In July Skydevco, the proponent of a controversial mixed residential development proposal on the former Knights flooring factory property on Boucher Street, appealed to the Ontario Land Tribunal, halting council discussion of their zoning amendment request, and at the Monday, September 26 meeting of council, staff advised council that a second developer, AvranceCorp Developments, has also taken their file to the OLT.
“The purpose of this report is to advise Council on the status of a Ontario Land Tribunal Appeal received by the Municipality,” staff advised in a report to council. “The subject applications are for lands that are known as 12 Bayfield St. and 23 & 37 Trowbridge St. E. The grounds for the appeal are that Council did not make a decision on the zoning by-law amendment application within the statutory timeline. As the applicant has submitted an appeal, the decision on the amendment applications will now be made by the Ontario Land Tribunal.”
The proposed five-storey, 160-unit residential building, marketed as the Georgian Harbour Development by the proponent, at the corner of Trowbridge and Bayfield Streets, alongside the Bighead River in Meaford’s harbour area, was the focus of a public planning meeting held on Monday, May 16, at Meaford Hall.
Proponent AvranceCorp Developments, which is also developing a 150-unit building on the former Legion property on Legion Road called Georgian Bay Terrace, is requesting an amendment to Meaford’s Official Plan along with a zoning bylaw amendment in order to proceed with the development. Avrance made a presentation to council outlining the proposed design and amenities for the riverside building at that May public meeting.
Residents and members of council expressed many concerns about the proposal during the public meeting in May.
Concerns expressed included the high density of the proposal which would see 160 units on a small parcel of land, the height of the building, environmental concerns given the property’s proximity to the river, along with significant concern about flooding and the proposal to build a two-level underground parking garage, with some calling the plan “irresponsible”. Residents also noted that the proposed development does not meet the municipality’s Official Plan, while others noted the large scale of the proposed building, which would be among the largest in the municipality.
The move to appeal was somewhat of a surprise given that the week prior, on September 19, AvranceCorp issued a media release suggesting that changes to their riverside harbour area development would address the concerns that had been raised by residents at a public meeting in May.
“AvranceCorp Developments announces newly designed upgrades to the 160-unit luxury accommodations. In addition, the Georgian Bay Harbour Development has been re-imagined with specific design upgrades discussed in the May 2022 public meeting,” AvranceCorp suggested in their September 19 media release. “First and foremost, the AvranceCorp Development team met the public concerns over building in a flood plain by raising the building to two meters above grade. This change will mitigate any possible flood issues identified by the flood plain assessment report independently conducted and prepared by Crozel Consulting Engineers in December 2019, making this project a sound, flood-proof building. In addition, the Georgian Bay Harbour development design now includes four commercial units on the south corner of the building facing Trowbridge and the lake.”
The developer’s press release also suggested that they have added more open spaces including a ‘green courtyard and green roof terrace’, as well as the potential for a new pedestrian road along the Bighead River.
With their appeal to the OLT, AvranceCorp said that the process to approve their zoning amendment request has taken too long.
“At the time of the appeal, the Official Plan Amendment and Zoning By-law Amendments had not been brought forward by staff for Council’s consideration, as there were still items outstanding that were required in order for staff to properly assess the application,” staff explained in their report to council. “As a decision was not made within 120 days of the complete application submission, the property owners appealed to the Ontario Land Tribunal on the basis that the Municipality has not made a decision within the statutory time-frame.”
The move to appeal was frustrating for both members of council and municipal staff. Municipal staff advised council that recent changes to Ontario’s Planning Act will result in increased appeals to the OLT.
“Our concern is that it has removed our ability to work with developers because the time-frames are so tight,” Meaford CAO Rob Armstrong advised council. “We’ve been very successful in the past, with a couple of key developments that could have easily ended up at previous tribunals, however we’ve been able to resolve. Unfortunately with the changes made provincially, it’s handcuffed staff a bit.”
Councillor Steve Bartley asked if municipalities should be lobbying the provincial government to increase the timelines for larger development proposals.
“I might be going up the tree the wrong way here, 120 days is probably ample time to build a house, or to get the planning for a house built, but not something like this. Do we have to go back to the provincial government, send a letter, to try to lobby that for a large development, 120 days is just not enough,” Bartley asked council and staff. “Should we be lobbying the government for that?”
Municipal Clerk Matt Smith suggested that such a letter would be a waste, as the current provincial government has made their intentions for development in the province clear.
“My advice to council on this one, as it is with quite a lot of these things, is that we can, but it perhaps isn’t worth the effort because this government has made it exceptionally clear that their priority is to build more houses, and by passing the legislation they passed earlier in the year, which was specifically designed to make this happen faster, they are going to take one look at a letter that says it should take longer, and throw it in the trash,” Smith suggested.
Later on Monday night, the CEO of AvranceCorp forwarded to The Independent an email he had sent to Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney after Monday’s council meeting.
“We thought it is important for us to provide our 2 cent to the Counsel [sic] on today’s meeting. Please see my response below. I hope you would use a fair and balanced approach when writing your next article,” Samuel Babs, CEO of AvranceCorp Developments, told The Independent in a preamble to the forwarded email.
Babs’s email to Deputy Mayor Keaveney took exception to her suggesting that the developer has made announcements to the public on social media before going through the council process.
“ I thought I should send you a quick friendly reminder just to let you know that I personally brought the Georgian Bay Harbour Project to your attention in June 29th 2021, 7 months prior to advertising the project on Facebook,” the email to the Deputy Mayor began. Babs outlined the process they had undertaken in recent months related to the development proposal. “Right up to the point of finally getting our Public meeting, we had spent roughly close to $1M on this development, which was quite demoralizing to our team. We even went as far as incorporating all the Public comments from the Public Meeting into our design, spending additional thousands of dollars, just to show good will. This was met with no response or comment. This left us with a very little or no choice but to file an appeal to the OLT. I hope this provides a closure on how we got here.”
Babs also indicated that his company is willing to entertain discussions before the appeal.
“The last thing we want is to create any unnecessary headaches or complications to the Counsel [sic]. We are bringing 2 big projects to Meaford that would bring significant growth to the Town, investing millions of dollars of our own hard earned cash that could have been easily redirected elsewhere for much quicker turn around into these developments. We hope the Planning department would see this and move our projects along in a timely manner,” Babs told the Deputy Mayor. “Our lawyers are certainly open to have a “Without Prejudice” discussions with the Staff to amicably resolve this matter without any further escalations.”
Staff advised council that legal counsel has been engaged to represent the municipality.
“Council will need to determine how the Municipality proceeds before the Tribunal and this may require the retention of additional legal counsel. Staff have engaged Elston Watt LLP to represent the Municipality and will continue to monitor the situation and engage in the Tribunal process to ensure that the Municipality’s interests and policies are appropriately represented. As the process unfolds parties will be identified along with their respective issues. Staff will report back to Council seeking further direction in the future once additional details on this appeal are available,” staff advised in their report to council.