Outdoor Wedding Facility Ruling: Textbook Case Why We Must Defend & Enhance Key Environmental Protection Laws

Feb 3, 2014

At CCKT we are focusing our efforts behind the upcoming 2015 Reviews of the Moraine, Greenbelt and Niagara Escarpment plans.  The “Eliopolous” case (named after the property owner, Peter Eliopolous) is for many reasons a bell weather why it’s so critical to King, plus the regions these plans encompass, to ensure they remain in effect, stronger and more clearly defined.

70% of King is on the Moraine and the other 30% is Greenbelt: Our rural lifestyle and value of the environment and green space depend on them.

The trick about this case is that on first read, it seems quite simple:  The Ontario Municipal Board decided that a banquet facility is not a recreational use, but a commercial one. As an environment-first Provincial regulation, the ORMCP directs commercial development like this facility to our towns and villages where we have water services, roads and the need for commercial development.  This recreational decision is indeed important, and in fact, would have represented a very dangerous precedent for all Oak Ridges Moraine lands.  I spoke on behalf of CCKT as a lay witness at the hearing and we’re delighted in the Board Chair’s decision.  And hurray to our good friends at Stewards of the Moraine for organizing and advocating their interests so well.

Everybody can go home now, game over.    Not quite …..

There is so much more to this development application that offends just about every value we hold dear to us at CCKT.  It is a beacon for why we must defend and strengthen the legislation and plans that protect our valuable Greenbelt and Moraine lands in the upcoming 2015 Reviews.

We’ve been watching and engaged in this application for several year now.  It’s a complicated one because the Township has some blood on its hands for failing to properly enforce our bylaws over a period of several years, that saw Eliopolous severely damage what were prime agricultural lands, only to be re-classified to a “rural” designation by the Region.

This 100-care parcel was a Ginseng farm at one time, prior to Eliopolous acquiring the land some fifteen or more years ago.  Agricultural land is valuable: it’s a diminishing resource, especially on the Moraine where soil cover is fragile.  Eliopolous took it upon himself to create a large “canal” feature on the property, digging a large trench across a significant length of the property and significantly damaging its agricultural value.  It’s so large you can see this dry canal feature in aerial photographs.  The Township dickered back and forth over several years and didn’t impose a Stop Work Order on his lands until long after the canal work was finished. Exactly why the Township didn’t issue the order as soon as it became aware of the illegal work, no one has said.

The damage was done.  

It became a matter before current King Council whether Eliopolous could be compelled to return the lands back to their agricultural state.  The Township sought a legal opinion on this question, and what came back was:  no.  The Region re-classified the lands as “rural” (which allows a wider number of uses, including “recreational”) and for this and other reasons, there was little chance of winning.  Mr. Eliopolous won his first battle in seeking his vision for an outdoor wedding venue:  Degrade the lands without a permit, and in doing so, escape retribution and get your lands reclassified to include the very use you are seeking.  

Lesson to Township:  Monitor and enforce your bylaws, early and unequivocally.

During this time the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act and its accompanying Conservation Plan came into effect. Note the key word: This is a “conservation” plan, particularly with regard to water, as the Moraine feeds so many aquifers and tributaries underneath it and to our surrounding populations.  Also, it’s important to note what it’s not: an economic or growth plan (we have separate plans for those). All this means, broadly speaking, is that lands on the Moraine can only be developed if they maintain and improve the hydrological and other natural features of the Moraine.  No damaging and downgrading of agricultural lands.  And no major construction of facilities that would negatively impact water conservation.

The Eliopolous lands happen to be rated as having high aquifer vulnerability, making development particularly sensitive in light of the facility’s need for lots of water to supply the canal, facility equipment, landscaping needs, etc.   Not only would large amounts be extracted on a daily basis (just shy of 50,000 litres per day, which interestingly, is just shy of the requirement for a water permit!), the risk of water contamination is a large concern, especially so for surrounding landowners who depend on wells.

In essence, if there is a case that shows the importance of protecting Moraine (and Greenbelt and Niagara Escarpment) lands from damage in these regards, this is it.   The case failed for good reason because the development was rightly considered a commercial use, not recreational.

But let’s not kid ourselves:  we got lucky with this one.

It could have gone the other way, in which case developers would have been given a formula for building large commercial enterprises on the Moraine, disguised as “recreation”.  The definition of “recreational use” needs to be significantly narrowed and further defined in the Moraine Plan to be sure, this is but one example.

CCKT will be working hard leading up to and including the 2015 Reviews to ensure our voices are heard so that our valuable lands will continue to be protected.

Greg Locke
Chair, Concerned Citizens of King Township