Concerned local residents and conservation groups will be in Ontario Divisional Court today making submissions on a controversial golf course and residential development being proposed on environmentally sensitive lands on the Oak Ridges Moraine in Aurora.
Represented by lawyers from Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund), environmental watchdog Earthroots is intervening in the potentially precedent setting case, which will impact how development appeals that impact environmentally sensitive areas are dealt with in Ontario.
“Ontarians have a perception that when legislation was passed to protect the Oak Ridges Moraine, the law would actually protect the Moraine and the precious water resources it holds,” said Earthroots Campaigner Josh Garfinkel. “This case aims to ensure that decision makers with the appropriate experience and expertise adjudicate Moraine and water protection matters.”
The controversial Westhill Development proposes to build an 18 hole golf course and 75-unit residential complex on environmentally sensitive lands near Leslie Street and Bloomington Road in Aurora, Ontario – home to seven provincially significant wetlands and rare and endangered species. A decision on the project was delayed and then, in early 2008, rejected by the local municipal council in the Town of Aurora.
The developer appealed the matter to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). The issue to be addressed before the Court is whether the appeal should be heard before the OMB alone or by a joint panel of the OMB and the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal, to ensure that both development and environment issues relating to the case are addressed in a coherent manner.
“A consolidated hearing through a joint board is an important means to ensure our environmental laws are properly applied and to provide opportunities for public participation and access to justice in appeals that raise both environment and development-related issues’, said Ecojustice lawyer Hugh Wilkins.