Expand Ontario's Greenbelt to Waterloo Region, local group says

The group Smart Growth Waterloo Region wants to see the Greenbelt expanded to include Waterloo Region because it would add a layer of protection to green spaces and agricultural lands.

Being protected under the Greenbelt would prevent 'rogue' politicians from making changes

Tew's Falls is about a 20 minute drive from downtown Hamilton and would be in the proposed expansion of the Greenbelt. (Courtesy of Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation)

A local group says Waterloo Region should be included in the expanded boundaries of the province's Greenbelt lands.

"The province has missed another opportunity to announce an expansion here when all the work's already been done on the ground," said Kate Daley, co-founder of Smart Growth Waterloo Region.

On Tuesday, the provincial government announced proposed changes to four plans that outline how land can be used in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area, which includes Mississauga and Hamilton and is an area forecasted to grow by about four million people over the next 25 years.

Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Ted McMeekin said in a release the changes will "promote compact, vibrant communities that support jobs and public transit and reward us with an expanded Greenbelt."

Prevent 'rogue' politicians from making changes

Being part of the Greenbelt would give local green spaces and agricultural lands extra protection from things like urban sprawl, said Kevin Thomason, the other co-founder of Smart Growth Waterloo Region.

He argued it would not mean another layer of bureaucracy.

"The advantage of seeing the Greenbelt overlaid in Waterloo Region, or expanded to Waterloo Region, is it would add a second layer of protection and it would mean that no rogue politician or rogue council in the future could undo decades of work," he said.

We're pleased to see the province has seen what Waterloo region has been fighting for is the right direction.- Kate Daley, co-founder of Smart Growth Waterloo Region

"The wording is such that the stronger of the two should apply. So if we have a local regulation here, for example on land severances - Waterloo is much stricter than the Greenbelt is on land severances. We don't allow, particularly in our rural townships … land severances of less than 80 acres, because 80 acres was determined by 1973 in the Region of Waterloo to be the minimal viable size for a farm," he said. "Our countryside tends to be countryside."

But he said other areas, such as aggregates or quarries are concerned, the Greenbelt policies are stronger.

"For folks in North Dumfries, who are facing a lot of aggregate concerns, there could be things in the Greenbelt protection that could help them," he said.

As well, Thomason said there are certain programs available to farmers and groups within the Greenbelt that would benefit people in the area.

'Really no disadvantages'

Daley said when Waterloo Region was left out of the Greenbelt when it was first introduced in 2004, regional staff went ahead with creating their own policies.

Those policies are now reflected in the proposals the province wants to make to the Greater Golden Horseshoe area.

This map shows the Greenbelt plan area that is proposed to be revised. It includes the protected countryside, Urban River Valley Niagara Escarpment plan area, and Oak Ridges Moraine plan Aarea. (Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing)

"We're pleased to see the province has seen what Waterloo Region has been fighting for is the right direction. Making sure that areas like ours that have been at the front of that fight are also getting all the protections that we need is an important next step," she said.

"One thing that has happened in this community that I'm really proud of is that so many people from so many different parts of our region have really stepped up to make sure that our policies are as good as they can be."

The public can provide input into the proposed changes, either online until the end of September, or during an open house. The open house is being held on May 31 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Preston Auditorium in Cambridge.

Daley and Thomason say they think there's a lot of support to expand the Greenbelt to Waterloo region.

"There's a lot more consensus across the province, but we really have a lot of it here because of where we've come from over the last few years," Daley said.

Thomason agreed, saying the province's plan to expand the Greenbelt is a good one, it just doesn't go far enough.

"There would be a lot of advantages for us being included in the Greenbelt and really no disadvantages," he said.