Mayor tells staff to hasten planning process for proposed rock operation on Muskoka Rd 3 North


Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison told Huntsville’s Planning Committee at its March 14 meeting that he’s frustrated with the amount of time it has taken Muskoka Rock Company Ltd. to obtain approval for its rezoning application.

It feels like we’ve been dragging them along for months and months and they’re trying to expand their business and when I look at the zoning map adjacent to a quarry, the entire area is zoned M4 Extractive Industrial – they could be doing all this stuff in the open air in the pit, I guess, but they’re trying to do it in a building to reduce truck traffic so that they’re not trucking the stone out to have it processed and then trucking it back to be sold.Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison

The company is seeking to rezone part of an estimated 23-acre property at 749 Muskoka Road 3 North for a rock processing facility and contractor’s yard as well as office and retail space. It also plans to establish an area for the servicing of heavy equipment. The company purchased the quarry to the north of the property in 2016 and plans to move rock from that quarry to its processing facility through an interior road, along with the processing of rock from other quarries. The company has an operation in Dwight and Gravenhurst and in 2017 employed approximately 65 people.

A public meeting was held on August 16, 2017 and concerns by area residents included the impact on a creek which traverses the property, noise and added traffic along a road they said is already congested. At that meeting, planning consultant Savas Varadas on behalf of the applicant told committee that the facility would be subject to an environmental standards approval, ensuring that environmental regulations are adhered to. He also said a traffic study was being requested by the District. Committee also heard that the applicant was amenable to erecting some form of berm to help attenuate the sound coming out of the operation. At that meeting, the applicant was asked to conduct a noise study and meet with area residents to try and address their concerns.

Company president Seth Rudin and planning consultant Savas Varadas were back before committee on Wednesday, March 14, after submitting the results of a noise impact study to the municipality on November 21, 2017 and meeting with neighbourhood representatives in January. But staff was not prepared to approve the application and recommended that it be deferred. They said noise attenuation recommendations in the study rely heavily on human behaviour like, for example, maintaining a certain number of doors closed. They said that would be difficult to enforce and could have a negative impact on the municipality’s bylaw enforcement resources. Instead, staff recommended that the use of berms and/or buffers be further explored with input from the consultant who conducted the noise impact study. Staff also noted it was still awaiting information about hours of operation, as well as the times trucks would be travelling to and from the site.

“We’re somewhat perplexed that what we’ve provided to the Town is not acceptable,” said Varadas, noting that staff did not provide parameters for the study. “We left it up to the noise consultant to prepare a noise impact study that they felt would meet the MOECC (Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change) standards, and they did,” he said, adding that it is troubling that the noise impact study was submitted to the Town in November, “and we still haven’t reached a point where we can get a decision on this matter.”

He also said the facility would have 26 doors, “I don’t anticipate a situation where there would be 26 doors open on this. So if we design, I would say overkill to have these berms, I think you’d probably find berms that are pretty significant size, because they’re going to have to more or less assume that this is going to be happening in open air,” said Varadas.

Rudin expressed similar frustration. “We began this process saying give us the book ends to say what would be permissible based on Ministry and Town guidelines, and that’s what we came forward with,” he said. “Why are we at this stage of the game when we don’t have a formal request for any of this information that’s outlined in the staff report?”

We are here today because we feel this is very important to our organization, our employees and the staff that currently work for us and the ones that we’re hoping to hire to continue to build our organization in town. Muskoka Rock Ltd. President Seth Rudin

Despite questions about approving the zoning at that meeting and acquiring additional information regarding noise attenuation that could inform site plan discussions, staff was steadfast about its requirement for more time before making a recommendation.

 If the site is developed and we’re making a recommendation to say ‘yes, it’s OK to have this rock processing facility,’ we need to be able to have the information to support that recommendation, which we don’t feel we have at this point Huntsville Manager of Planning Services Kirstin Maxwell

Rudin said he is amenable to the use of berms if that is what’s required to move the process forward but argued that any deferrals without a timeline or what’s required of the company to get to the next step is making the principles question what their next steps ought to be.

“So this public meeting was in August 16, 2017, the noise study was received in November of 2017 and there was a public meeting or a meeting with some neighbourhood representatives in January? It feels very much to me like every time this company provides something to the planning department we move the goal post and that seems really maddening, actually. I’m frustrated by that because it feels like this company has done what we’ve asked them to do. They’ve hired a professional and I’ve read the report, it’s 62 pages… and it seems like we don’t trust that report and we don’t trust them to do what’s in here,” said the mayor.

Councillor Jason FitzGerald reminded committee that there are other similar operations where staff is having difficulty enforcing noise complaints. “Even though they are meeting the Ministry requirements with the noise studies, so I think it’s due diligence on their [staff’s] part.”

In the end, committee agreed to defer a decision on the application in order to give staff time to meet with the consultant and bring back a recommendation, but specified that the recommendation needed to be presented to committee at its April meeting.

That part of the meeting was chaired by Aitchison as Councillor Bob Stone declared a conflict of interest for personal reasons and left the room and Planning Committee chair Nancy Alcock was away.

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