Ontario begins process of returning 2 Ajax properties to Greenbelt

An aerial view of protected farmland in the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve in Pickering, Ont., that the provincial government has removed from the Greenbelt to allow housing development. The Ontario government said Wednesday it had begun the process to return two nearby properties in Ajax, Ont., to the Greenbelt which had been slated for development. (Patrick Morrell/CBC News - image credit)

The Ontario government says it has begun the process of returning two properties in Ajax, Ont., to the Greenbelt after the owner listed them for sale.

In a news release Wednesday, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said the decision to reinstate environmental protections on the two properties — located at 765 and 775 Kingston Rd. E. — comes after the property owner indicated in its listing that some of the lands could be used for a business park rather than homes.

News of the properties' return comes the same day Ontario's integrity commissioner found Housing Minister Steve Clark failed to properly oversee the process that led to protected Greenbelt lands being selected for housing development, leading to the private interests of certain developers to seep into the project.

"The government's intention in amending the Greenbelt boundaries has always been to increase the supply and affordability of homes by building at least 50,000 homes quickly, while also expanding the overall size of the Greenbelt," the ministry said in a news release Wednesday.

"Any attempt to sell these lands or otherwise profit from this decision without building the homes Ontario residents rightly expect runs contrary to the government's intentions and will not be tolerated."

The two Ajax properties together formed one of the 15 sites the province removed from the Greenbelt last December to build housing.

The ministry said the owner's intention to sell or change the ownership structure of the Ajax properties was never disclosed to the province.

"This lack of transparency raises serious concerns about the owner's ability to meet the government's expectation that homes be built in a timely manner, including the need to show meaningful progress before the end of year," the province said.

The ministry said Wednesday it would launch a 45-day process to consult the public on the return of the Ajax land to the Greenbelt, and would ensure Indigenous communities are "appropriately engaged."

However, a representative for the landowner suggested on Tuesday there had been a misunderstanding, saying the international owner was seeking an experienced development partner and "at no time was the property going to be sold outright."

John Dong, a real estate agent with Homelife New World Realty, said his client was attempting to find a "joint venture partner" with the requisite experience to develop the land in line with the government's goal of getting shovels in the ground by 2025.

The province said it will inform the other owners who had parcels of land removed from the Greenbelt that they need to inform the Office of the Provincial Land and Development Facilitator of any potential transactions.

"Any actions that stand in the way of building homes quickly on these lands will not be tolerated," the release said.