Sunday, June 26, 2022

Managing New Development Will be the Prime Challenge For This Municipality in the Coming Years

Developers have certainly discovered the beautiful Municipality of Meaford, and as a result development proposals along with zoning or official plan amendment requests have been coming in at a pace not seen in this municipality in the past. Many of the development proposals are big, and they are bold, but we all need to remember, a proposal is just a proposal.

During Monday’s Public Planning meeting held at Meaford Hall, yet another developer has put together some big plans along with some big asks of this municipality in order to make their project happen, and so the process begins for another development proposal.

It is worth reminding all of us that just because a development proposal is listed on the municipal website, that doesn’t indicate any support for the proposal or any associated zoning or official plan amendment requests. It simply means that a request has been made. Though some misunderstand the process, the reality is that, as noted by the municipal Director of Development Services, Robert Voigt, at Monday’s meeting, anyone can walk into the municipal administration office with a development proposal and amendment requests, and the vetting process is public throughout, so the project, along with all of the associated documents, is listed on the planning and developments page of the municipal website and a first public planning meeting is held.

I have seen many arrive at these meetings with the misunderstanding that there is support on council or on staff for any given proposal, but that simply isn’t the case. Every application must go through the process, and that begins with receiving documents and requests, and then holding an initial public meeting.

Anyone who attended or watched Monday’s meeting online would have noted that members of council had as many questions and concerns about this most recent proposal as did the ratepayers who took the time to participate in the meeting. The proposal submitted does not meet our Official Plan, it doesn’t meet the spirit of the Official Plan, and the zoning amendment request doesn’t make sense to most of us, including many on council. But the developer has the right to submit their proposal and requests and then go through the process.

As the Director of Development Services noted on Monday, we can’t reject proposals before they even come through the door, and it would not be a very fair system if some proposals were simply rejected by staff before going through the process.

So to residents, when you see a new development proposal surface on the municipal website, check the status of the project. Municipal staff identify the stage in the process of any development project in the municipality, and if it is new, and it has not been before council and the public, the status will show ‘under review’, and if so, understand that at that earliest of stages, no member of municipal staff or council supports or does not support the project because it is simply under review.

The project proposal presented to council and the public on Monday would see a monster of a building constructed at the very edge of the Bighead River, as many as 160 units on a parcel of land that is barely an acre in size, a potential for 300 or more people to live on that tiny slice of land, and even more of a concern is the plan to dig down in order to build a two level parking garage beneath the building, feet from the river’s edge, in a flood zone. The developer’s plans show the building occupying three quarters of the tiny riverside parcel of land, leaving nothing for greenspace.

I am all for increasing densities and protecting existing farmland from the claws of developers, but it has to be done right, and cramming 300 souls into a gigantic box by the river in a flood zone does not seem very wise to me, nor I suspect to many others, and that is precisely why we have the process that we do. The public gets to weigh in, the proponent gets to make their case, and councillors are tasked in the end with any decisions that need to be made.

As noted by Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney on Monday, she found out about this proposal in the same way as the rest of us, on Facebook. The developer didn’t bother to ensure that first council received a presentation, but instead began their marketing campaign on Facebook, working a number of residents into a tizzy with the impression that this newly announced project must be moving ahead given the developer is already promoting it.

What I saw at Monday’s public meeting was a poorly thought out development proposal aimed at cramming as many folks as possible onto a tiny piece of land that is supposed to be an environmental protection zone, all for profit. This development proposal, aimed at luxury home buyers, does nothing to help with the lack of affordable housing in this municipality, it does nothing to further the stated plan to have retail on the first floor of such developments, it does nothing to provide waterfront shopping and dining, another desire of many for our waterfront area. This is one development proposal that I can’t see moving very far along in the process, for many good reasons.

With the surge of developer interest in this area, we will see more proposals; some will make sense, and will move through the process quickly, while others will be off the wall, and unlikely to ever see the light of day, and it is the job of council and the local ratepayers to manage the growth that is to come, and to ensure that it is done right.


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