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Concerns raised about removal from Greenbelt of potential Ontario hospital site


A pair of King Township councillors are the latest to express concern about the provincial government's plans to remove parts of Ontario's protected Greenbelt to build housing, as another leader calls for the police to step in.

Weeks after embracing a proposal to build a hospital on a parcel of land in King Township that’s among those slated to be removed from the Greenbelt, the councillors are now wondering what else could be built there.

That’s because records show the land where the hospital could go was sold for $80 million two months before the announcement it might be removed from the Greenbelt — among several properties whose relatively recent purchasers are political donors to the governing Progressive Conservative Party.

The councillors are worried that recouping that investment would require significant development on the formerly protected parcels, which has them concerned the hospital could be accompanied by urban sprawl.

“Is this province going to do something good or is this a land grab? Allowing the people who own these chunks of land to do what they would not be allowed to do? We need a conversation and a clarification,” said councillor Avia Eek in an interview with CTV News.

Eek, a farmer herself, said she supports a hospital but wants the provincial government to slow down and consider all options for development that could include land already slated for housing growth that wouldn’t touch protected farmland.

Fellow councillor Debbie Schaefer told CTV News she hoped the hospital would go through but worried about any effect on the Greenbelt.

“I’m certainly very concerned about what this will enable to happen on property adjacent to the hospital,” she said. “We need to stay within our urban boundaries, because that is the only way we’re going to have sustainable communities. And pushing way out into the rural areas beyond the urban boundaries is just sprawl.”

The land is on Bathhurst Street next to the boundary with Newmarket, making it ideal for a new location for Southlake Regional Health Centre. The hospital has received a $5 million grant from the provincial government and is on the hunt for up to 100 acres of land to build on, the hospital said in a statement.

All appeared to be lining up to make that King Township property a possible site, according to a township resolution in November, which said “the landowner has made a commitment to provide the necessary lands for the Southlake Regional Health Centre for a nominal fee.”

Records show the property was owned by one company since 1958. Then in September, it sold for $80 million to Green Lane Bathurst GP Inc., a company connected to developer Rice Group. That company and its principal Michael Rice appear to have given over $15,000 and counting to the PC Party since 2016, including to the leadership campaign of Doug Ford. The company has also given some $35,350 to the provincial Liberals between 2014 and 2017.

The Opposition NDP have alleged in the legislature there were more than $500,000 in donations from the owners of all properties, and have asked for the auditor general to investigate. The Green Party has also asked for the Integrity Commissioner to examine how the properties were picked.

And former Toronto Mayor David Miller called for a police investigation, writing on Twitter, “It is not possible to believe these land speculators paid tens of millions for land that could not be developed without knowing the Greenbelt protections would be removed.”

CTV News reached out to the OPP to ask if there is an investigation under way but did not hear back. Questions to Ontario’s Attorney General about whether there is a special prosecutor were returned with a short statement: “These claims are entirely baseless and without merit.”

The governing PC party has said it is trying to open up land for development to solve the province’s housing crisis.

“The proposed changes to the greenbelt would result in its overall expansion by approximately 2,000 acres, as well as the creation of at least 50,000 new homes. At the same time, we have the most ambitious plan for hospital expansion in Ontario’s history. Strengthening health care and tackling the housing supply crisis are not at odds, they are part of the government’s plan to build a better and brighter future for families,” said a Municipal Affairs and Housing Ministry spokesperson.

Reached at a press conference Friday morning, the premier focused on the positives of the possible hospital construction.

“South Lake is putting together plans, and submitting them to the health ministry. It’s one of our priorities,” he said.

“Folks, there’s never been more money spent on infrastructure and hospital in the history of this country, of this province.” Top Stories

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