Whether or not the property located between Minnie Avenue and Williams Avenue, sometimes referred to as the “Nelson Street Park,” will be re-zoned now lies in the hands of the Ontario Municipal Board.
Local residents and the town had ample opportunity to make their respective arguments before OMB chair Joseph Sniezek during a four-hour hearing last Thursday at the Civic Centre, and now will wait to hear back regarding his decision.
No date for a decision was given.
Resident Kalan Kielczewski, who was among those who spoke against re-zoning the property from “open space” to Residential Type 2 (R2), summed up her feelings by saying, “This has been a long, tedious, drawn-out battle, but looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a single, solitary thing because in the long run, to me it’s all worth it.”
During Thursday’s hearing, appellant Eric Rude claimed, among other concerns:
- the re-zoning is inconsistent with the Provincial Policy Statement;
- it would result in undesirable changes to the neighbourhood and devalue properties;
- the proposed re-zoning of the property on the corner of Minnie Avenue and Front Street (next to the Shevlin wood yard) from tourist commercial (C4) to “open space”—to offset the eliminated open space that would result from the conversion of the “Nelson Street Park”—does not provide a suitable alternative as the Minnie Avenue property is a high-traffic area which is dangerous for children to play in;
- that usage of “Nelson Street Park” is not something that has to be measured;
- the property could be
developed into more of an actual park (with benches, sun shelter, etc.) or be the future site for a proposed off-leash dog park;
- there are other properties the town could use for residential development (i.e., Huffman School, Erin Crescent, etc.);
- the re-zoning has been opposed by the public in the past, and many people feel the same way about the issue this time around; and
- there’s doesn’t seem to be a clear rationale as to why housing lots are needed given the town’s population is shrinking and the future of its primary industry is uncertain.
Other residents who spoke Thursday in support of the appeal included Jack Steinke, Melvin Haukaas, Bonnie Kielczewski, Michelle George, Robert Dakin, and Mervyn Ahrens.
Steinke expressed concerns about how adding more sewer and water connections would adversely affect the neighbourhood while Haukaas suggested the “park” could be enhanced with a sun shelter, play structures, and rest benches.
Bonnie Kielczewski and George, meanwhile, expressed concerns about the process, and demanded transparency from the town and council.
For his part, Dakin questioned why council seems so “obsessed with developing this park while dismissing other properties out of hand?”
Kalan Kielczewski also voiced concerns about the proposed re-zoning of the property on the corner of Minnie Avenue and Front Street, noting it is not a suitable replacement for losing the “Nelson Street Park.”
The location is unsafe for children, she noted, pointing out 90 pulp trucks check through the nearby weigh scale each day. Exhaust from idling vehicles also could pose a health risk.
Ahrens, who sat on the Citizens Advisory Committee to the Revision of the Official Plan of the Town of Fort Frances, noted that last fall, consultant Greg Hind commented that little emphasis had been given to the expansion of the subdivision section of the official plan.
The reasons why were the population of the town has been decreasing, and there presently are available more than 200 building lots, both privately- and publicly-owned, in the Town of Fort Frances (municipal planner Faye Flatt later clarified that not all of these lots have sewer and water service).
The official plan also indicated the town favours “open spaces,” and if any railroad property should become available, the town would like to acquire it to expand the amount of “open spaces” here.
Outlining the town’s case, Flatt said she felt the issues raised by the appellant are not based on land use planning.
The OMB consistently has held that appeals must be based on land use planning matters—and that the onus of proof is on the appellant to demonstrate land use planning grounds on which the appeal should be allowed.
As such, Flatt asked that the OMB dismiss the appeal.
Flatt stressed all relevant planning issues were considered and addressed prior to the zoning bylaw amendment coming before council back in December.
She noted the proposed re-zoning falls in line not only with the town’s strategic and official plans, but the Northern Growth Plan and the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS)—the latter being a policy document enacted by the province to provide direction on matters of interest related to land use and development in Ontario.
For example, the PPS calls for efficient land use and development patterns using the existing infrastructure in built-up areas while avoiding development in areas that require extending that infrastructure.
This applies to the proposed development.
It also calls for development of under-used lots, among other objectives.
According to policy, the town did what it was supposed to do, said Flatt, adding council has the authority to make decisions for the betterment of the community.
Flatt said that if the proposal to re-zone did not satisfy legislative requirements, her recommendation to council would have been different.
Her recommendation to re-zone the property is not based on the views of council or her own, but on land use planning policy.
Back in 2007, council formally identified a need for residential building lots. It asked for a review of all properties to find those that had the highest potential for development and then rank them with regards to most feasible from a financial, practical, and suitability perspective.
The “Nelson Street Park” property was identified as having the most potential with the least impact financially or adversely to the area.
The bylaw to re-zone this land was not enacted in 2008.
Then during the 2011 strategic planning process, council decided to look at building lots and potential residential development, and again the property was identified as the most readily available for development.
The proposed development is considered in-filling and won’t affect the character of the residential area.
The proposed re-zoning has generated interest and enquiries from inside and outside the municipality (none of them are members of council or their immediate families).
Council initiated the re-zoning because there is a shortage of serviced residential building lots in town. There is other property zoned for residential use, but these cannot be developed without having to make extensions to services and without considerable costs to the taxpayers, noted Flatt.
She reiterated there is nowhere for the municipality to expand its boundaries, so the town must look within its boundaries to find areas for housing—and the most logical place is where residences already have services.
In response to some of the issues raised by Rude and the other witnesses, Flatt noted:
- property devaluation is difficult to assess, not based on land planning merits, and not grounds for an appeal;
- the purpose of the re-zoning is to meet the need for residential housing lots, and not to make money (while the sale of the lots is estimated to generate $200,000-$250,000 to the town, and then about $12,000/year in taxes, it was not the catalyst for the exercise);
- the history of the property, as far as zoning, is irrelevant and a decision made by council in one term doesn’t have to stay that way indefinitely (i.e., a zoning decision made in 1990 may not be suitable today);
- there is a park and playground less than two blocks away from the property in question (namely, “Front Street Park” at Nelson and Butler), and there are a total of six parks within one kilometre of the “Nelson Street Park,” which is more than required under the official plan;
- an extensive open public process has been followed regarding the intent to dispose of the subject land; and
- the town’s Operations and Facilities division has determined that providing sewer and water services to a handful of new lots in the neighbourhood of the proposed re-zoning will not adversely affect other services in the area.
Council voted in favour of re-zoning the property back on Dec. 19, with only Coun. John Albanese voting against it.
Rude then filed an appeal of the re-zoning with the OMB and was granted the hearing.
If the re-zoning appeal is dismissed, it’s expected the town will carry through with dividing the property into four or five lots, then sell them to those interested in building new homes there.