Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
Council's recent opposition to a rezoning for a proposed 29-unit apartment complex on St. Vincent Street South is now expected to cost the city upwards of $30,000 to defend before the Ontario Municipal Board.
An official appeal of council's decision was filed by Pol Quality Homes Inc. earlier this month on the grounds the proposed development – an adaptive reuse of the former Portia school that would include 24-units and a new five-unit building to the north – is consistent with provincial planning guidelines and is compatible with surrounding uses. Consulting firm GSP Group, which submitted the zone change application on behalf of the contractor, also argued the housing plan had no unacceptable adverse impact on the subject land or adjacent lands.
Council, while sitting as the planning and heritage committee in July, initially supported the rezoning, which included a provision to allow for a three per cent reduction in landscaped open space. But the application was turned down by council in a final vote in August and then failed to achieve support for reconsideration a month later. Council's reasons for refusal focused on the noise impact from the Stackpole manufacturing plant directly to the east on future tenants of the buildings as well as the company itself due to additional complaints, increased traffic in the neighborhood, the reduced open space, and a lack of space for children to play.
The contractor had proposed adding a noise clause to the rental agreements, to erect a fence between the properties, and to use noise-mitigating materials in the construction of the buildings.
At an OMB hearing the city will need to overcome the obvious hurdle that its own planning department supported the application, which it said met the intent of the city's Official Plan and kept with the zoning on abutting lands. As a result, council on Tuesday gave the go-ahead for the city's solicitor to defend its position and, if necessary, to retain a professional third-party planner to provide supporting evidence.
According to a staff report, the OMB hearing is anticipated to take at least three days and cost in the range of $15,000 to $30,000 in legal fees. That does not include the cost for an outside planner to testify on the city's behalf.
A motion to have the city's lawyer attend the hearing without a qualified planner was put forward by Coun. Kerry McManus but defeated after city CAO, Ron Shaw, warned that doing so would leave the solicitor in the position of having to defend the city without expert opinion as evidence. Manager of development services for the city, Jeff Leunissen, also noted the OMB would hear only one side of the argument.
Nonetheless, McManus argued retaining a third-party planner didn't make sense given council's opposition to the rezoning application was not based on planning principles. Instead, she said the city's lawyer should defend council's right as elected officials to make a decision.
"I think this should go forward on the merits that it was debated and decided by council," she added.
Other councillors has mixed feelings on how to proceed.
Coun. Bonnie Henderson said she did not support spending any money given the circumstances.
"How can we support spending all this money when our own planning department has recommended to go (ahead with the application)?," she asked. " … it doesn't make any sense."
Coun. Brad Beatty said he also couldn't support using money to fight the appeal, noting the city is just beginning its budget deliberations and will be scraping for every extra nickel and dime it can find.
Conversely, Coun. Frank Mark said he felt it was the city's duty to defend council's decision, noting council followed its regular procedure when considering the application.
Coun. Tom Clifford, meanwhile, while arguing against spending any more money, reiterated he did not support council's decision to oppose the application, noting there was potential the apartments would be used as affordable housing.
"It's something that is desperately needed in the City of Stratford," he added.