Lawyer defends greenbelt land swap
opposition based on self-interest
by Phinjo Gombu
Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/News/article/178971
Feb. 7, 2007
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Developers who have expressed concern about the environmental
impact of building a massive community in north Pickering
are concerned about their own interests, not the environment,
a provincial government lawyer told a panel of judges yesterday.
Jack Coop, who represents the Ministry of Environment, made
the allegation at a judicial review of the environmental assessment
done for a controversial land swap between developers and
Queen's Park involving land in the Oak Ridges Moraine in Richmond
Hill for the Seaton lands in Pickering.
In particular, Coop targeted developer Silvio DeGasperis
– the man behind the court challenge – who wants
to build on thousands of hectares of land he owns adjacent
to the Seaton lands but can't because they were included in
the province's protected greenbelt last year.
"Their only concern is that they want to develop (their)
land," Coop told the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
"That's what they are hot and bothered about. Their true
interest is to use the court to pressure the (government)
to develop on their lands."
Coop said proof lies in the fact that throughout an extensive
province-wide planning process initiated by the government
in 2003, DeGasperis and his partners never said anything about
the dangers of development on the Seaton lands; their only
concern was to be allowed to build on their lands, the Duffins
Rouge Agricultural Preserve.
In court documents, he said environmental concerns about
Seaton mask a "hidden political and financial interest"
because the province decided to include the Duffins Rouge
lands around the hamlet of Cherrywood in the provincial greenbelt.
It was done despite support for DeGasperis' development proposal
from the Town of Pickering.
The Liberals proposed the controversial swap to reduce development
on the Oak Ridges Moraine, considered an environmentally sensitive
stretch of land from which all of Toronto's watersheds originate.
It forms a key part of the province's protected greenbelt
which stretches around the Golden Horseshoe.
DeGasperis' lawyers say the environmental assessment on the
Seaton lands – first expropriated by the government
in the 1970s for a planned airport and community – that
was conducted by the Ontario Realty Corporation on behalf
of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing was flawed.
His lawyers also allege in court the real scope of a complicated
land swap was hidden from both the Ministry of the Environment
and the realty corporation and resulted in a "process"
that didn't undergo a full environmental assessment hearing.
The government argues the swap is exempt from the assessment
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