Greenbelt swap opponents fire off letter to Pickering Mayor about “damning” Greenbelt report


Published August 30, 2023 at 1:51 pm

The two biggest players in the fight to return the Duffins Rouge Agriculture to the Greenbelt have called out Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe for his flip-flops on the issue.

Stop Sprawl Durham and the Durham Rouge Duffins Greenspace Coalition have jointly sent a letter to Ashe and Pickering Council asking for clarification on his stance.

Last November Ashe fired off his own letter to Housing Minister Steve Clark in support of the controversial land swap that saw the Province take 7,400 acres of agriculture land from the protected Greenbelt while removing enshrined protection of the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve (DRAP), home of the most valuable properties in the swap that are now ripe for development.

The letter re-affirmed the political stance taken by former Mayor Dave Ryan that developing on the preserve was necessary to create needed housing.

But less than a month later at his first meeting of the new council, Ashe lent his vote to unanimous opposition to development on the DRAP and the Greenbelt swap.

And after a scathing report from Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk on the land swap was released earlier this month, in which she alleged “preferential treatment” for s few select developers who stand to gain $8.3 billion in land value profits from the land swap, Ashe again expressed his concerns with the deal.

“Neither the City nor its taxpayers should subsidize private interests,” he said. “With this decision being imposed on us, we will vigorously fight for our city’s best interests.”

Colour the Stop Sprawl Durham and the Durham Rouge Duffins Greenspace coalition confused.

“We know you understand that the DRAP lands are the most significant of all the Greenbelt carveouts in the province. You can also see that Pickering is already well ahead in achieving provincial housing targets, and these lands are not needed to advance supply and improve affordability. We also expect you’ve noticed that this chaotic affair is diverting scarce city resources from essential projects,” the letter stated. “What is the toll of this uproar on you and your ability to plan and deliver much-needed community benefits to those who have been patiently waiting? When will the full potential of Seaton be realized if the tight timelines of DRAP development sabotage the City’s (and Region’s) plans for a complete and sustainable community as promised?”

The RCMP has begun an investigation into what the two environmental groups are calling “unscrupulous influence” after Lysyk claimed a select group of developers benefitted from the deal, including TACC Development’s Sylvio De Gasperis, who owns a huge chunk of the lands in the DRAP.

The bulk of the potential profits – estimated to be more than $6 billion – are headed to De Gasperis and other developers who own land in the DRAP.

As well, Ryan Amato, who was Clark’s Chief of Staff, took the fall for his bosses and resigned, leaving Stop Sprawl Durham and Durham Rouge Duffins Greenspace Coalition to tell Ashe that it is “long overdue” for him to “clear up the confusion about Pickering’s position.”

Taxpayers have “repeatedly” asked for Ashe to retract his and Ryan’s previous letters, the coalition noted, because of the now official position of Pickering Council that development “should not happen in the Greenbelt carveouts and DRAP area, and the lands must be returned to the Greenbelt.”

The coalition also claimed the community is “deeply concerned” about  Ashe using ‘Strong Mayor’ powers recently granted by the Doug Ford government to overrule the will of Council on the issue, pointing out it would just take two councillors to side with the Mayor and approve development in the DRAP.

“Will those two councillors be prepared to bear the political fallout stemming from propping up a ‘strong mayor’?

The letter also stated that Hamilton City Council unanimously passed a motion August 18, asking for the Province to abandon its plan to develop the Greenbelt, with the coalition hoping for a similar motion when Pickering’s Executive Council meets September 5.

“The Auditor General’s report was damning, Pickering voters are outraged and this debacle will not be forgotten during the next municipal election,” the coalition declared. “Who among you will take a clear stand against provincial decisions and demonstrate leadership on this local threat? Who will defend DRAP and initiate the new Greenbelt motion on September 5 before it’s too late?”

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