Typical of an Ontario Municipal Board proceeding, this one sounds complicated and could prove lengthy.
A Provincial Offences Court room on Carden Street was filled to standing-room-only Wednesday for a pre-hearing into whether there will be an OMB hearing related to Grand River Conservation Authority-owned land along Niska Road. Plans to make the land available for development are being challenged. About 50 people attended.
Eight lawyers for eight different parties took up a large number of the available seats. Among those parties were development interests like Reid’s Heritage Homes, Thomasfield Homes, Terra View Custom Homes, and Fieldgate Development, as well as Abode Varsity Living, and Loblaws Properties Limited. Attorneys also represented the City of Guelph and GRCA.
The involvement of the developers in the proceedings revolves around a City of Guelph official plan amendment, OPA 48, that is close to approval, but also under challenge at the OMB.
The property in question for Wednesday pre-hearing is owned by GRCA. Other land connected to the site is owned by the city. All of the land has long fallen under policies that protected it as a valuable green space.
The pre-hearing audience heard that the GRCA wants to have the land rezoned from open space to residential, and sold to developers. As Guelph plans for steady population growth mandated by the province, a move is being made to repurpose the land on the west edge of the city.
The GRCA property was the long-term home of the Kortright Waterfowl Park, which was closed a few years ago after GRCA decided to return the section of property along the Speed River back to nature. It appears that plan has changed.
The OMB challenge was made by Hugh Whiteley and Living Rivers and Greenways Group, which believes the move is against longstanding City of Guelph policy, and a threat to Hanlon Creek conservation. OPA 48 was challenged for the same reason.
Whiteley, an environmental engineering expert, environmental activist, and former professor at the University of Guelph, was at Wednesday’s pre-hearing. In an interview he explained some of the complexities, but characterized the issue as “a very simple planning matter.”
Way back in 1970, he said, the City of Guelph had the foresight to identify that open space designation was the necessary framework for all planning. Green space had to be protected as the city grew, the connection to nature preserved.
A master plan was crafted in 1973, whereby future development would be laid out around this framework. It has been a guiding principle ever since, Whiteley said, and over the years the city has had a long series of careful studies and plans based on it.
This is especially the case for the Hanlon Creek watershed area, he said, which has been the subject of five special plans. All of them identified the Kortright Waterfowl Park lands as being a central part of the green space of the city, he added.
But the recent official plan amendment, OPA 48, decided that a 46-hectare portion of lns owned by the city since 1977, should be assigned for development. The land was originally deemed conservation land because of its capacity to sustain biodiversity, Whiteley said.
At the same time, GRCA, owner of the former waterfowl park lands, wants to rezone eight hectares of property, part of it agricultural, from open space to residential.
“Now the GRCA is arguing that agricultural land doesn’t have any natural and green-space value,” Whiteley said.
The substance of the OMB appeal, he said, is that given all the efforts that have gone into identifying the natural value of the land, it is “entirely inappropriate to arbitrarily decide to take it out of that protected area with no site-specific study.”
A large part of the morning was taken up in a procedural matter, whereby GRCA was seeking party status in the proceedings. Whiteley said GRCA wants to take the matter to a hearing.