Conservation areas could change hands sooner under new housing rules

McEwen Park

New provincial rules make it easier to transfer two parks from the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority to the Town of Plympton-Wyoming.

But the rules have also sparked a conversation about the all land owned by the authority.

Plympton-Wyoming has been trying to reclaim both McEwen Conservation Area and Highland Glen but it hasn’t been easy.

Plympton-Wyoming requested McEwen Park be turned over five years ago. At the time, politicians weren’t satisfied they were getting the most for the $12,000 they contributed to the maintanence of the park.

The former township of Plympton turned over what was then called Plympton Park to the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority in the 1980s for $1. It also turned over Highland Glen. The idea was the conservation authority was better equipped to care for the lakefront park.

But over time, Plympton-Wyoming paid the majority of the costs to maintain the park even though the conservation authority does the work. 

The town has an operating agreement for McEwen, but provincial approval to officially turn over the park has not been received yet.

While that process was in place, the town asked for Highland Glen to be turned over to the municipality after concerns the boat launch had not been repaired.

It was out of commission for nearly three years while the conservation authority studied what should be done and eventually turned down the solution which was presented.

Plympton-Wyoming now has an operating agreement for Highland Glen and has completed repairs on the boat ramp. 

It’s now working on upgrading the parking lot and fixing the on site washrooms. It too remains in limbo with the province.

But St. Clair Region Conservation Authority General Manager Ken Phillips says part of the Build More Homes Faster Act may help move the process along. 

In a report to the board, Phillips says “following recent changes to the Conservation Authorities Act, Minister’s approval is no longer required.”

Phillips says the conservation authority will have to hold a public consultation for 45 days. Those comments will be included in a written notice sent to the minister at least 90 days before the land will be turned over.

Plympton-Wyoming Mayor Gary Atkinson hopes this will finally result in the town actually owning the parks.

“If there’s a public process where the public has an opportunity to comment on that, I do expect that it will be fairly favorable that you won’t have anyone saying no, don’t transfer this land,” says Atkinson.

“People are looking forward to number one, a facility or a place that they can go with their family. And also as well, the boat launching, that seems to be something that they’re that’s been talked about that a lot of people are looking forward to.”

The new rules have also prompted Dawn-Euphemia Mayor Al Broad to ask for the conservation authority to consider turning the Shetland Conservation Authority back to the municipality. 

It was turned over to the authority in the 1960s with the intent that it be continued to be used by the community as a park. In 2020, Dawn-Euphemia council asked to take it over again, but was denied.

“My council’s question is why? What’s the difference between giving (Plympton-Wyoming) those two properties? My council asked for the Shetland Park and it was denied,” says Broad.

He asked administration for a report on the issue. But Petrolia Mayor Brad Loosley wanted a broader approach taken.

“I think they should also look at other areas that – maybe like those properties – that the conservation really doesn’t have a lot of concern with, to look at any other possible properties that they could maybe be passed over.”

Municipalities are asking for the conservation areas just as the province – in the same legislation – tells conservation authorities they may lose some of their property to housing.

As part of the Building More Homes Faster Act, conservation authorities have to submit a list of lands suitable for development of housing to the province. It’s believed the province could force the bodies to sell the land to developers to accomplish the goal of building 1.5 million new homes in the next 10 years.

Phillips has been raising that issue with municipal governments during a tour he’s been making of the member municipalities. But, he has told local leaders the St. Clair Region has very little land that could be ripe for development.

He suspects if conservation land is used for housing, it would be in the Greater Toronto Area.