A number of environmental groups are calling against Durham Regional Council for voting to add more than 2,500 hectares of rural land into the region’s urban boundary.
On Wednesday, following a marathon meeting, council voted 16-11 in favour of ‘Scenario 2A,’ which was proposed by advocates for the land development industry. The scenario was previously endorsed by the region’s Planning and Economic Development Committee.
This goes against recommendations by regional staff. Staff put forward ‘Scenario 4,’ which would have seen less of a land expansion and more high-and-medium-density housing (like townhouses and apartments).
The region was previously considering a number of scenarios to figure out how best to address an expected surge in Durham’s population over the coming decades. Another option, ‘Scenario 5,’ would have seen no urban expansion for community areas. It was endorsed by a trio of regional committees on environmental and agricultural grounds.
“Durham Regional Council refused to listen to all the reasons to stop sprawl, let alone public, staff, [and] advisory committee feedback,” reads a statement by the group Blue Dot Whitby. “Who they did listen to is a developer lobbyist who wrote the scenario they approved.”
“This short-sighted decision makes the urbanization of the Carruthers Creek headwaters not only possible, but likely,” reads a statement by Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier. “Leapfrogging the Greenbelt to develop a community of 60,000 people in north east Pickering greatly increases the risk of downstream flooding in Ajax.”
“There was no justifiable reason for councillors to side with developers over their staff, constituents, and advisory panels,” reads a statement by the group Climate Justice Durham. “At least not if you assume that they actually work for us.”
On Tuesday, regional staff drafted a letter to councillors, specifically advising against the developers’ scenario.
“[The scenario] overstates the land need,” wrote staff, who noted that the policies contained within would only require an expansion of about 1,740 hectares if implemented (compared to the 2,500 granted by councillors).
Staff also argued that it “detracts from the achievement of regional sustainability policies and obligations” and “deemphasizes regional priorities that focus growth on existing communities, where services and infrastructure are either already in place or can be provided more efficiently.”