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Urban sprawl threatens Ontario's Greenbelt

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Niagara wetlands

Through a combination of the Greenbelt and provincial interventions at the Ontario Municipal Board, (OMB), the Niagara Region has been largely protected from the threat of urban sprawl. There is one area however, that remains vulnerable to sprawl which is not justified in a region that has a housing supply of over 40 years. It has been termed by the late dairy farmer, Peter Grandoni, as the "Black Belt" of Niagara, as developers claim a loophole of being exempted through grandfathering from the Ontario government’s Growth Management Plan. Grandoni saw this loophole as a way speculators could beat up the rural landscape of Niagara, chewing up its forests and polluting its streams.

The area which is threatened by sprawl consists of around 500 acres which are currently zoned and designated as good general agricultural land. It is immediately south of the Greenbelt currently established by the Niagara Escarpment Plan at Mountain Road.  It has the right soil and climate for grape growing which takes place immediately north of Mountain Road within the Greenbelt. It has some of the best microclimate for grape growing and the soils are Class One Oneida Sandy Clay Loam. It is proposed to be urbanized through two amendments to the Niagara Regional Policy Plan, one of which amendment 196 has now been appealed to the OMB by the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) and Peter's sister, Jean Grandoni.

In addition to being excellent grape land the threatened Black Belt contains three Carolinian forests, some of which contain extensive wetlands, they support rare Buttonbush communities. The urbanization if approved would impact the headwaters of the Beaverdams Creek an important component of the provincially significant wetlands of the Welland Canal Turning Basin. A threatened species with breeding habitat in this area is the Tufted Titmouse, and Wood Thrush, which require intact forests in rural areas. Other threatened species here are the Barn Owl and Grey Fox.

One of the worst aspects of the proposed urban expansion is that it would eliminate a corridor for wildlife movement between the Niagara Escarpment and the Welland River. Currently the mix of forests and farmlands between these two predominately forested areas provide a good way for wildlife such a deer to roam. If this area is urbanized, wildlife movement would be cut by a wall of cement stretching from the Welland Canal to the Niagara River. The Sierra Club of Ontario is pleased to be working with Jean Grandoni, PALS, the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment and the Niagara Falls Nature Club to protect this significant area.

Image: Sierra Club of Ontario

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