KAWARTHA LAKES-When residents in the Long Beach area of Cameron found out about a large housing development taking over 400 acres of local farmland they were shocked.
The residents told Kawartha 411 they did not receive any direct notification from the City or the developer about the project. In the province of Ontario, the Planning Act requires public consultation for development applications.
The residents say they found out about it from a neighbour who saw the surveyors on the property. After an online search the residents found Flato Developments was planning two new, large housing developments in Kawartha Lakes. One in Lindsay and the other in Cameron.
The City says staff has had preliminary conversations with Flato about the plan.
“We have had some preliminary discussions with FLATO Developments about these two projects, but nothing has been submitted for review.” Richard Holy, (Acting) Director of Development Services told Kawartha 411.
However, residents told Kawartha 411 News they suspected Flato would use a process called a Ministers Zoning Order (MZO)to get approval for the project without having to hold public consultations.
“These approvals are now diving deep into areas of decision making that formerly were the responsibility of municipalities. They include individual development proposals that may or may not have any support from local governments or the public.” said Tim Grey Executive Director of Environmental Defence.(ED)
Flato CEO, Shakir Rehmatullah told Kawartha 411 News it was too early in the process to decide if they would use an MZO but he wouldn’t rule it out.
“Right now it would be premature to say anything,” Rehmatullah said. “Our goal is to make sure we have something that everyone likes. At this point there is no plan for that (MZO).” he said.
The City says they haven’t heard anything directly from FLATO on whether they intend to seek MZO’s for these two projects but point out FLATO has used the process elsewhere in the past.
According to the Toronto Star, Flato Developments Inc. already has three MZOs in its pocket for properties straddling Markham and Stouffville north of 19th Avenue bordered by McCowan Road and Hwy. 48 for a massive 2,000-plus home development on agricultural lands outside current urban boundaries.
Rehmatullah told Kawartha 411 they have used MZO’s in the past to fast track developments.
“Usually we use MZO’s for the benefit of the community, to fast track the development. Anybody has the right to apply and it’s up to the province to decide.”
A Ministers Zoning Order has been used in Kawartha Lakes though, by another developer.
Craft Developments used an MZO to get their project approved at Jennings Creek in Lindsay. A modified and expanded MZO issued on March 5,2021 (originally issued July 2020) allows Craft Development Corporation to “replace farmland, hedgerows and the wooded shores of Jennings Creek with a big box store and subdivision” according to Environmental Defence.
This is part of the rumoured Walmart Development site. Documentation from the Ontario government says an MZO was used to facilitate a proposed development of 563 new residential dwellings consisting of a mix of housing types, including single and semi- detached homes, duplex, triplex, fourplex dwellings, and townhouse blocks.
We contacted Craft by phone who gave us a terse “no comment”.
Since 2018, the province has issued more than 44 orders, which give the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing the power to designate land use, overriding local planning processes without the possibility of appeal, in order to fast-track certain developments.
Environmental Defence says the Ontario government is using it to speed up controversial developments by eliminating expert analysis and public input. It was meant for special cases, but has now become more routine.
MZOs have traditionally been used by the provincial government in emergencies, or to quickly advance a major initiative of provincial significance according to ED. Examples provided by the group include allowing a new grocery store to open in Elliott Lake when their only other one caved in, and when the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan was launched to help address water quality in the lake.
“Of course, in addition to creating long term damage to the environment, increasing property taxes, and enabling more sprawl to eat up Ontario’s best farmland, the Minister has sent a strong message to the Ontario public that their opinion isn’t valuable, that experts don’t matter and that decisions enabling development are his alone.” Grey states.
FLATO held virtual information session on June 2nd outlining its plans for the Cameron development. The preliminary Cameron plan includes estate homes, golf course, marina and a small resort. The Lindsay development is on farmland by IE Weldon Secondary School. Officials stress they have nothing concrete yet.
“Our goal is to pick up as many good comments and ideas as we can. The entire community should benefit from our developments.” Rehmatullah says. He says they will be holding public consultations at some point, before plans are finalized.
Rehmatullah says his company gives back to the community and he was in Lindsay recently to make a $25,000 donation to Ross Memorial Hospital.
Sources say other developers have threatened to use MZO’s locally due to the length of time it takes to get approvals from the City.
We asked the City for comment on the use of MZO’s locally but did not get a response.
It’s unclear if the use of MZO’s diverts money from municipal coffers in the form of permits or development charges. We asked the City but have not had a response.