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Aerotropolis fights continue


Oct 27, 2014


The battle lines are being drawn for phase three of the aerotropolis hearings before the Ontario Municipal Board and the outcome could result in a much larger loss of agricultural land than the 555 net hectares (695 gross hectares) approved for industrial development last year. While the efforts of citizen groups to limit the expansion of the urban boundary dominated phase two in January 2013, this round pits multiple land developers against the city to determine the exact boundaries and whether or not some lands will be earmarked for future residential use.

The OMB has ordered the city to improve transparency by making witness and participant statements, visual evidence and Board orders available on the city’s website. Initial statements are now posted and reveal the essential arguments being marshaled by the various camps.

The city has budgeted $700,000 for this phase, and will call eight witnesses to support its case. The hearings will begin on February 2 and are scheduled to last four weeks.

Major developers are set to argue for changes to the city-proposed boundary for the Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD). These include both additions and subtractions of properties, with the latter being earmarked for future residential and/or commercial development. While the OMB has already ruled no new residential can occur in the AEGD, it has also allowed landowners to argue for their properties to be excluded if they can be shown to be “better suited” for non-industrial uses.

Such changes, if accepted by the Board, would still result in approximately the same size AEGD but could also mean hundreds of additional hectares of agricultural land being designated for the residential development that most city councillors say they fiercely oppose.

One developer group represented by Silvestri Investments is focused on 200 hectares they own along the south side of Garner Road from where it meets Rymal Road to west of the Highway 6 extension. They want to remove 154 hectares east of Southcote Road so they can be used for residential development. At the same time, they seek to add 46 hectares west of and adjacent to Highway 6 which they contend is most likely to be taken up quickly for industrial development because it is close to the 403 and #6.

“An examination of the best advice given to the City over the last decade shows that the boundaries of the AEGD are inconsistent with the market advice, market recommendations and the best planning information needed to make the area as attractive as possible to employers,” argues Bob Lehman, the chief planning witness for the Silvestri group. “[The group’s] Garner Road West Lands provide the locational characteristics and ready access to transportation routes for the development of an AEGD Employment Gateway Area centered around the Highway 6 and 403 interchange.”

A second group of nine owners with lands between Twenty Road West and the airport think that 110 hectares of their properties are also “best suited” for residential and commercial use rather than industrial growth and should also be left out of the AEGD. Both this Twenty Road West group and the Silvestri group believe the noise exclusion area around the airport favours their positions because their lands lie outside the zone restricted by airport noise to only industrial uses.

“[T]he lands outside of airport noise constraints are not suitable for employment uses from a market perspective and subsequently the market factors were not appropriately considered in the determination of the AEGD boundaries,” contends Lee Parsons representing the Twenty Road West group.

Should the OMB accept either or both exclusion requests, the effect would be to create “a remnant patch of rural lands surrounded by lands designated for urban development.” The AEGD would then consist of 695 hectares further south and the city would face enormous pressure to also add the excluded patches to the urban boundary at the earliest possible opportunity.

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