‘It makes no sense’: Residents and environmental campaigners react to the erosion of Grimsby’s Greenbelt

For two slices of land in Grimsby, the permanent protection that was supposed to be offered by the Greenbelt may not be so permanent as the province looks to remove and redesignate the protected land.

For residents and environmental groups, the move has caused concern about natural heritage, farmland, wildlife and infrastructure.

As the population of Ontario grows rapidly, Doug Ford’s government is trying to build houses to accommodate all the newcomers.

In a two-pronged approach, the government has introduced Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, and is removing and redesignating sections of Greenbelt land to open them up for rapid development.

Under the Greenbelt proposals, 15 areas of land totalling 7,400 acres will be removed from the Greenbelt.

In Grimsby, two parcels of land are affected. One is an area bordered by Kelson Avenue North, Main Street West, Oakes Road North and the rail line to the north. That area, which is currently listed as specialty crop land, will be removed from the Greenbelt.

The other is the land immediately west of the Grimsby-on-the-Lake development, bordered by Winston Road and Hunter Road. That area will be redesignated from specialty crop land to town/village land.

The province proposed to balance the removals by assigning an area in Erin as Greenbelt.

But for Liz Benneian, executive director of Ontariogreen, a conservation group based in West Niagara, the proposals represent a concerning erosion of protected land.

“It’s very concerning that the provincial government is taking land out of a ‘protected forever’ (system),” she said.

The proposals for Grimsby are especially puzzling since it is prime agricultural land. For Benneian, removing valued farmland at a time when the world’s food supply is precarious is concerning.

“It makes no sense to destroy this wonderful farmland,” she said.

Under the proposals, the land opened to development will be built upon quickly. The government expects that construction on the land should start no later than 2025. If not, the land could be restored to the Greenbelt.

The province says that if the proposals are adopted, it will result in the construction of 50,000 or more new homes in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

And while residents in the area understand that the housing crisis must be tackled, there are concerns that the targeted land in Grimsby is not suitable.

Jessica Randall, who lives next to the area bordered by Oakes Road and Main Street West, has concerns about the impact on traffic and local wildlife.

“We’re really concerned about what this could impact,” she said.

For instance, there is a pack of coyotes and deer that live in that parcel of land, which is surrounded by development. As construction swallows up their habitat, Randall is concerned about what will happen to the wildlife.

“We have to understand that we’re going into their space,” she said.

She’s also concerned about how the small local roads off Main Street West will cope if large developments spring up.

Ryan Lebel, who lives just across the rail line to the north on Winston Road, is concerned about how the proposals will impact infrastructure.

He says that the water ditches are already at capacity and is worried that future development could put a strain on a system that is already on the brink.

“Winston (Road) can’t handle the volume,” he said. “There needs to be an infrastructure update.”

He’s also worried about the erosion of green spaces already disappearing from the area, especially since the areas in question are prime agricultural land.

For Benneian, not only does it represent the erosion of valuable farmland, but she’s also concerned that the piecemeal erosion of the Greenbelt is a slippery slope.

“(It could) end up destroying the integrity of the Greenbelt,” she said.

Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News