Widespread concerns among Caledon residents who could not get answers about how billions of dollars will be covered to more than double the municipality’s population, were ignored Tuesday. Requests to defer 12 bylaws suddenly brought forward in March without any warning or public input, were batted away by Mayor Annette Groves, her council allies and staff prior to a vote that took place at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday. 

The Mayor and four councillors — Doug Maskell, Mario Russo, Cosimo Napoli and Tony Rosa — rezoned over 5,000 acres, including large tracts of prime agricultural land, to facilitate the development of 35,000 homes.

“We believe that the financial implications of such a significant amount of growth have not been adequately cited, that our taxes may rise exponentially,” Nicola Ross, co-founder of Democracy Caledon, said during the meeting which began early Tuesday evening.

Allan Boughton, a Caledon resident and member of the Peel Police Services Board, stated that in conversations with Regional Chair Nando Iannicca, it has become evident that the Region of Peel is showing about a $50 billion infrastructure deficit. The Region has already confirmed that it would cost $6.2 billion for water and $6.7 billion for wastewater infrastructure to support the Town’s housing pledge of 13,000 new homes.

“Maybe he’s right. Maybe this won’t happen in my lifetime,” Boughton said. “But that doesn’t stop what we are doing here because I think we have to do the right thing.”

Since the bylaws appeared as a communication item on the March 26 Planning and Development Committee agenda they have had three strong opponents among the town’s local elected officials. Councillors Lynn Kiernan, Christina Early and Dave Sheen have repeatedly expressed disapproval of the rushed process, lack of community consultation and the financial risk to taxpayers. Groves and her staff bulldozed the bylaws through despite presenting no financial analysis of the infrastructure costs to build 35,000 new homes in Caledon, which could cripple taxpayers. 

“I really don’t think most of you councillors understand the profound impact that this kind of development can have. Worse yet, some of you may understand and are willing to vote for it,” said Rob Mezzapelli, a former councillor representing Bolton.

Groves has repeatedly claimed developers will pay the tens of billions of dollars required for water infrastructure, roads, community centres, police and fire stations, paramedics services, libraries, parks and a long list of other needs that will accompany the massive growth she approved early Wednesday morning. Residents could not get answers to their questions about the financial consequences of approving a population increase that will more than double the size of the mostly rural municipality. 

Councillor Early brought forward a motion requesting a deferral so staff can ensure all the planning steps that Groves skipped would be done, and to work alongside the Region of Peel to confirm that associated infrastructure will be available to support some 100,000 new residents (Caledon currently has about 80,000). Early asked for reassurance on what safeguards will be put in place to guarantee planning processes that protect the public interest will be followed, after Groves bypassed them. Requirements such as environmental and traffic studies, on top of financial due diligence to fully cost infrastructure needs, which need to be done prior to zoning approvals, were ignored by Groves, who claims all of these safeguards will now be done after she forced the bylaw approvals through. 

Her backward approach was orchestrated by an external development lawyer who is also representing one of the landowner groups seeking to build homes on one of the 12 parcels of land (5,000 acres in all) approved for development Wednesday. 

“So how can I ensure that council is going to be involved to ensure that we build out these complete communities in the future?” Early asked.

The answer from staff, which was used at four public  information meetings Groves was forced to hold after a widespread backlash, was that there would be “holding provisions” on each of the 12 parcels. The conditions of a holding provision must be met prior to them being removed so that development can move forward. Groves did not include any holding provisions when she first tried to push her decision through in a snap vote that had been set for April, before hundreds of residents turned out in protest. Groves agreed to hold off and hold public information sessions, where staff simply repeated the mayor’s talking points without providing information on the financial consequences or any of the numerous missing studies. Groves eventually agreed to defer any vote until after the summer, before reneging on her promise a week ago when this week’s vote was unexpectedly scheduled, sparking anger across Caledon.

It was admitted to by both Eric Lucic, Commissioner of Planning at the Town of Caledon, and Quinto Annibale, the lawyer from Loopstra Nixon that Groves had hired to write the bylaws, that holding provisions do not ensure developers will follow specific planning conditions, once zoning approvals have already been granted. 

“Yes the ‘H’ (hold) can be appealed,” Annibale said.

It was also revealed at the final public information meeting on June 10 that Groves can bring forward a motion under her new strong mayor powers to have the holds removed with only a one-third vote.

This prompted Councillor Sheen to bring forward the example of the community he represents, Southfields, along Kennedy Road north of Mayfield Road in south Caledon, as an illustration of poor planning. When the homes were developed, they were built under the intention of having a westward exit to Highway 10. However, with the volume of car traffic and the logistics of the area, the province later told the Town this was impossible. Now, the traffic entering and exiting the Southfields community is routinely backed up with only one through-way, the northwest Kennedy Road corridor. 

“We built the subdivision on things we believed would happen,” Sheen said. “One person’s red tape is another person’s safeguard.”

Councillor Russo was the main voice in opposition to Councillor Early’s referral motion, claiming some of the safeguards she was asking for would be better handled during a “secondary planning process”, which is supposed to take place before any approval of zoning bylaws. At first he said the idea of a referral was something he could “entertain”, but when Early asked him if he would like to make any tweaks to her referral in order to support it, he went silent.

Councillor Kiernan backed Early in her concerns about the holding provisions.

“If something is so great, why do we have to put so many things in to make sure it doesn’t go wrong?” she asked, demanding to know whether or not the Region of Peel has rescinded its numerous concerns laid out in 12 formal letters of communication sent in April.

Despite repeated attempts by both Groves and Lucic to avoid the question, it was finally revealed that the Town has not received any formal piece of communication from the Region that changes its position from the original letters sent to the Town highlighting dozens of problems with what Groves has now done. The Region pointed out that critical environmental, transportation and other studies have not been done, no explanation has been provided of how billions of dollars in infrastructure costs would be covered and a range of other critical planning concerns have not been addressed.

“Peel has communicated its position to Caledon and the Region and the Town will need to continue working together on the developments in Caledon to ensure water and wastewater infrastructure is planned and constructed in accordance with the phasing of development.” Tara Buonpensiero, Chief Planner and Director of Planning and Development at the Region of Peel, told The Pointer in an email statement.

“I am fully confident we will get to where we need to be,” Lucic claimed, suggesting that his previous comments that 95 percent of the Region’s concerns had been addressed may not have been totally accurate.

Sheen said with the Region calling the bylaws “premature” more time is needed to address all the concerns.

“It’s a fundamental variation of opinion,” Lucic replied. 

Groves has claimed, after the initial backlash, that she would listen to the community. She claimed the move to bring forward the bylaws for a vote after promising nothing would be done before the end of summer was “staff-led”. Councillor Kiernan replied that Council works for the people of Caledon, not for staff.

Staff do not decide when votes are taken, a decision that elected members determine.

With the referral motion defeated, Councillor Sheen brought forward a motion to defer the entire discussion to a meeting in the fall, which is what the majority of residents who came to delegate asked for. This motion was also defeated.

Perhaps the most upsetting fact for the residents of Caledon was that Groves broke the promise she made at the May 23 public meeting held in Bolton when she vowed not to hold a vote on the bylaws during the summer months.

At the entrance to the Council chambers hangs the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But what unfolded on the other side of the doors, many residents said, was anything but democratic.

She steamrolled her bylaws through despite telling the resident the following just a few weeks ago:

“You have my commitment that this is not going to be rushed through and I’m going to tell you, we often hear when we have given public information meetings, whether it’s in July or August, that people are on vacation. People are not even interested because they’re busy in their backyard with their barbecues. So no, we won’t have a vote. We’re going to have our public sessions. I think there’s lots of work to do here.”

The clip of the video of the Bolton meeting where Groves made her promise was played by Mezzapelli, the former Bolton councillor, who then admonished the mayor for using claims about staff to undermine the public. 

“Do not insult staff by pinning this on them,” he said.

Ross added, “You are our council and if you take part in a vote tonight, you are breaking your promise that it wouldn’t be a summer vote.”

Groves and staff claimed the approval for 35,000 homes would not negatively impact the Greenbelt “in any manner”.

A large majority of the land in parcel A7 is Greenbelt land and was the only parcel referred back to staff for further study.

“Does Council really think that plunking down so much development on lands in some of these applications, some of which are adjacent to or include the Greenbelt, are going to cease to impact the surrounding area just because the property line says so?” Erica McNeice asked. 

The vast majority of the 35,000 homes now approved for development will be built right next to the Greenbelt, which provides justification for developers and politicians to continue the domino of construction into the largest protected stretch of greenspace in the world. 

What Groves vowed to fight against when she ran to be mayor in 2022, has now been done by the very same person. 

Caledon voters promised on Tuesday to make sure she is not around in two years to see her scheme through.

“And that will be your legacy,” Ross said, “as you go home to your family tonight, and talk to voters before the next election.”

Email: rachel.morgan@thepointer.com

Twitter: @rachelnadia_

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By Rachel Morgan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 27, 2024 at 13:10

This item reprinted with permission from   The Pointer   Mississauga, Ontario
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