Stouffville seeks development on Highway 404

Warning Whitchurch-Stouffville’s future financial health depends on commercial and industrial development along Highway 404, council is asking the provincial government to designate properties along Ontario’s 400-series highways as employment lands.

“Everyone knows Gormley and the entire 404 corridor is our future,” Ward 3 Coun. Hugo Kroon said.

Council’s move comes as the provincial government has introduced legislation known as Bill 66 or Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, which would let municipalities seek permission to bypass several long-standing laws meant to protect the environment such as the Greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Moraine.

The province would only consider approving the open-for-business zones if they create at least 50 jobs in communities with population of less than 250,000 or at least 100 jobs in larger municipalities.

With residential assessment in Whitchurch-Stouffville topping 90 per cent, putting an extremely heavy burden on homeowners to pay the municipality’s property tax bill, securing commercial and industrial development is crucial, Kroon said.

If approved, non-residential development along the 404 would reflect provincial policies of decades ago that intended to see employment lands developed close to 400-series highways, he said.

“In the ’70s, I used to live along the 404 when it was being built and that’s what they told us, your land is going to be valuable because it’s commercial/industrial. Well, then someone decided that Whitchurch-Stouffville was going to get the short end of the stick and the Oak Ridges Moraine (legislation) was going to be dumped on top of that and we were cut off,” Kroon said.

“I believe this provincial government is going to change that back. It’s going to give us what we deserve. There’s no reason why a provincial government would expect a municipality to have nothing but residential.”

Saying the town still “vigorously supports” provincial legislation protecting the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine, Kroon stressed the town needs to make its pitch to the province quickly to gain favour.

At the same time, asking Queen’s Park to designate land close to all 400-series highways as provincially significant employment lands shows the town isn’t being greedy, he said.

However, Ward 1 Coun. Ken Ferdinands and Ward 2 Coun. Maurice Smith argued council should keep its focus on Whitchurch-Stouffville’s needs.

While critics have raised red flags about the proposed legislation, Mayor Iain Lovatt said council doesn’t want to pave over environmentally sensitive lands.

“I do want to put everyone’s minds at ease … (who fears) this is just the start of us running roughshod over the Greenbelt. That is not the intention. The intention is a very focused area on the 404,” Lovatt said.

“It is not going up into Ballantrae or into the Oak Ridges Moraine core area. That’s not it at all. This is a very strategic plan for our municipality to grow our tax base that is going to fund the infrastructure needs and … programming for my grandkids and your great-grandkids and our future. Without it, we’re going to be in serious trouble.”

Council appears to be rushing into giving up Greenbelt lands for development, Arnold Neufeldt-Fast, who campaigned to protect the Greenbelt when he ran for mayor in 2014, said.

“Vigorous community discussion is needed before council uses this drastic strategy to meet budget,” he said in an email.

“It was not discussed during the (fall) election period. Council should make proposals, ask for studies but also encourage full and open community feedback. Developers should have their say too.”

Town staff will report back to council later with a detailed proposal for the Gormley lands seeking provincial approval.

by Lisa Queen

Lisa Queen is a reporter for YorkRegion.com and its sister papers. She can be reached at lqueen@yrmg.com. Follow her on Twitter and YorkRegion.com on Facebook.