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Developers tried to sell Greenbelt properties amid ongoing government discussions, Ford says

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Premier Doug Ford says he is considering placing two properties back into the Ontario Greenbelt after learning that developers quietly listed the land for sale.

The properties combined, located at 765 and 775 Kingston Road East in Ajax, Ont., were one of 15 sites selected for extraction from the Greenbelt in 2022.

According to the premier, at some point during the 30-day consultation process, they were both listed for sale by developers.

”At no point was the intention to sell disclosed to the government’s facilitator during active and ongoing discussions,” Ford said in a statement issued Tuesday morning.

In response, Ford said the government is exploring “every option available,” including putting the land back into the Greenbelt, which was created in 2005 to protect environmentally sensitive lands in the province.

“To the other property owners, you’re on notice: if you don’t meet our government’s conditions, including showing real progress by year end with a plan to get shovels in the ground by 2025, your land will go back into the Greenbelt,” the premier’s statement reads.

In November, the Progressive Conservative government removed about 7,400 acres of land from the Greenbelt for development, while adding about 9,400 acres to the protected land elsewhere.

At the time, the government argued the decision was necessary as part of its pledge to build 1.5 million homes in 10 years. On the Greenbelt land itself, the government said that at least 50,000 homes would be built, with construction beginning no later than 2025.

However an Auditor General’s report released earlier this month said that not only was the development of the Greenbelt not necessary to reach the province’s goal of building 1.5 million homes, but that the decision-making process favoured certain developers—three of which now own about 92 per cent of the previously protected land.

The report also found that criteria for site selection regarding environmental or agricultural issues were removed after it was determined that most of the properties wouldn’t meet the set parameters.

The report showed that some of the sites were also expanded or altered so that they could be considered on the edge of the Greenbelt and fit the government’s criteria for development.

The Ajax site is one of the few properties that did not need “unique consideration”, as it was adjacent to existing settlement areas, adjacent to the edge of the Greenbelt boundaries, and would not result in the removal of specialty crops or natural heritage system lands.

A screenshot of some properties removed from the Greenbelt. (Auditor General's Report)

According to the auditor general, the primary developer responsible for the 133-acre site is Buena Vista Development Corp.

Property records show a large parcel of the land was purchased in June 2018 for about $15.8 million. According to The Canadian Press, a private sales listing says the family who owned the land prior to the sale had started the process of exempting the land from the Greenbelt designation in 2013.

The listing touts the “potential of huge financial reward” and says the land would support a mixed-use development.

It was put up for sale again in February 2022 for $1 but wasn’t sold. A year earlier, the Town of Ajax gave a collection of buildings on the site designated heritage status, which means the town has some control over what is developed there.

The owners of the 15 Greenbelt sites chosen for development could see more than an $8.3 billion increase to the values of their properties.

Ford has previously said he would not be re-evaluating or reversing his decision to develop the Greenbelt.

With files from The Canadian Press

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