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Lots of questions remain about proposed Greenbelt expansion (4 photos)

Will an expanded Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt bring more and better protection or lack teeth and duplicate current legislation?
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The devil is in the details, said Guelph-Eramosa Township Mayor Chris White Tuesday night, surveying the many billboards full of maps and information crowding the room

Roughly 200 people turned out to the Italian Canadian Club for an open house put on by the Ministry of Municipal affairs that allowed people to gather more information and ask questions of ministry staff about the area being studied for proposed expansion of the Greater Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt.

"There's some concern that we make sure that what's being done is not a duplication," White said. "If you've already got protection through the various levels of legislation, hopefully you're not just adding another layer of paperwork on top of something that already exists.

"The intention is wonderful, we want to have clean water. The real question we would have, is what's the difference?"

At this point, that's unknown. No new boundaries have yet been proposed.

The current Greenbelt, established in 2005, protects 533,000 acres of waterways, wetlands and agriculture property from development, stretching from Cobourg to the east, Tobermory to the north and Niagara to the south.

The province wants to know if it missed anything, if the current study area being considered for expansion is big enough and if all waterways that should be included are included.

"There's some concern that we make sure that what's being done is not a duplication," White said of the early stages of the work.

Those in attendance ranged from farmers still wearing their rubber boots from a day of work to developers in suits.

It is one of six open houses being held in the areas where the proposed Greater Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt expansion is being considered.

It is the community engagement process. The province will then come up with proposals (no timeline has been announced) and then further community and stakeholder engagement will take place.

Donna Jennison said she attended Tuesday's open house because she is very interested in protecting the land and the waterways from development, be it aggregate companies or real estate developers.

"As our population grows, those pressures are just going to increase as time goes on. If we don't identify and protect these really vital and important natural areas, waterways and farmlands, then we're destroying our future," Jennison said.

White said the initial Greenbelt legislation caused some issues for some members of the agriculture community, through additional fees and red tape, and there is a concern the Greenbelt expansion could mean the same.

"When the first Greenbelt came out there were some farmers looking for compensation because their land use had changed," he said.

"The devil's in the details," he said. "What does this look like when you roll it out? Because I don't think anyone's going to argue with the concept," White said.

Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner said the expansion of the Greenbelt is "critical," but said it doesn't go far enough because other legislation overrules it and other protective legislation.

He was also disappointed that Tuesday's open house didn't include a presentation by the ministry or a chance for questions.

"The turnout tonight shows that people in Guelph clearly want to talk about how to protect our water. The government failed to provide a forum for that conversation to happen," Schreiner said, although there were many ministry staff available for one-on-one discussions.

Anna MacDonald, a manager with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs' policy planning branch, said the current engagement process began in December and runs until March 7.

"This is just a study area right now .... once the consultation period closes the government will take a look at all the feedback and make a decision from there," MacDonald said.

People can voice their opinions on the Greenbelt expansion through a variety of ways, and get a more detailed overview of the process, at Ontario.ca/greenbelt.




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