February 28, 2005

Ontario passes Greenbelt Act, 2005

The Ontario Legislature last week passed into law the Greenbelt Act, 2005. A key element in the province's plan to contain urban sprawl in the Golden Horseshoe region of southern Ontario, the legislation will protect more than one million additional acres of environmentally sensitive and prime agricultural land in the region. It will authorize the government to designate a greenbelt area which would include the areas covered by the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan, and to establish a greenbelt plan containing broad objectives and detailing the types of land uses that will be permitted and not permitted.

While the Niagara and Oak Ridges plans would still apply, the greenbelt plan would add similar protection to over a million more acres of land known as "protected countryside." In all, 1.8 million acres of land will be protected, more than double the areas protected on the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Niagara Escarpment. The act also prohibits any amendment to the greenbelt area that reduces the total land area of the Greenbelt.

The act provides the framework and lays out broad objectives for a greenbelt plan by:

establishing a network of countryside and open space areas supporting the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Niagara Escarpment;

preserving agricultural land as a continuing commercial source of food and employment;

providing the protection needed to maintain, restore and improve ecosystems in the greenbelt area;

promoting river connections between the Oak Ridges Moraine, Niagara Escarpment and lakes in the region, including Lake Ontario;

promoting links between ecosystems and provincial parks or public lands;

controlling urbanization of the lands to which the greenbelt plan applies;

ensuring that transportation and other infrastructure projects are developed in an environmentally sensitive way; and

promoting sustainable resource use.

Addressing transition issues, the act includes provisions for land-use planning related matters. Applications, matters or proceedings under the Ontario Planning and Development Act, 1994, the Planning Act and the Condominium Act, 1998, which began or were initiated on or after December 16, 2004 within the area designated "protected countryside" in the proposed greenbelt plan would be required to conform with the proposed plan, except as may be prescribed by regulation. Those that began or were initiated before that date would not have to conform with the proposed plan, although conformity could be prescribed by regulation.

Finally, the act directs the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to establish a greenbelt council to provide advice on the administration of the greenbelt plan. The council could give advice to the minister on matters such as implementation and performance measures, and would co-ordinate and contribute to the ten-year review of the greenbelt plan.

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