agricultural groups had opposed the urban expansions of the “Gateway” in the past, but Niagara’s regional government removed these objections through a “stakeholder” consultation in which environmental groups were excluded.

In a report titled DPS-18-2017, the Niagara Region’s Planning Department justified the proposed “Special Policy Areas” as part of a more “sophisticated” approach to land use planning which avoid restrictive “limiting factors.”

The claims of superior sophistication which justify urban sprawl are belied by a massive land use supply which would not permit urban expansions under the current Growth Plan.

In the course of its research for a case resisting urban expansion, the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society – a long-time community activist group known to many in Niagara simply as PALS – discovered that there was a larger area for urban development that had not been reported.

Previously it had been believed that the Niagara Region had a 40-year supply of urban developable land.

Snapping Turtle, Waverly Forest, Niagara, Ontario – Photo courtesy of Nate Torenvliet

Now, this land supply has been greatly expanded through the victory of the Town of Fort Eire over provincial government through a court battle contesting an 800-acre area known as Douglastown. Although environmentalists had been lulled into not fighting this battle on claims forested lands would be protected, destructive assaults on this important wildlife refuge in Carolinian habitat have already begun.

In a debate at Niagara Regional Council this past March, there was only one member, the Mayor of Pelham, Dave Augustyn, who voted against the request to the province to amend the Growth Plan.

Black Gum and rare Buttonbush Community in Niagara, Ontario – Photo courtesy of Nate Torenvliet

In doing so, Augustyn cited an “accumulated infrastructure backlog of $545 million just to replace poor and very poor existing pipes and roads.”

For the sake of the fragile and unique habitats, it is to be hoped that the Ontario provincial government holds firm in the face of this latest urban sprawl offensive.

This column by by Dr John Bacher first appeared on the online site Media Co-Op at http://mediacoop.ca/story/niagara-region-again-attempts-trigger-sprawl/36486 for those of you who wish to visit it for other posts, and is being reposted on Niagara At Large with his permission.

John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario and is the Chair of Greening Niagara. For more on Greening Niagara click on – http://www.greeningniagara.ca/

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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