Huntsville’s Planning Committee found itself stuck between a rock and a hard place at its April 11 meeting as it deliberated on a zoning amendment to allow a rock processing operation to proceed along Muskoka Road 3 North.
While staff recommended that the application by Muskoka Rock Company President Seth Rudin be approved, committee members grappled with the opposition from area residents who maintained that the industrial nature of the operation is simply incompatible with the residences along that same corridor.
Nancy LeBlanc, a former Town Planner and Planning Consultant who lives along Muskoka Road 3 North and has been speaking on behalf of residents in Settler’s Ridge and Muskoka Meadows subdivisions, told committee that the biggest issue is compatibility.
“I am deeply disappointed that we do not have stronger language in our existing Official Plan regarding compatibility… However it is up to you, our elected officials, to remember that hundreds of people will be affected by this development so that one company creating 15 jobs can continue to reinforce that making money is far more important than people’s quality of life. And I know that’s a strong statement but that is how people feel,” she said.
“This was reinforced yesterday when an announcement was made that the Province of Ontario has awarded a grant of $350,000 to Muskoka Rock to expand their company’s operation. We’re facing serious budget shortfalls in our hospitals but the government can give over a quarter of a million dollars to a company to expand. It shows that the province is choosing rock over people… I ask you to deny this application and choose people over rock. You are our elected officials. Your responsibility is to make decisions in the broader public interest,” added LeBlanc, who also reminded councillors that a municipal election is drawing near.
But the fact that there are several quarries already situated along that stretch and that Muskoka Road 3 North is a main thoroughfare for truck traffic and other traffic that leads to two main highways was not lost on anybody. Neither was the fact that the municipality has continuously approved residential subdivisions and other forms of residential development along that stretch, nor the fact that the applicant has been asked to tweak his application on several occasions.
Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano said she found it difficult to approve the application, though through no real fault of the applicant.
“I’m still reluctant to approve this application for a few reasons and it’s not primarily on you guys, it’s more on us and that’s our Official Plan and the strength of the compatibility definition in our Official Plan and the fact that as council, we have been actively approving applications consistently for years on Muskoka Road 3 North and off of it… so it’s very much turned into a residential growth area,” she said. “The fact that we’re promoting that kind of growth makes me feel that to approve heavy industrial use doesn’t make any sense. They’re not compatible uses.”
Huntsville Councillor Jonathan Wiebe expressed similar concerns. “If it’s 10, 20 or 30, whatever the lifespan of that quarry is, by approving this facility we’re ensuring that this area remains industrial,” he said. Wiebe commended the applicant for meeting all of the requirements that were asked of him but said he still struggled with the compatibility of the operation with the increasing residential nature of the neighbourhood.
Councillor Nancy Alcock and committee chair echoed some of those sentiments. “Over and over again you’ve raised the bar considerably since the beginning to try and respond to concerns that have been raised by the community, by the committee, but I think from my perspective we’re asking for the impossible… I’m really grappling with the term compatibility,” she said.
I’m really having a hard time squaring this. It’s like putting a square peg in a round hole for me. From a planning perspective we have two really serious competing interests here and in the long run, this is where we’ve identified our residential community. So I guess I’m echoing—it’s a problem that we the municipality have, not you the applicant.
Councillor Nancy Alcock, Planning Committee Chair
Questions were raised whether the applicant could consider relocating the operation to his company’s existing pit to the North, but planning consultant for the applicant, Savas Varadas, noted that the municipality as well as the community would have less input as the approvals would fall squarely on the Province. Rudin also said that strategically moving the operation outside of the pit would ensure the existing operation is not impacted.
“I don’t want to make the mistake of saying abandon this project [and]they move it three, four hundred feet north, it creates a bigger impact on the neighbourhood and we’ve [then]done a greater disservice by that,” said Councillor Jonathan Wiebe.
Last month, the applicants were asked to return with a more in-depth noise attenuation plan, which they did, offering to build berms and reconfigure the location of the building on the property and decrease the number of doors on the same in order to keep noise down, explained Varadas.
Terziano asked Rudin whether despite the operation complying with the municipality’s noise bylaw it might still impact the quality of life of area residents. Rudin said that’s a subjective question.
“Our intention is to operate as a good neighbour. That’s what we do in all of our different sites,” he said. Rudin also noted that the lands have an industrial designation in the Town’s Official Plan and said that since the beginning of the approval process they’ve had very little direction from the municipality.
“We had very little to no direction… with respect to the parametres that would be sought out,” said Rudin. “Frankly we began this process because the Official Plan designated this specific piece of property in the manner that it did, that’s why we’re sitting here today.”
In the end, a majority of committee voted against the application. Councillor Jason FitzGerald voted in favour of it, but reasoned that it would still go to council for further discussion, which he welcomed. Wiebe concurred, noting that the discussion was an important one and the decision should be made by all of council rather than committee members alone. Councillor Bob Stone was absent for that portion of the meeting, having declared a conflict for personal reasons.
All decisions by committee must be ratified by council.
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