The impact of the passage of the Ford government’s Bill 23 has started already.
Last week one of this column’s readers sent me an email link to a new real estate listing for a 38.665-acre property zoned agricultural in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This listing (MLS #X5845386) read:
“With The Passing Of Bill 23, This Ag Zoned Property Offers Great Potential For A Small (40-80 Units) Tiny Home Community With Current Owner Cutting In The 1st Of Several Possible Roads And Gravel Pads. Property Offers An Existing 3 Br Home With An Existing Out Building And Rental Income. Possibility To Sever The Current Residence From The Existing Lot And Develop On The Back Parcel. Hydro And Natural Gas Services Existing At The Back Parcel Property Line, Turnkey Developments Canada Has Assessed This Parcel In A Consulting Capacity With A Positive Development Report Being Issued.”
One could argue the description in this listing could be the handiwork of an overly zealous and inexperienced realtor, but not only is the realtor licensed as a “broker,” he appears to be connected to the “Turnkey Developments” cited in the description.
Further, his real estate licence is held by iPro Realty, one of the two largest real estate brokerages in Canada and the brokerage is accountable for the contents of any MLS listing.
Taken together, this suggests a common viewpoint (realtor and real estate brokerage) relative to Ford’s Bill 23 legislation.
Now, whether or not it is financially feasible to realize the “great potential” outlined in this particular listing is a moot point. The fact is that the signal has been sent with the passage of Bill 23: the Greenbelt is open for development.
In a February 2018 meeting with developers, Doug Ford stated he would “open up a big chunk of it (the Greenbelt) up and we are going to start building.”
The political backlash that arose from this comment resulted in a retraction in May 2018 wherein he stated, “Unequivocally, we won’t touch the Greenbelt. Unlike other governments that don’t listen to people, I’ve heard it loud and clear that people don’t want me touching the Greenbelt. We won’t touch the Greenbelt.”
In April 2021, Mr. Ford reiterated his stance saying, “I’m not touching the Greenbelt. I’ve said that from the beginning, we haven’t and we’re going to continue down that track.”
With his second majority safely in the bag and four years until the next election, one of the first pieces of major government legislation introduced not only touched the Greenbelt, it ripped 7,400 acres out of it.
Apparently, it is more important to Mr. Ford that the 2018 promise to developers was kept rather than his promises to the voters who elected him.
This really shouldn’t be any startling revelation, folks. His government’s track record during their first term relative to granting developers favours includes issuing more minister’s zoning orders (MZOs) to expedite development (and not just for housing) in a shorter period of time than any other government in Ontario’s history.
A Torstar/National Observer investigation (published April 6, 2021) into the proposed Highway 413, reported that the developers who owned land on or in proximity to the planned route were “also prolific PC donors, contributing at least $813,000 to support the party since 2014.”
The article also said: “The group of developers owns 39 properties covering 3,300 acres that are conservatively valued at nearly half a billion dollars, according to land registry documents. The value of those lands could rise dramatically if the highway is built and residential, commercial and industrial development is allowed to spread along the route.”
“The developers include the Cortellucci, DeGasperis, Guglietti and De Meneghi families, John Di Poce, Benny Marotta, Argo Development and Fieldgate Homes.”
It isn’t about needing more land to build houses on – the government’s own real estate sector weighted Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force in its report clearly stated that existing lands were more than sufficient to meet the projected requirement for housing.
It is pretty obvious why Bill 23 was written and passed.
And, that brings us back home to Niagara-on-the-Lake, where the old NOTL hospital, Parliament Oak and Randwood properties (among others) are near-term targets for development.
In a post-Bill 23 province, with local municipal oversight (bylaws) replaced by skeletonized provincial regulations/development parameters, heritage sidelined and legislative denial of preserving community character, any one of these properties could be developed into high density multi-storey complexes without any local direction/input, heritage considerations or code limitations.
Be damned the neighbours and existing streetscapes!
And, for those who think the regulatory changes will take longer to develop and enact than the four-year mandate given the Ford government, I respectfully suggest you might think again.
They have had four years to create their “hands-off” regulatory program which, I suspect, is fully constructed and good-to-go.
That said, Ford has been stopped before by the collective will of the people. And God knows, this is the time where communities across Ontario (particularly us NOTL folks) need to come together to preserve Ontario and our town.
I ask you to stand up, individually and collectively, to make the calls, take the actions and use our collective influence to very clearly tell Doug Ford “NO!”
Brian Marshall is a NOTL realtor, author and expert consultant on architectural design, restoration and heritage.