The province is doing a major review of the greenbelt, and the city wants to remove two major sections of farmland that environmentalists argue is crucial for the local food supply.
Greenbelt legislation, established in 2005, is undergoing its first 10-year review. On Thursday, city councillors voted to add more than 100 new hectares of land to the greenbelt. But they also voted to remove a large section of tender fruit land in lower Stoney Creek, and 28 hectares of farmland in Waterdown.
Each day, this province loses 350 acres of farmland. That's 360 football fields lost every day. This is not sustainable.' - Drew Spoelstra, farmer and Ontario Federation of Agriculture director
The issue was the subject of a six-hour meeting that veered between two major arguments. One side wanted to keep any and all farmland under greenbelt protection, saying climate change and dwindling agricultural land threaten local food. The other said that the parcels are surrounded by urban activity, and no longer appropriate for farming anyway. They want to sell the land to developers.
Dale Smith, who farms 303 hectares (750 acres) in Mount Hope, fell into the first category.
"The greenbelt was put into place to give farmers the right to farm," he said. And that farmland is important for Ontario's food supply, he added.
Some of the land the city has suggested for development is "some of the most fertile lands in southern Ontario," Smith said.
Drew Spoelstra, a Binbrook farmer and director on the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, made a similar plea.
"Each day, this province loses 350 acres of farmland," he said. "That's 360 football fields lost every day. This is not sustainable."
"Urban development in the golden horseshoe threatens this precious resource."
'These are isolated remnants left over.' - John Ariens, IBI Group
On the flip side, developers are interested in the Stoney Creek lands and the property owners want to sell, said John Ariens of IBI Group, who presented on behalf of three landowners in Stoney Creek and two in Waterdown. Among them is the E. D. Smith family, which wanted a parcel of its fruit land removed. Councillors voted in favour of that.
"These are isolated remnants left over," Ariens told councillors. And increasingly, he said, locally grown fruit can't compete with the price of food from other countries.
"It's just not economically viable to maintain these isolated pockets."
Despite the lengthy debate, the decision might not make a difference. This is only a request to the province, which has final say over which lands are in the greenbelt, said Chad Collins, a Ward 5 councillor — and it tends to have its own ideas.
"I think they're going to live up to their commitment to keep it as large or larger," Collins said. "This whole discussion may be a moot point."
The province is due to release draft greenbelt legislation in early 2016.
As for the tender fruit lands, this isn't the first time the two Stoney Creek parcels have been a volleyball between the city and the province.
In 2003, the city included the land in the Stoney Creek Urban Boundary Expansion (SCUBE), a plan that could see as many as 15,000 new residents in Fruitland-Winona in the next 20 years. After negotiations and an Ontario Municipal Board ruling, they were removed.
The city will ratify the planning committee's recommendation on Dec. 9.
City staff said in an earlier version of this story that the E.D. Smith lands would not be removed from the greenbelt. In fact, the city is recommending that they are.