All is not well in the Municipality of Meaford. A recent decision by the Ontario Land Tribunal has changed a floodplain zone from Environmental Protection to Downtown Commercial. Obviously, protected land can be purchased at a reduced price by developers with handsome profits to be made by a zoning change.
The subject property is located directly behind the new Meaford Library, includes the existing buildings on Bayfield St., and is bordered on two sides by the Bighead River. The rezoning allows construction of a massive condominium with two levels of underground parking. The intent is to excavate the floodplain to a depth of up to 8.5 meters. The latter measure is well below the nearby riverbed. Boreholes at the site revealed that a 2+5-storey building will rest on a “silty-clay” footing that extends beneath the required foundation level.
The proposed excavation is also proximal to two major sewage lines that cross under the River to reach the municipal sewage treatment plant. Caisson walls to prevent soil collapse and seepage due to hydrostatic pressure from the River are needed during construction. If soil vibrations from pounding caissons damage the nearby sewage lines, then effluent will be released and flow a short distance downstream into Meaford Harbour. Shortly thereafter, it will reach a public bathing beach adjacent to a children’s playground. The proposed excavation is also within the Intake Protection Zone for Meaford’s water supply.
The only assurance given by the developer is the use of “standard construction practices” with an as yet unknown monitoring method to assess vibration damage. Request was made for a surety bond from the developer to get Meaford taxpayers off the hook should liability lawsuits arise from condo collapse or sewage pollution. The request was either dismissed or ignored by the Tribunal.
In addition to the environmental impact of a large excavation, the proposed condominium required a constant electrical feed to serve weeping pipes, scrubbers and sump pumps. The decision apparently avoids these items by making the underground areas “waterproof” in some unknown manner.
There are other interesting features associated with the approval of the proposed development. The height of the structure exceeds the upper limit for a five-storey building because it is not measured from the Bayfield Street grade level. The measure is taken from 181 masl, this being an as yet unidentified point up the Trowbridge St. hill.
Excavation to the current level of the floodplain creates a deep chasm between the Library and the condominium. Who pays for the cost of retaining walls needed to prevent the collapse of the Library parking lot and the municipal sidewalk? A sidewalk handrail will also be needed for the safety of pedestrians.
The forecasted traffic increase is dated because it was done prior to the SkyDev approval. Bayfield and St. Vincent Streets are already a convenient cross-town alternative that avoids the traffic lights on Sykes Street. More traffic will be routed through primarily residential streets, one of these being St. Vincent St. The latter has only a single sidewalk used by children and adolescents going to and from the Georgian Bay Community School.
Despite evidence of an historical interest in the subject property, indigenous representatives were not invited to participate in the Tribunal. Whether or not they were even informed is unknown.
The developer has gained a more private use of municipal land. It appears that the Berry St. road allowance currently used for parking and recreational fishing will be changed into a walking road of unknown dimensions. Is a “walking road” not a contradiction in terms? Is it synonymous with a “vehicular sidewalk”?
A media release was used to announce that a revised proposal “now includes four commercial units on the south corner of the building facing Trowbridge and the lake (sic)”. In fact, the south corner is in the flood-prone area and faces a riverbank.
A massive and towering condominium will be the largest building in the downtown area. It will replace both the Heritage core and waterfront districts as Meaford’s defining features. The staircase roof design for the proposed condominium is also an obvious architectural clash with every building in Meaford.
In September of 2022, the Meaford Independent quoted from a media release issued by the developer that touted the supposed benefits of the proposed condominium. Presented here was an opposing view on the legacy of costs and consequences that follow from the developer’s zoning amendment.
An opposing view is also timely as Ontario’s Greenbelt is not alone in needing protection from the Ford government. Small-town Ontario also needs assistance from regulators such as the Ontario Ombudsman for protection against those who seek to profit at public expense.
Jim Molineux, Meaford