The release of hundreds of Government documents earlier today following Freedom of Information requests by the environmental group EcoJustice sheds new light on the chaotic way in which lands were selected for removal from the Greenbelt.
The report of the Integrity Commissioner revealed that on 27 September 2022 the developer Michael Rice handed over to Ryan Amato, the former Chief of Staff to former Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark, a bundle of documents calling for the removal of the Bathurst lands in King from the protected countryside in the Greenbelt.
We now have these documents.
Rationale for removal of lands from the Greenbelt
The material includes a map showing the lands Rice wanted to see removed from the Greenbelt, the rationale supporting the removal, a summary confirming that consultants had been retained to do environmental and servicing assessments and an explanation of the various servicing options for the site.
The documents from Michael Rice make no mention of the Bathurst lands accommodating a second Southlake.
I admit this leaves me baffled.
Rice could, of course, have offered other lands that he owns in the vicinity as a site for a second Southlake but all the evidence to date points to the Bathurst lands being the preferred location.
Instead of a second Southlake Rice makes the case for:
"a range and mix of housing options including additional residential units and affordable/attainable housing".
The servicing arrangements make no provision for a major hospital.
Elsewhere... I wrote to the Integrity Commissioner on 1 October 2023 asking if he could establish if Ryan Amato knew that Rice was proposing a hospital on the Bathurst lands. (See below and scroll to email)
More to follow.
(click “read more” below for documents).
Email to David Wake, Integrity Commissioner, 1 October 2023
Dear Commissioner Wake
I am writing in connection with your inquiry into whether Ryan Amato, the former Chief of Staff to the former Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, acted contrary to the requirements of the Public Service of Ontario Act, 2006 with respect to his liaisons with land developers and their representatives.
I wrote to you a number of times previously concerning your earlier Inquiry into whether Steve Clark breached the requirements of the Members’ Integrity Act. I focussed on the Greenbelt lands in Bathurst in King which are next door to me here in Newmarket.
I welcomed your report of 30 August 2023 which I read closely. I found it illuminating and very helpful in understanding the sequence of events.
However, it is not clear to me from your own report and from the one from the Auditor General if Ryan Amato knew about the hospital that was planned for the Bathurst lands. And if he did know, what did he do about it? Surely, he had a duty to alert the Ministry of Health that a potential benefactor was prepared to gift land to Southlake for a new hospital?
You interviewed the Mayor of King, Steve Pellegrini, and the Township’s Chief Administrative Officer, Daniel Kostopoulos.
In paragraph 288 you wrote:
“… the Mayor (of King Township) explained that other lands in the vicinity (of the Bathurst site) had already been discussed as a possible hospital site and that if Mr Rice contributed land from his recently purchased property, he (Mayor Pellegrini) believed it would potentially be a viable option for the hospital and a significant benefit for King Township.”
It appears from what you say and from my own research that the “other lands” are contiguous with the Bathurst lands owned by Michael Rice. If this is indeed the case, the lands are owned by John Dunlap, the land agent who facilitated the sale of the Bathurst lands from Bob Schickedanz to Michael Rice. As you know, at the time of the sale Mr Dunlap was a member of the Board of Southlake.
The Township of King has no records of having carried out a search for lands that might be suitable for a new hospital and it has no records of any meetings about this by elected officials other than those involving the Mayor.
The Township’s Official Plan (2019) - which was adopted by Council on 23 September 2019 and approved by York Region on 24 September 2020 - looks ahead to 2031. The Township explains:
The primary purpose of the Official Plan is to provide direction and to set the planning policy framework for managing growth, land use and infrastructure decisions within the Township to the 2031 planning horizon.
The Official Plan makes no mention of any possible development of the Bathurst lands.
We know from the evidence presented to you that:
 Mr. Rice provided Mr. Amato with a document dated September 27, 2022, with a map outlining the area proposed to be removed from the Greenbelt, a rationale supporting the removal, a summary confirming consultants had been retained to do environmental and servicing assessments and an explanation of various servicing options for the site.
Mr Rice told you he was sticking with his commitment to make land available for a new hospital and it follows that the bundle of materials handed over to Mr Amato on 27 or 28 September 2022 would have included a reference to the proposed hospital which would have to be factored into the servicing options for the site.
However, while Mr Rice’s lands were removed from the Greenbelt in December 2022, the adjacent lands owned by John Dunlap retained their designation as prime agricultural land in the Greenbelt’s Protected Countryside.
It seems Mr Amato was negligent in not mentioning the hospital proposal to his team of civil servants who would have pointed out that the proposed hospital straddled the lands owned by Mr Rice and Mr Dunlap and that the latter’s lands too should have been removed from the Greenbelt.
Mr Rice, of course, maintains the position that a new hospital and (possibly) ancillary medical facilities and a long-term care home could be built on the Greenbelt’s protected countryside.
Of course, I have not seen Mr Rice’s map outlining the area proposed to be removed from the Greenbelt nor the rationale supporting the removal nor the various servicing options to be explored by the consultants.
But the rationale must have included references to new housing and to the new hospital.
The fact that Mr Dunlap’s land was not removed from the Greenbelt in December 2022 suggests that Mr Amato
(a) Did not consult the Ministry of Health (who were aware of Southlake’s two-site proposal after the hospital submitted its redevelopment Master Plan on 31 January 2020) or
(b) Believed, like Mr Rice, that a hospital could be built on prime agricultural land in the Greenbelt’s protected countryside.
Either way, it appears that Mr Amato was negligent in failing to flag up the hospital proposal which – according to all professional planning opinion - would have necessitated the removal of Mr Dunlap’s land from the Greenbelt to allow a development to go ahead.
As you know, Mr Rice’s views on what is permitted to be built on the protected countryside in the Greenbelt differs from professional planning opinion as articulated by the Chief Planner of York Region, Paul Freeman.
He is on record saying a new hospital would not be permitted on prime agricultural land in the Greenbelt but would be directed to a settlement area.
I pass these observations on and leave them with you.
Attached is schematic presented to meeting at King Municipal Centre by Michael Rice on 1 November 2022. It was at this meeting that Mr Rice offered land for a new hospital.