Back Story: To York Administrative Centre to see the Regional Council decide its submission to the Provincial review of three key plans: the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe; the Greenbelt Plan and the Oak Ridges Conservation Plan. This is Phase 1. In the second phase, sometime in the Fall, the Province will propose amendments to the Plans. York’s Chief Planner, Valerie Shuttleworth, is hoping for a six month consultation period. Today we hear from deputations. Then there is an open debate and then the vote on a long list of recommendations drawn up by the Chief Planner. It is a big agenda.

Deputations Galore

Today (28 May) is the deadline for comments and the Council Chamber is packed with deputations and supplicants: the environmentalists, the NIMBYs, the developers and their parasitic agents. The lawyers and planners.

The Regional Chair, Wayne Emmerson, enjoys the limelight. He conducts the Council’s business with a light touch. He opens by warning us not to be misled by the story in the Toronto Star which suggests the region could give in to land hungry developers, allowing them to swallow chunks of the Greenbelt.

As if!

I have a feeling in my bones that today, after months of Trappist silence, Newmarket’s Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, might actually say something.

The sound of silence

The 5 minute deputations come and go, wave after wave. I find myself wondering if they make a difference, before dismissing the notion as quite preposterous!

The councillors sit there, mute. When we get to deputation number 12, Mr Bobby Bhoola, implores them to ask him something. “If you don’t ask questions you are not going to get educated!” His plea falls on deaf ears.

Now I hear Emmerson telling councillors he wants to send something down to Queen’s Park that is “credible”.

Markham’s Regional Councillor, Jack Heath, tells us his heart goes out to those people at Queen’s Park who will have to sift through this mountain of material, looking for gold nuggets.

Valerie Shuttleworth has produced a list of 35 recommendations, printed on lime green paper, to help guide discussions. Alongside these, sits a mass of paperwork from municipalities, landowners, deputations and the like which will also be dumped into the lap of the Province.

Newmarket’s John Taylor wants to know the status of what is being submitted. He enjoys process and making sure that everything is just tickety-boo. Are some submissions getting the Region’s seal of approval? If so, why? He loves this procedural stuff.

Mayor Scarpitti casts a long shadow

Frank Scarpitti, the highest paid Mayor in Ontario, is getting concerned about Taylor’s line of questioning. He starts to paw the ground. Scarpitti wants the Region to specifically endorse positions taken by Markham Council.

Georgina’s Mayor Margaret Quirk does not want the Region to endorse submissions from outside – whether organizations or municipalities. The Region should act as a mail box and just forward the stuff on.

Now we are bouncing around all over the place and she is agreeing with East Gwillimbury’s Virginia Hackson that action has to be taken to crack down on illegal dumping and welcomes the new recommendation 35.

“The Province provide enforcement assistance and/or additional resources to local municipalities to address illegal placement of fill, dumping and outside storage on rural and agricultural lands within the Plan areas.”

I agree. Some of the biggest eyesores can be seen on so-called agricultural land. Rusting tractors and abandoned machinery disfiguring the rural landscape.

Now Richmond Hill’s Vita Spatafora is wondering how they reconcile conflicts between the plans. Shuttleworth points him to Recommendation 30.

“The Province (should) reconcile policies, terminology and mapping within legislation and plans to ensure they align.”

What is agriculture?

Spatafora is now thinking aloud. Hydroponics. Is that agriculture?

Shuttleworth is stumped. “I’m just a city girl.”

He tries again. What about growing medical marijuana?

"I don't know. I'm not a pot head."  (I made that up.)

Now Markham's forensic Jack Heath picks up on a point made by one of the deputants, Karen Baker from Whitchurch-Stouffville, who earlier spoke impressively from the lectern without a note in front of her. She told us farmers’ rights were being slowly and silently eroded. They used to be able to build a retirement house on their farm while selling (or passing) the land on. But that is becoming ever more difficult, if not impossible.

Shuttleworth tells us the Regional Official Plan does not provide for severing the land in this way and since 2005 the policy has tightened significantly. Building houses on Grade 1 agricultural land is probably not a good idea though I have some sympathy with the point made by Karen Baker. Who wouldn’t?

The love-in begins

Now the silver-tongued Mayor of Vaughan, Maurizio Bevilacqua, tells Shuttleworth he cannot think of 35 better recommendations than the ones in front of him now. Looking directly at Valerie Shuttleworth he tells her: “You have done an exceptional job!”

Now Richmond Hill’s Brenda Hogg takes us to recommendation 14.

“The Province consider amending the Greenbelt Plan to permit compatible community uses.”

She tells us she has real trouble with this one. We hear how the Greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Moraine conservation area have done wonderful things for our quality of life. They protect water, agriculture and open space. Allowing additional unspecified uses is, she says, premature.

King Mayor, Steve Pellegrini, worries about possible changes in the way rural communities get their water (ie from the lake, perhaps, in future) and dispose of sewage. He echoes points made by earlier deputations that hooking up small towns to big pipes could open the way to unwanted large scale development. Specifically, he wants any mention of Nobleton removed from the text. Recommendation 20 invites

“The Province (to) revisit policies regarding servicing communities in the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Area, in consultation with municipalities and stakeholders.”

Markham can be very demanding

Markham’s Jim Jones is now making the case for the Region to support Markham’s position set out in Attachment 2. He is going on about the significance of the 250 metre contour line that was inaccurately measured years ago. I see lots of furrowed brows.

Now an increasingly forthright Scarpitti is insisting the Region back his municipality on this local issue which involves (so far as I understand it) a property owner whose land apparently went into the Oak Ridges Moraine in error as a result of some kind of surveying mistake years ago.

Now a cheerful Emmerson says: “Val’s under the heat lamp out there.”

Shuttleworth bravely tells Scarpitti Markham’s submission has exactly the same weight as any other submission including York Region’s. (I don’t think so)

Vaughan’s Gino Rosati backs Jones. Now in an unfocussed way he is talking about the high cost of housing.

In a long, rambling contribution, Richmond Hill’s David Barrow says it is important to maintain the integrity of the three plans. Yes. Go on…

Mayor Justin Altmann from Whitchurch-Stouffville seems slightly overwhelmed by the occasion and, in a curiously stilted way, reads out something prepared for him earlier by the people in the Town Hall back home.

Why can’t we build a gigantic Temple in the Greenbelt?

Now the love in continues with Markham’s Joe Li telling Valerie Shuttleworth:

“You are still the best of all the Regional staff!”

This is a good example of the technique commonly known as “softening up”. There is much embarrassed laughter before the smiling Li asks if “compatible uses” in the Greenbelt would include temples or churches covering, with parking, up to 50 acres. He says lots of Chinese people have to travel to Scarborough to get to some gigantic place of worship and it would be convenient having some place closer to home.

Shuttleworth doesn’t want to kick her admirer in the shin. On the matter of “compatibility” she tells him gently:

“We’ve been very general. We were specifically vague. It’s their Plan (the Province). There is an issue and they’ve got to address it.”

Now it is the turn of Vaughan’s regional councilor, Mario Ferri, who tells us how important it is to express our point of view. At this, Tony Van Bynen’s ears prick up. Now Ferri, the innocent abroad, says:

 “This is the exercise of democracy at its best.”

He tells us the more input, the better it is for those who have to make the final decision.

Someone has clearly smacked him on the top of the head with a large wooden mallet. He is seeing things that I don't.

Di Biase thanks everyone for doing what they are paid to do

Now the disgraced Vaughan councilor, Michael Di Biase, is asked by the Chair to wind things up. Di Biase looks at Emmerson and gushes:

“Thanks to you. You provided the leadership. Thank you to the CAO, Mr McGregor. Thank you to Valerie and the staff. Val… You have been so patient, listening to everyone, coming up with great recommendations.”

It is time to vote.

Markham’s Jack Heath is unhappy with recommendation 25:

“The Province develop a process to confirm or correct boundaries associated with the Greenbelt Plan and the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan.”

He tells us he is a member of “Councillors for the Greenbelt”. The recommendation is too open ended he wants the words “minor boundary issues” inserted. Seconded by Brenda Hogg, the amendment is lost 10-8.

Pellegrini wants the reference to Nobleton to come out. Everyone looks at Shuttleworth. They lean on her like a crutch. She says it OK. Nobleton is out.

Markham’s Jim Jones is now mumbling about Markham’s Attachment 2.

The effervescent Wayne Emmerson loudly tells Jones to speak up so we can all hear him:

“You can get closer to the microphone because you’ve lost a lot of weight!”

But now the mood darkens.

Taylor tells us he is going to be blunt. He says that to vote on this would require a great deal more knowledge than he has at the moment. He cautions against taking positions on site specific changes of this nature. “I hope we don’t go down this road.”

He says it is not due process. He is strongly opposed.

Don’t mess with me or my friends

I can see Frank Scarpitti bristling. Back in Markham, he is someone you don’t mess with.

Bravely, Aurora’s Mayor Geoffrey Dawe agrees with Taylor.

Georgina’s Margaret Quirk also supports Taylor. She says the summary of the position in Amendment 2 is the Reader’s Digest version. She is more than comfortable with Markham putting in its own submission without the cover of the Region’s endorsement.

I can see the jugular vein pulsating in Scarpitti’s neck. He is very unhappy. He wants the Region simply to re-affirm something it said back in 2010 on the issue.

Now we are into the vote.

Emmerson declares it carried. York Region will support Markham. Eleven in favour. The Chair doesn’t bother asking for Noes.

Whoa!!!!

Now we hear a demand for a recorded vote.

Taylor - No; Van Bynen - No; Georgina’s Danny Wheeler - No; Aurora’s Dawe – No; East Gwillimbury’s Hackson – No; Markham’s Jack Heath – No; Richmond Hill’s Brenda Hogg – No; King’s Steve Pellegrini – No; Georgina’s Margaret Quirk – No; Richmiond Hill’s Vito Spatafora – No.

Whitchurch-Stouffville’s Justin Altman – Yes; Markham’s Nirmala Armstring – Yes; Richmond Hill’s David Barrow – Yes; Vaughan’s Maurizio Bevilacqua – Yes; Vaughan’s Michael Di Biase – Yes; Vaughan’s Mario Ferri – Yes; Markham’s Jim Jones – Yes; Markham’s Joe Li – Yes; Vaughan’s Gino Rosati – Yes; Markham’s Frank Scarpetti – Yes;

“That’s why I get the big money!”

The Chair, Wayne Emmerson, declares a tie.

“You put me on the spot. That’s why I get the big money!”

He says it is unfortunate the south of the Region is aligned against the north. He votes against Markham.

Now there is some to and fro between Scarpitti and others about his proposal to allow the Greenbelt to be expanded in situations where a municipality comes forward with proposals. I am thinking there must be an ulterior motive here, somewhere. Brenda Hogg says there is already a process for expanding the Greenbelt. Wounded by the earlier vote, Scarpitti petulantly wants this one recorded. It carries 20 – 0.

Now we are back to recommendation 25 on the boundaries of the Greenbelt. Taylor wants the Province to review Greenbelt boundaries while making it clear that the Region takes no new position on individual landowner requests.  Shuttleworth doesn’t have any problems with this. Carried.

Di Biase is all at sea

Now a disorientated Michael Di Biase moves an amendment to recommendation 25 (that has just been amended by Taylor). Emmerson points this out to a bewildered Di Biase who, obviously, has completely blanked out the debate that had happened only moments before.

A slowly drowning Di Biase says he wants the Province to consider developing a process which would allow additional compatible uses in the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine. Everyone is struggling to understand him.

An outraged Heath declares he cannot support anything which would extend Whitebelt into the Greenbelt. “I cannot support this!”

Di Biase cries pitifully: “Ms Shuttleworth, help me!”

She throws him a life-line of sorts. She tells us he wants a review of some uses that are scattered across the moraine. She adds Delphically: “These uses are legal but non-conforming.”

She tells us Di Biase’s proposal will give these landowners a process to make whatever it is they are doing OK.

I am totally mystified. As are others.

Taylor says he can’t support the amendment because he has no idea what kind of uses Di Biase has in mind. It now goes to the vote and is nevertheless carried 11-9.

Yes: Di Biase (Vaughan); Li (Markham); Jones (Markham); Rosati (Vaughan); Scarpitti (Markham); Spatafora (Richmond Hill); Wheeler (Georgina); Altmann (Whitchurch-Stouffville); Barrow (Richmond Hill); Bevilacqua (Vaughan); Ferri (Vaughan).

No: Hogg (Richmond Hill); Pellegrini (King); Quirk (Georgina); Hackson (East Gwillimbury); Heath (Markham); Taylor (Newmarket); Van Bynen (Newmarket); Armstrong (Markham); Dawe (Aurora);

We move on.

Now the Mayor of Whitchurch-Stouffville, the hesitant Justin Altmann, wants to amend recommendation 29 (below) on sunset clauses to exclude strategic employment lands along the 404. Apparently there is an active application there that would get caught up in this.

“The Province consider amending the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act and  Greenbelt Act to include “sunset” clauses.”

Someone wants to extend this to all employment lands along the 400 series of highways. Spatafora says we are exempting too many from the sunset clause. No need to worry. Shuttleworth tells us she only knows of one and this is it.

Van Bynen and Taylor, usually joined at the hip, vote different ways on this. Van Bynen backs Altmann. Taylor doesn’t. The amendment is carried 13-7.

All eyes on Tony Van Bynen

Now, at the tail end of the meeting, Tony Van Bynen has our full attention. It is his moment to shine.

He takes us to Attachment 1 in the big bundle of paperwork– “Local Municipal Issues beyond those articulated at the Regional level.” It says:

“The Province should consider reducing the size of settlement areas to exclude lands undevelopable due to natural features, or currently unserviceable.”

Van Bynen wants lands that are in the moraine that are undevelopable put into the Greenbelt. An exasperated Scarpitti wants to know what it all means.

Instead of explaining what he has in mind – using a concrete example – he timidly withdraws his motion. It is as if he can't be bothered.

I shake my head. He can do better than that.

Emmerson – still jolly after four and more hours in the Chair -  now wraps things up and we all go home.

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