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Published on Wednesday, March 6, 2002

OPA 198 polarized Oakville council

Mulvale backs developers

By Karen Wirsig, GTA Municipal News

The future of north Oakville is the subject of a major public debate at town hall and is destined for the Ontario Municipal Board. Council was to have decided last night whether to approve the now-controversial official plan amendment that would make way for significant new residential and employment development north of Highway 5.

Mayor Ann Mulvale, who has supported (the plan called) OPA 198, told GTA Municipal News before the council meeting that she was facing a polarized council and a polarized community over the issue.

“I am going to be in a very precarious position,” she said, predicting a six-to-five vote one way or the other. Despite her belief that the plan amendment is sound, she has promised as mayor never to vote to make a tie. “I will vote with the majority.”

Development applications have already been submitted by the landowners and, if the town were to decide against development, the case would almost certainly end up at the OMB. However, if the plan and developments are approved, they are likely to be challenged at the OMB by local ratepayers and environmentalists.

Around 700 people showed up at the first day of public hearings on February 25, which lasted all week.

Councillor Allan Elgar, elected in 2000 on an environmental platform, opposes the plan (OPA 198) on the grounds that the town does not yet have all of the information required to make a decision about development.

“We have to do it right,” he told GTA Municipal News. “People want information on environmental issues first. The worst thing we could do is have a half-baked plan.”

He believes that momentum is building against the plan, which he says lacks adequate information on the environmental features in the 7,000 acres in question.

A letter to the town dated February 14 from the ministry of municipal affairs, and signed by the planner who was a key provincial witness at the OMB hearing regarding development on the Oak Ridges Moraine in Richmond Hill, recommended that a natural heritage system be identified in OPA 198.

Victor Doyle also suggested the amendment should identify the Trafalgar Moraine and suggested that sub-watershed studies related to both of those features be completed before any secondary plans are considered.

A letter from the ministry of natural resources to the town dated February 8 indicated that more study is necessary on the approximately 26 wetlands found in the OPA 198 area. It also indicates that some parts of the area could be designated as areas with natural scientific interest.

However, a second letter from the ministry of municipal affairs dated February 25, the day the public hearing began, stated that the ministry’s view on OPA 198 had changed and that it was now satisfied with the timing of studies. That second letter, signed by deputy minister Michael Fenn, does not refer to other recommendations made in the first ministry letter, regarding the Trafalgar Moraine and a natural heritage system.

According to Elgar, who put in calls to the ministry to find out why the second letter was sent, a request for the Fenn letter came forward from Oakville city manager, Joann Chechalk. The letter is also addressed to her.

For Toronto lawyer A. Milliken Heisey, who represented the City of Toronto in the Richmond Hill OMB case and was hired by Oakville ratepayer groups to make a presentation to Oakville council on OPA 198, the public pressure is further proof that politics in the 905-area are going green.

“I think this amply demonstrates that the public is beginning to question how planning decisions have been made and developments have been done in the GTA,” he told GTA Municipal News. “Municipalities need to examine what is going on with natural systems.”

Mulvale believes it is better to go to the OMB with an approved plan than without one. She said that up to 30 per cent of the land in question could be preserved as open space under the proposed OPA 198 and added that millions of dollars could be spent at the tribunal with no additional land protected.

However, some residents are now calling for the preservation of 20 per cent of Oakville as rural.

Effectively, that would mean prohibiting development north of Highway 5, Elgar said.
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