Grassroots organizations team up to fight MZO in Wilmot Township

After battling a Minister’s Zoning Order in their own communities, several grassroots organizations are taking on another proposed MZO fight in Wilmot Township.

In early January, council members were presented with a proposal for a patch of farm land between New Hamburg and Baden.

An MZO is a planning tool used by the province to bypass local planning procedures. They are typically used in an urgent or emergency situation. Over the last three years, brought on in part because of the pandemic, the MZO’s scope has expanded to include economic recovery, the creation of long-term care spaces and an increase to the housing supply.

The MZO request in Wilmot Township has been put forward by Catchet Developments. They hope to build between 1,200 and 1,500 homes on a 106-acre plot. The development plan includes retail space, offices, senior living and a medical centre. Cachet has also proposed a number of affordable housing units.

The land in question is currently zoned as agricultural, and is not in the township's current urban boundary.

Local residents are concerned an MZO would take planning control out of the hands of elected officials.

“This is a massive development that needs all of our engagement, and community input, and broad spectrum of feedback,” said Wilmot resident Kevin Thomason.

He's one of the residents leading the fight against the MZO, and feels like there's no rush to make a decision on these properties that are years away from development.

“The bottom line is we shouldn’t be rushing such important decisions, bypassing all the proper planning processes simply to try to get the approvals now while we can,” Thomason said.

Thomason and other Wilmot residents are not alone. Several other local grassroots group, with their own battle scars from an MZO fight, are joining their cause.

“For these communities, when it happens for most of them, it’s their first time," said Mike Balkwill, the campaign director for Water Watchers. "These developers they have a playbook for counteracting community organization. We have done this before, we also have a playbook.”

Water Watchers, a group formed in Wellington County, has joined with Get Concerned Stratford, Blair Engaged, Citizens for Safe Groundwater, and Grand River Environmental Network in opposing this MZO.

The community groups are pooling their resources, advice and expertise in fighting large development companies. Balkwill says taking on these well-funded groups takes creativity and passion.

“There are many Goliaths, so all the local David’s need to work together. You need many slingshots and many small pebbles.”

Resident of Wilmot Township have until Jan. 28th to submit their comments. Council is expected to make a decision on Feb. 28th.