Muskoka Road 3 North is proving to be a conundrum for the Town of Huntsville as residential and industrial interests along that road collide.
That’s because according to Kirstin Maxwell, Manager of Planning Services for the Town, Huntsville’s existing Official Plan, approved in 2006, envisioned that the west side of the road would contain residential development while industrial uses would be considered on the east side of the road. “The subdivisions that have been approved since then have all been on the west side,” noted Maxwell at Huntsville’s August 16 planning committee meeting.
The meeting was standing room only as area residents filled council chambers to oppose the approval of a rezoning application by Muskoka Rock Company Inc. The company is proposing to rezone part of its estimated 23-acre property at 749 Muskoka Road 3 North for a rock processing facility, contractor’s yard, office and retail area. It also plans to establish an area for the servicing of heavy equipment. It is asking that the zoning be changed on about nine acres of those lands from a Rural 1 Zone (RU1) to a Heavy Industrial Zone (M4). The company also purchased the quarry to the north of the property last year and plans to move rock from that quarry to the processing facility through an interior road, along with the processing of rock from other quarries. The company has an operation in Dwight and Gravenhurst, employing about 65 people.
“We’re excited about this opportunity. We think it’s a good opportunity for the town and we look forward to a positive outcome to this process,” said company president Seth Rudin. But area residents, concerned with the impact the facility will have on the environment – specifically a creek that runs through the property to Fairy Lake – are not sharing his enthusiasm. They are also concerned about the silica dust the cutting of rock will create, excessive noise and the impact more traffic will have on what they say is an already congested road – especially for children who live, walk, play and get bused to school in the area.
“We need to really start thinking about the whole area. Will it continue to be a mixed area of residential, light industrial / industrial or do we begin to finally realize this is where the bulk of the new residential homes will take place in our town and we as a town need to revisit our master plan,” said Anthony Asturi, one of six area residents who spoke against the proposal.
Nancy LeBlanc, a former planner with the municipality, said she has lived on the road for 43 years. She acknowledged that the proponent has Official Plan policy on his side but spoke to what she referred to as “a history of poor planning,” for which she also took responsibility, and urged the Town to reconsider its policies and use the tools at its disposal to ensure quality of life for its residents.
The expansion of residential development along Muskoka Road 3 North has residents wondering why the Town would even consider growth in this area, given the incompatible uses of a large quarry or pit and quite possibly now a stone cutting processing operation. Area resident and former Huntsville municipal planner Nancy LeBlanc
LeBlanc referenced developments such as Settler’s Ridge, Muskoka Meadows and Huntsville Haven as well as lots that front on the east and west side of Muskoka Road 3 North and questioned the compatibility of industrial uses with such residential developments. She also said blasting and noise has adversely impacted those living in the area.
“For some of us there has been a history of disrespect, contempt and disregard for the residents from the owners of this operation,” she said, referring to the previous owner of the quarry. She invited the new owner to meet with resident representatives to “repair some of the hard feelings that residents have from years of conflict with this business. Further, I invite Mr. Rudin to sit down with a handful of residents and work through some of our concerns about this proposed use.”
LeBlanc said the residents only want what Mr. Rudin and his employees want: quality of life. “We want to enjoy the small town character that we all bought into and we want, and come to expect, that there are no competing interests in our neighbourhood. We want compatibility. These are the policies that are in our Official Plan,” she said.
In terms of concerns about the type of dust that would be emitted from the rock cutting operation, the planner for the proponent, Savas Varadas, who also said he lives in the area, said water is used during the cutting process, which keeps the dust down. He also noted that, as recommended by Town staff, the proponent has hired a company to do a noise study and said the president of the company has also indicated he would be putting up a barrier on the westerly side of the rock processing operation to mitigate any noise impact. The operation does not have frontage on Muskoka Road 3 North. Ingress and egress to the property takes place through a right of way. Varadas also noted that the facility would be subject to an environmental standards approval, ensuring that environmental regulations are adhered to.
He said during a public meeting on August 8 that took place with residents about what is being proposed, there was a lot of misinformation. “Many of the earlier objections I felt contained a lot of misinformation… a lot of it seemed to target the existing pit and quarry and the history of its operation in the area,” he said, adding that he understands where those concerns are coming from. “I just want to say that we are trying to work with Town staff as close as possible to satisfy all the requests brought forward and we expect to meet all those requests,” Varadas said while asking people to trust in the system and noting that concerns will be addressed.
Councillor Jonathan Wiebe asked the applicant whether it might be possible to build the facility on the existing quarry to the north, instead. Varadas said the option had been looked at and would not require a zoning change but would require a lengthier process through the Ministry of Natural Resources, as it is an active quarry. He said more structures within an active operation complicates things, which is why the company purchased the property at 748 Muskoka Road 3 North.
Committee also heard that the District of Muskoka has requested that a traffic study be conducted in that area.
The proponent is expected to return to committee once the studies have been completed and further discussions with residents have taken place.
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