Last week, the Durham Planning and Economic Development Committee endorsed a developer-recommended growth scenario to urbanize 2,600 hectares of farmland in the region. This number is approximately 175% more than the 950 hectares recommended by Regional Planning staff and their consultant.

This short-sighted decision was made in spite of calls from professional regional planning staff, three regional advisory bodies (Durham Region Roundtable on Climate Change, Durham Environmental Advisory Committee and Durham Agricultural Advisory Committee) and considerable public input to protect and conserve our prime agricultural and rural systems on the outer rim of the region by limiting expansion to zero or only what is needed, and promoting more compact and higher density communities.

According to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Ontario is losing farmland to urban development at a rate of 70 hectares a day, the equivalent of five family farms each week. This loss is unstainable, period. It is derailing greenhouse gas emissions goals, impacting finite resources and natural heritage, causing flooding issues and damage, reducing local food production and triggering undue financial stress on municipalities.

We must limit the temptation to leap frog to new community areas and grow haphazardly when our focus should be on diversifying the housing supply, supporting our downtowns, and developing along existing and planned transit corridors. In the report to committee, the region’s top planner notes any phasing of new growth should be undertaken in an orderly and sequential manner.

If the 2,600 hectares is endorsed by the majority of Regional Council on May 25, we leave the door wide open for irreplaceable land and systems like the headwaters of the Carruthers Creek (which is surrounded by Greenbelt) to be paved over. The headwaters sits directly above the Town of Ajax, and if urbanized to house 60,000 people, it could cause serious downstream flooding. In this case, developers are only proposing minimum measures to mitigate the negative impacts. Why take the risk?

Ajax Council believes the right choice to prepare for climate change, achieve sustainable development, address affordable housing needs, and create walkable transit-oriented communities is to grow in contiguous manner based on need. 

2,600 hectares of farmland is more than a number.