Skip to content

Greenbelt landowners make last-ditch effort to get properties out of protected area

Several landowners who had properties removed from the Greenbelt in 2022 are asking the province to reconsider its major walkback
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announces that he will be reversing his government’s decision to open the Greenbelt to developers during a press conference in Niagara Falls, Ont., Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. The announcement comes after a second cabinet minister resigned in the wake of the Greenbelt controversy.

Despite the high political price the Progressive Conservatives have paid for the Greenbelt scandal, some developers made last-ditch efforts to convince the government to keep their land open for development.

In September, Premier Doug Ford apologetically announced the government would reverse course on removing land from the Greenbelt and his new housing minister, Paul Calandra, introduced a bill in mid-October to make good on that promise and further strengthen the Greenbelt’s legal protection. The legislation passed in early December.

But while the bill was before the House, some developers whose land had briefly been freed made their case once again in comments on the provincial environmental registry.

Those submissions were recently made public. The developers largely argued their lands don’t deserve protection because they’re not ecologically significant and could be better used to solve the provincial housing crisis. Some municipalities have also argued in favour of removal.

The submissions also provide some new insight into the now-aborted process to rezone the lands for development — which was led by the Provincial Land and Development Facilitator (PLDF), an under-the-radar provincial agency — including how many homes would’ve been built on each site and other community benefits the developers agreed to pay in exchange for permission to build.

Perhaps it proves true comments that land-use lawyer Peter Van Loan made to the province's integrity commissioner in his Greenbelt investigation: developers, as a kind, are “congenitally optimistic” about opening Greenbelt land up for development.

Cherrywood in Pickering 

The 4,300-acre Cherrywood site in Pickering was the single largest chunk of land — nearly 60 per cent — removed from the Greenbelt. 

TACC Developments, headed by Silvio De Gasperis, owns most of the land. TACC, along with other prominent developers including Argo Development and Fieldgate Developments, formed a new company called White Cherry Developments that bought more land in the area last summer.  

Not long after those purchases, Premier Ford cancelled the land removals. 

De Gasperis vehemently opposed the Greenbelt’s creation in 2005 and has fought the perceived “injustice” ever since, including raising “it with every chief of staff to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing over the past two decades,” Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake wrote in his report on the scandal. 

“The decision to return the Cherrywood Area Lands to the Greenbelt is not only immensely disappointing, but is simply unjust. White Cherry has done nothing wrong and only followed the guidance and direction of the provincial government,” the company wrote in its environmental registry submission. 

The lands are prime for development because they’re “directly adjacent to built-up areas” in Pickering, Markham and Toronto, and “benefit from approximately $2 billion of existing infrastructure,” the company wrote. The lands are also “ecologically indistinguishable from those typical of current and historical urban development in Ontario.”

“The property’s location and its ability to immediately utilize existing infrastructure, in addition to many other factors including the backing of motivated developers who own it, make the Cherrywood Area Lands a prime opportunity to assist the government with its ambitious goal of building 1.5 million homes.” 

White Cherry also outlined how development would help build thousands of homes and spur supporting infrastructure like schools and hospitals. 

The company worked with nearby municipalities, conservation authorities and the PLDF to finalize plans for the area and get it ready for approval. 

If the company got the green light, it would’ve built 30,000 homes, with at least 7,500 being affordable or attainable housing. That included at least 6,000 “income-based affordable” units delivered by Habitat for Humanity and the Durham Region Non-Profit Housing Corporation, who also wrote to the province expressing their disappointment the projects will no longer go forward.

White Cherry signed a terms sheet with the two non-profits that “would have resulted in 18 per cent or more of the housing built on these lands being affordable housing,” Habitat for Humanity wrote. 

The first two phases of development would’ve seen 500 to 800 affordable homes built by the non-profits on land gifted by White Cherry, according to Habitat for Humanity. White Cherry also agreed to retain all development risk. 

“As an example, if a groundwater issue was discovered which would have required unforeseen work to remediate, the developer would have been responsible for all costs or, alternatively, for providing us with equivalent land elsewhere in the same phase,” Habitat for Humanity wrote. 

To help kick start building, White Cherry agreed to provide the non-profits with a $10 million donation. 

White Cherry also promised a 30-acre hospital underpinned by a memorandum of understanding with Lakeridge Health, a 14-acre post-secondary campus with Durham College, parkland, community centres, libraries, fire halls, and much more. 

The company was ready to get to work to meet the government’s timeline of having approvals ready by the end of 2023. It almost secured a site alteration permit from the Toronto Region Conversation Authority “for the initial phase of the project and it was anticipated that site preparation would begin immediately afterwards.”

Testimony from the auditor general’s Greenbelt report, however, calls into question the company’s assessment of whether speedy development and servicing was possible. 

“Durham’s Chief Planner estimated it will take as many as 25 years to have full service for housing development on the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve (where Cherrywood is located),” the AG wrote. 

Cline Road in Grimsby 

In Grimsby, the Cline Road lands are owned by a partnership of the Valery Group, DeSantis Homes, and Melrose Investments. Valery made the ERO submission on behalf of the partnership. 

They argued the land should stay out of the Greenbelt because it’s near existing settlement areas on the edge of the Greenbelt, it’s able to be serviced at the expense of the developers, and it doesn’t include any special natural features. 

Removal was also supported in the past by the Town of Grimsby and Region of Niagara, Valery said. As recently as Nov. 23, 2023, Grimsby staff endorsed a request to keep the lands out of the Greenbelt. 

By putting it back in the Greenbelt, the province is missing out on 500 homes, according to the company. 

They’d been working with the PLDF, the Region of Niagara, Town of Grimsby, and Habitat for Humanity to get the homes built. In August 2023, the company submitted a pre-consultation application for plans of subdivision to the town.  

Bathurst-King in King 

Quinto Annibale, a lawyer representing Green Lane Bathurst LP which owns a parcel of land in King, said the lands should “never have been included” in the Greenbelt. 

“They are ideally suited for the proposed development given that they are located adjacent to a built-up area in a location where municipal services are currently available or will be available in the short term,” he wrote. “Although the lands are currently used for agricultural purposes, they are not prime farmland.”

“A significant amount of background work has already been undertaken by my client at considerable expense. This work clearly demonstrates the feasibility and the merits of the development,” Annibale added. 

That includes working with the Region of York and the Township of King to advance a project to build 9,000 homes, nearly 2,000 affordable apartment units, and 410 affordable secondary units. 

Green Lane Bathurst also planned to build three elementary schools, nearly 15 acres of commercially zoned land with over 100,000 square feet of retail space, a new fire station, a new hospital, and over 50 acres of parkland and community space.  

The auditor general’s report noted that a lot of infrastructure work needed to be done to prepare the site for development. York Region told the AG that, although a comprehensive estimate wasn’t available, it could’ve taken as long as 10 years to have the necessary infrastructure in place to support new homes. 

Barton Street in Hamilton 

The Barton lands are partially owned by Sergio Manchia and Anthony Di Cenzo. Manchia is a developer who also ran Urban Solutions, a planning consultancy, before he retired last summer. 

Manchia was keen to get his lands removed. He “continuously tried to get someone to help him with this piece of land in Hamilton,” according to testimony given to the integrity commissioner by Kristen Jensen, who was deputy chief of staff to former housing minister Steve Clark. 

Manchia’s submission, made by Aird and Berlis lawyer Patrick Harrington, said the land should stay out because a mapping error led to its inclusion in the first place, it’s near existing development and infrastructure, doesn’t contain any protection-worthy features, and removal is supported by Hamilton council. 

“These efforts indicate not only that the Barton Site is shovel-ready, but that there has historically been no intention on the part of the landowners or the city to preserve the Barton Site as protected greenspace, farmland or any other natural feature associated with the Greenbelt,” the submission said. 

After the land was removed, Manchia worked with the PLDF and City of Hamilton to plan the development. 

“Matters such as residential product types and density, layout, improvements and community benefits were in the process of being agreed upon for the approval of approximately 200 new homes when issues concerning the province’s other Greenbelt removals first arose,” the submission said. “Since that point in time, the good planning work undertaken respecting the Barton Site has been halted, with the whole process now proposed to be undone.” 

502 Winston Road in Grimsby 

The Winston Road lands are owned by New Horizon Development’s Jeff Paikin. 

He also argued the land isn't protection-worthy because it’s not ecologically significant, removal is supported by the municipality, and much-needed homes won’t be built. 

“The existing condition of the site is not agricultural in nature, rather it is used as a multi-purpose community space which is being rented by a church group. This has been the historic condition for the property for over 90 years. Additionally, the soil on site is not suitable to produce the specialty crops,” New Horizon wrote. 

New Horizon and the PLDF hammered out a proposal for 1,400 townhouses and multi-dwelling units to be built, on top of “community benefits” like enhanced shoreline protections and a 30-metre-wide public park.   

“Given their greenfield nature and ability to accommodate current trends in the housing industry, the subject lands in Grimsby are well suited for development opportunities which can aid in providing desired community benefits in addition to the implementation of the housing development,” New Horizon wrote. 

10379 Kennedy Road in Markham 

The Kennedy Road property is unique in that it’s the only piece of land removed from the Greenbelt that was recommended by the civil service. All other properties were brought forward by Ryan Amato, former housing minister Steve Clark’s then-chief of staff. 

It was also the subject of litigation where Minotaur, the property owner, argued the land was included due to an “inadvertent error.” To settle the suit, the province agreed to remove the land in November 2022, right before Clark announced the land swap. 

With the land now back in the Greenbelt, Minotar’s lawyer argued the province is essentially in breach of the settlement, and the lands should be removed once again. 

Bill 136, which puts the removed land back in the Greenbelt, “expressly provides that the contract is terminated, even though Minotaur has performed its obligations under the contract. Further, the bill purports to remove any remedy which Minotaur would otherwise have. However, the Constitution Act does not allow the legislature to oust the legitimate role of the courts and the bill leaves open an ostensible path to further litigation via judicial review,” lawyer Jonathan Lisus wrote. 

“The province has admitted that it ‘screwed up’ and it will ‘do better,’ and Bill 136 has been presented as the remedy to the screw up. However, with respect to the Minotaur property, Bill 136 only compounds a screw up (or “inadvertent error”) of a prior government, which the province corrected when it removed the Minotaur lands from the Greenbelt,” Lisus added.  

Mount Hope in Hamilton

The Paletta International Corporation’s submission didn’t argue for the property to stay out of the Greenbelt because Hamilton council supported it, or because it isn’t ecologically significant. It didn’t have any details on the state of planning approvals or how many homes could’ve been built. 

Instead, Dave Pitblado, director of real estate development, made a simple plea: help us help you. 

“Sometimes the correct decisions aren’t always the easiest ones to make, and we understand the intense political and media scrutiny you are presently facing, but for the good of the people of Ontario, and the 500,000-plus new residents that we must accommodate annually and for the most part within the Greater Toronto Area, we request that you maintain the decisions to remove these lands from the Greenbelt,” he wrote. 

He also asked the government to remove another Paletta property from the Greenbelt. 

Book Road in Hamilton

The Book Road property should stay out of the Greenbelt because it’s less than a kilometre from two highways, is very close to existing and planned transit stations in Hamilton, and is near the John C. Munro airport, the landowners argued in their submission. 

The landowners worked with the PLDF to produce a fiscal impact study that showed development would’ve been a net positive for the city’s coffers. 

“This proposed surplus could be used to mitigate future property tax increases, increase contributions to a tax rate stabilization reserve fund, expand municipal services, fund backlogged state of good repair works, or combination thereof,” the company wrote. 

The submission didn’t include any details on the number of houses or other infrastructure upgrades. 

Nash Road in Clarington  

The Nash Road owner also argued the property was initially included in the Greenbelt in error. 

When the land was purchased in 2003, 60 per cent of it was not included in the proposed Greenbelt.

“As a result of an obvious mapping error, the property in its entirety was included in the final version of the Greenbelt,” the owners wrote. 

It’s also close to existing built-up areas and servicing infrastructure. 

“The lands are situated between an existing urban residential area and Highway 418. Full municipal piped services, having both capacity and availability are on the east boundary of the property,” the owners wrote. 

Because of the ”historically flawed process” and the nearby infrastructure, the land should stay removed.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks