Greenlands protection is primarily feature-based, not land-use based

The protection of Greenlands in south-central Ontario is largely based on preserving specific natural heritage features in municipal Official Plans, rather than on controlling land use in Greenlands areas. The two most notable exceptions to this are the Niagara Escarpment and Oak Ridges Moraine plans, which place land use restrictions on relatively large blocks of land, rather than merely on the individual Greenlands features found within them.

Some large areas with unique soil or climatic conditions, such as Holland Marsh in Simcoe County and the tender fruit lands of the Niagara Peninsula, are also given special recognition and are fully protected as significant agricultural lands in Official Plans. However, very few areas in this part of the province have been set aside specifically to protect large swaths of agricultural land or to create broad, connected "Greenbelts" that support recreational activities.

In terms of land use control, the Official Plans reviewed as part of this study invariably recognize significant natural heritage features, and generally discourage development or site alteration from occurring within them. In most instances, however, they do not absolutely prohibit development. Instead, consistent with the direction provided by the Provincial Policy Statements, development or site alteration within most significant natural heritage features or on nearby lands (that is, within a prescribed distance of the features) may be permitted, if it can be demonstrated that this can occur without resulting in any negative impacts on the feature and its functions.

Furthermore, even though significant natural areas are generally given some protection in the text of an Official Plan, in some cases the feature is depicted on an "environmental overlay" to the land use schedule. This means that large tracts of land are designated "Industrial" or "Residential" and the specific Greenlands features (such as a woodlot or watercourse) within such tracts do not have a corresponding designation such as "Environmental Protection." Instead, the underlying "Industrial" or "Residential" designation applies to both the Greenlands feature and the surrounding land. Official Plan policies typically require the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in support of development or a change in land use that might adversely affect the Greenlands feature. This is the only form of protection available to such features.

Land uses permitted within an identified Greenland feature varies by municipality. For example, the County of Simcoe is an upper-tier municipality that uses the term "Greenland" as one of its Official Plan land use designations. However, with the exception of Provincially Significant Wetlands, the Official Plan permits the following activities in a Greenland designation, subject to the findings of an EIS: agriculture, resource extraction, institutional uses, highway commercial establishments, recreational facilities, residential lots created by consent, and residential subdivisions of up to a maximum of 20 lots.