Due to the number of multi-residential housing developments proposed for the area marked in yellow in the map above, planning staff are recommending that a secondary plan for those lands be formulated and included in Huntsville’s Official Plan. (Click here to see the full image.) The plan would examine issues such as service capacity, transportation, design and the overall impact the proposed developments would have on the area.
A recommendation by municipal planning staff at Huntsville’s December 11 Development Services Committee meeting to place a moratorium on new development in the northeast urban area of Huntsville, did not sit well with some developers. Staff were recommending the move in order to give them at least a year to come up with a plan to ensure the lands are developed in a ‘comprehensive manner.’
The lands in question are bounded by Highway 60 to the south, Highway 11 to the west, Golf Course Road to the north, and Muskoka Road 3 North to the east. The secondary plan for the area would involve the hiring of consultants and examine things like traffic, trails, environmental constraints as well as land use and design. Water and sewer service capacity, although a District of Muskoka function, would also be examined.
The recommendation comes on the heels of a significant multi-residential development proposed on lands off Earls Road. The lands could be developed with up to 930 housing units, although Wayne Simpson, planning consultant for the developer, said the plan is more in line with about 630 units.
“Planning staff have been involved in pre-consultation meetings for a significant large-scale residential development that would bring a considerable amount of units to market. Staff are obligated to ensure development, particularly when occurring at such a large scale, is designed with regard to resiliency and sound planning principles,” states a report compiled by senior Huntsville planner Elizabeth Reimer.
According to the report, the Planning Act allows municipalities to enact an interim control bylaw restricting development while a secondary plan for a specific area is developed and included in a municipality’s Official Plan. It can be implemented for one year with an option to extend it to two. Staff were recommending that the moratorium be put in place with the following exceptions:
- The continued use of legally existing buildings and structures for the uses permitted under Zoning By-law 2008-66P;
- the continued use of permitted accessory uses to the legally existing principal uses on the lands within the study area;
- minor additions or repairs and renovations to legally existing buildings;
- if a building permit application filed in accordance with the Ontario Building Code Act was complete on or before the date of passage of the by-law;
- existing, vacant, single family dwelling lots able to be developed within existing zoning provisions;
- minor variance applications for existing single residential lots;
- the hospital lands;
- the approvals and permits required for phase 1 of subdivision S2010-08 (Huntsville Haven) to proceed;
- the approvals and permits required to permit eight (8) townhouse units on Part of Lot 17, Concession 2, Chaffey, (the easterly portion of 450 Muskoka Rd 3 N) which are to be located in proximity to Muskoka Road 3 N and accessed via Campus Trails, to proceed.
But Simpson questioned the fairness of exempting some properties and not others as well as asking developers in the process of obtaining approvals for their projects to suddenly stop.
“We’d like to suggest that if the municipality wants to do studies or the District wants to do a study to figure out how to best service this area, that the municipalities are quite at liberty to do that and my client would cooperate to the extent possible, but we don’t believe that the world should stop while the policies are being reviewed,” he said.
The developer was also present and told committee he felt as though he was being singled out. He said there was no mention of a secondary plan or a halt on development during consultations with staff, and said he had already spent significant funds on studies.
“I don’t think that this is fair. I purchased these lands with certain conditions that were established in the Official Plan and I’m not going to accept any additional onerous conditions to be implemented here. I am willing to work with the municipality, but I would like the application to proceed. Thank you very much,” said Gregory Defreitas, president of the Earls Road development.
Simpson also told the committee that District staff have indicated that things like subdivision agreements, peer reviews of consultants’ reports and servicing applications would not be considered until the secondary plan is completed.
“If the District would agree to continue to work towards the approval of the subdivision, that would be a tremendous help,” he said. “But District is the approval authority and the planning staff have indicated that they’re not prepared to advance it [the development]. That’s why we’re particularly offended by that position,” said Simpson, who added that planning approvals take time and pausing the process will cost the developer time and money.
Councillor Jonathan Wiebe, who seemed to agree with the staff’s recommendation, urged caution.
I’d rather err on the side of a bit of caution and to really get this right because there’s so many factors, and there’s been so much development and this falls within my ward and I’ve heard from so many of my constituents saying things have moved too quickly and there are still so many concerns around traffic, etc. that we feel it’s going too quickly and we need more studies. That’s what I’m hearing and I think staff have it right in this case.”
– Councillor Jonathan Wiebe
Questions about water and sewer service allocation also arose at the meeting. Reimer explained the process for tapping into existing water and sewer capacity in order to service new developments. She said as developers complete a phase of their development, “that allocation for that phase would be taken out of the availability. What would happen in theory is that, for instance, Huntsville Haven will start their first phase and take out a certain number of units from the capacity. Another development might register their first phase and those units get taken out—it can essentially bounce back and forth between different developers taking little chunks of capacity out per phase and it essentially gets to the point where whoever is the next one after that cap is hit that comes in for another phase will be hit with all the upgrade requirements for servicing to increase capacity,” she said.
The lands to be studied have been slated for growth for many years and form part of Huntsville’s urban boundary.
There were several developers and/or their representatives at the meeting. Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano (who was Acting Mayor at the time of the meeting) asked that the procedural rules be suspended in order to allow those developers to speak to the staff’s recommendation.
Celeste Phillips representing Devonleigh Homes (Muskoka Haven) in the proposed study area said passing an interim control bylaw and restricting development is an extraordinary power. “Its intent is really to give the municipality breathing space but what you’re proposing to do is to negate development rights that Devonleigh Homes has with the property that they have. The lands are designated for residential development, they’re zoned for residential development, and they’re draft approved. So, I think the sledgehammer you’re using with an interim control bylaw is certainly not appropriate when you have zoned and draft-approved lands,” she said, and asked that the entire Huntsville Haven property be exempt from staff’s proposed interim control bylaw.
Pat Dubé, the owner of the Campus Trail development located on lands next to the Huntsville hospital, was also at the meeting. He said the plan is to develop about 200 units over time and his team has been working on the project for about four years starting with the donation of lands to Fairvern for its redevelopment.
“The area has boomed and that’s a great thing for Huntsville and I certainly endorse that but in the end, we want to be proud of this development. We want to be proud of that whole part of town so taking a pause to understand what this number of units will do to our streets and trails and connectivity, I think it’s just smart planning. I endorse the secondary plan,” he said. “Certainly the medical building that is under construction we certainly have approval for that. We’re building a condominium building that’s also approved, and the townhouses that adjoin that. I don’t want to be a hypocrite, certainly, there’s enough work there for us for the next year, that’s for sure. But beyond that, I think that the rest of the development, we want it to be cohesive with the rest of the neighbourhood so if a secondary plan facilitates that, then I’m in favour of it.”
Larry Ross of Vista Investments, which has a 45-unit development just east of the area in question, also spoke about the staff’s recommendation. He said while it’s true that the number of units proposed as part of the Earls Road development “is certainly large for our area” he is concerned with an interim control bylaw putting a moratorium on new development. “Huntsville needs housing. We have a shortage of affordable housing, we have a shortage of housing in all categories—I think to a certain extent we have a problem that a lot of municipalities wish they had,” said Ross.
“I have some concerns with the configuration of the Earls Road development as it’s being presented; however, I don’t feel that we need an interim control bylaw to shut that down. I think that we have great staff, we have great people in this town, we could work with the developer to perhaps recommend/suggest some changes and I think that we could work through that process without the interim control bylaw,” he said, calling that approach “a bit too much” and suggesting consultation would be a better way to move forward.
“When I look at this area generally and I see what’s been draft approved and what’s underway—the interim control bylaw is really going to have a big impact just on the Earls Road development in terms of their ability to proceed. As a developer, I understand the frustration of having many, many meetings and discussions and no mention of an interim control bylaw, a secondary plan or anything else, and it is a very large investment in terms of money and time and all of a sudden you’re hit with ‘Okay, now we need a secondary plan.’ Well where did this come from and why is this happening?” questioned Ross. He said a compromise would be to allow the developer to proceed with acquiring planning approvals while staff develop a secondary plan for the area.
Simpson noted that nothing moves quickly and suggested the developer could work with the Town on a secondary plan to ensure what he develops does not wind up at the LPAT (Local Planning Appeal Tribunal which replaced the Ontario Municipal Board in 2017).
“I would hope that the interim control bylaw need not be passed. Nothing proceeds quickly and nothing proceeds in a grand scale,” added Simpson.
Planning director Kirstin Maxwell told the committee that recognizing that the interim control bylaw is a dramatic step, staff tried to work with all the affected property owners to come up with some sort of a compromise so that not all development was halted and that there was some ability to move forward with certain projects. “However, that being said, I think it’s important to recognize that if there is no interim control bylaw and we move forward with the secondary process, no developments that are in the works right now are bound to anything that comes out of the secondary plan,” she warned.
Wiebe said he shared that concern. “We’ve got this area that has experienced fast growth, there are literally hundreds of acres of undeveloped lands there and in my mind an incredible opportunity to do something not just satisfactory but to do something great for our town… if we leave it to everyone to do their own thing, I can guarantee you that it’ll be a patchwork of reasonable development but it’s not going to be anything that is going to make the papers,” he said, referring to smart and cohesive planning with trails, natural features, etc.
Terziano said while she appreciated Wiebe’s comments and concerns, “we’re talking about developers here—we’re talking about some things that are approved and underway—that have done nothing but great development in this town already, so I’m not afraid of what they’re going to do in a year. It’s not an unknown to me and they’ve also indicated that they would like to be part of the work towards getting a good secondary plan in place with us. So, I’d be okay without the hammer, sort of speak,” said Terziano, referring to an interim control bylaw.
In the end, the committee agreed to move forward with a secondary plan for the area, discard an interim control bylaw, and form a steering committee that would include area developers.
The committee’s recommendation was approved by Huntsville Council and a steering committee is expected to be formed in the new year.
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