Erin residents pack theatre to voice concerns about growth, development

There’s a lot of talk about sewage in Erin lately.

The next step of the town’s Environmental Assessment (EA) is starting soon, as council will decide which company to use moving forward in the process.

Council also has a difficult decision to make in terms of development. The town has about 200 hectares of developable land, but can only develop 25 hectares of it. Where to put the development and how the community sees the future of the town is why council called a public meeting last week.

Concerned residents packed the theatre at Centre 2000 for Erin’s growth and development meeting on Jan. 14.  

Mayor Allan Alls welcomed the crowd to the meeting, asking them to listen to the presentations and voice their opinions.

“We called this meeting so you can tell us, council, how you feel about growth and development in the municipality,” said Alls.

“Our council has agreed to proceed to the completion of this process as without it no funding will come from other levels of governments and no further development can happen within the identified urban boundaries in the villages of Erin and Hillsburgh.”

Wellington County director of planning and development Gary Cousins gave a presentation on the process so far.

He said one of the key decisions was made in 2014, when the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) concluded the town could only service 6,000 people using a wastewater treatment system.

After servicing the existing 4,500 population, that left a margin of only 1,500 people or 500 homes for new development.

Once council moves forward with choosing a company for the EA process, it will take approximately two years to complete.

“And beyond that, in 2020 sometime they may be building a wastewater treatment plant assuming that it is recommended and supported,” said Cousins.

He explained the current direction for the EA is:

– service for existing development for Erin and Hillsburgh;

– 100 units of growth capacity set aside for in-fill development and industrial/commercial growth;

– 400 units set aside for either Erin or Hillsburgh, or a 50-50 split between them; and

– updating the assimilative capacity calculations based on more recent flow data.

Cousins identified issues regarding that direction.

He said based on the current process, with all options open, it will be many years before any substantive development can go forward.

Even then, he asked, how does the town decide which lands will receive the limited sewage allocation and can the lands not receiving services be developed on partial services or do they remain undeveloped?

Moving forward

Cousins said if council is going to move forward, its  options are:

– stay with the current direction but growth could be very limited;

– consider partial services on lands that will not receive sewage allocation as a long-term strategy. This may address concerns of owners not selected for full servicing but would not add short-term growth; or

– consider partial services on lands that will not receive sewage allocations now. This would require council to make a decision on what land should be set aside for full service development.

Cousins wrapped up by asking those who attended to consider the following questions that council is seeking public and agency input on:

– whether some development could/should be permitted prior to the completion and implementation of the class EA, if so, under what conditions;

– whether there are options for development of lands on partial services that will not receive full services; and

– whether the above considerations would affect the three options for the growth currently proposed to be assessed in the class EA.

Schools and businesses

Kathryn Cooper, Upper Grand District School Board trustee for Erin, said the town was like “a leaky boat,” losing about 50 students a year.

“We are losing students three to four per cent a year… Two of the four (schools in Erin) are rated below 80 per cent (capacity),” she said.

Cooper said she did a quick calculation of how long it might take to get some development in the area and what that might mean for the schools.

“I calculated about five years before we see anything significant. That’s a loss of about 250 students,” she said.

Cooper said she wanted to be clear there are “no plans to close any schools within this area right now, (but) optimizing of course the valuable use of these resources makes a lot of sense.”

Chris Bailey, a member of the Village of Erin BIA, said the town has to consider businesses in the vision for growth.

“From the perspective of the downtown businesses, we are all aware there is a real struggle at the current time for businesses to survive and for businesses to flourish here in town. We’ve had an ongoing problem with vacancies,” he said.

Bailey continued, saying the commuter rate, volunteerism and lack of people to fill entry level positions are current challenges faced in the town.

Public response

Public comments and questions were not answered at the meeting by council or staff, but collected for further input in the process.

More than 25 residents spoke about different concerns about the EA process and development.

While council’s main question about where to put development was not answered that night, a number of other issues were raised.

Transition Erin members spoke out during the meeting, asking council to consider and implement their Subdivision Design Sustainable Development Checklist.

Other questions asked were:

– How is council going to choose which developer gets to develop the 25 hectares of land for servicing?

– Is council looking at alternative, newer sewage treatments?

– Can the town work corroboratively with other townships to keep costs down?

– What are the costs for home owners to hook up to the sewers?

– Is council looking into alternate funding models?

– Has council considered allowing a septic system that is site specific to the new development?

– Does the affluent need to go into the Credit River?

– Can the builders and developers pay for the capital costs?

– If the town revisits the assimilative study, could the 500 units of growth decrease rather than increase?

Other residents voiced their opinions on the EA and wastewater treatment plants.

A few rural residents said they were against having to pay for the capital costs of the wastewater facility for those in town. Others were against having to pay for hook ups onto the system.

Some residents said the town shouldn’t be blinded by sewage when it comes to the vision process and questioned if a treatment plant was even necessary.

Alls said he would present a response to the questions and comments in the coming days.