GUELPH/ERAMOSA – Jones Baseline neighbours and community members gathered in Kim Townsend’s backyard on the afternoon of Oct. 17, unified around their opposition to a proposed manufacturing facility.
Georgetown-based fridge and freezer manufacturer Minus Forty, which currently occupies an 80,000 square foot space, has planned to move its operations to a much larger plant located on a 27.8 acre parcel at 5063 Jones Baseline, behind Townsend’s property.
At least 35 people warmed themselves with beverages and snacks and listened with rapt attention to Jones Baseline Community Group members Jon Pigozzo, Kim Townsend and Jillian Wood, and Wellington Water Watchers executive director Arlene Slocombe, who spoke about the proposed facility and their concerns with its potential impact on the surrounding neighbourhood.
“There are still people who live in this neighbourhood, who haven’t fully been involved or made aware of the fact that this factory is trying to build right there,” Pigozzo said, gesturing to the agricultural land just behind Townsend’s home.
Pigozzo lives with his family two doors down from the Townsends in a house purchased from his wife’s parents.
“That’s our forever home; this definitely matters,” he told the Advertiser on Sunday.
“You don’t fully appreciate the size that the building is going to be and the location of the building without actually walking to where the property is.”
A small group of neighbours and reporters crossed over to the adjacent field as Pigozzo narrated what the site would look like.
“[The] driveway is basically coming in right there … maybe a little bit further back,” he said, pointing into the biting fall wind toward Jones Baseline.
“There’s going to be a round-about, parking and then as soon as you get to where the field is, it’s factory.”
The proposed location is currently zoned agriculture but has been designated as a “rural employment area” under the County of Wellington Official Plan.
Under the designation, county policy states the lands are therefore “set aside for industrial and limited commercial uses which would benefit from a rural location” but will need to be rezoned from the present agricultural use.
If granted by township council, the zoning change would allow for the construction of a 163,979 square foot industrial facility with 90,000 square feet for future expansions.
The first phase of the proposed development will include administration, manufacturing and warehousing areas with eleven loading bays, 242 parking spaces and room for two additional expansions.
Pigozzo has previously said he finds planning reports for the site to be misleading.
“They kept referring to the proposed building … not the full expansion,” he explained of the company’s rezoning application, emphasizing the building would be expanded several times.
“It will be … almost five times the size of a Costco,” he remarked of the final buildout.
Wood, also a nearby neighbour, spoke of concerns about effluent seeping from the facility’s septic system into the aquifer which the residents rely on for drinking water.
Lucas Coombs has lived in the neighbourhood for four years and heard about the community group through news articles.
“The deep aquifer would impact us,” he remarked. He also has concerns with increased truck traffic in an already busy area.
Chris Oates, who lives northeast of the property on Wellington Road 29, said he and his family recently moved into a house purchased in March and heard about the proposed development through a mailed flyer.
“Now [with] this being thrown in here there’s gonna be, I can’t even imagine, how many more trucks,” he said, adding he has been impressed with the group’s resourcefulness.
Wellington Water Watchers has since taken an interest in the cause, providing advice and helping to strengthen the grassroots effort.
“It’s already designated as a water-stressed area,” Slocombe said of the property, adding a facility of this size would be “incredibly taxing” on the area.
“More than ever, it is a time when we need to be protecting green spaces; there are areas that are designated industrial use, that a facility like this can go … not on farmland,” Slocombe said.
The Jones Baseline Group has also become a corporation and started a Small Change Fund titled “Farms Not Fridges” with a $50,000 goal to fund their fight. A similar GoFundMe has raised $2,030 out of a $5,000 goal, as of Oct. 19.
The newly incorporated group has also hired environmental lawyer David Donnelly, who has addressed a letter to the township requesting a six-week waiting period after the township receives a rezoning report to allow for the corporation to respond.
“That will give us as a community time to see what their peers and [a] third party consultant have decided—what they say the science says about using this site,” Pigozzo said.
“Having four days or five days, from the time of the councillors receiving word back from the county and the peer review to them making a vote doesn’t give us enough time to get the information ourselves,” he explained, also saying the group has hired a professional planner.
Townsend, who hosted the backyard meet, has lived at the property with her husband and children for the past 15 years.
She’s been firing off emails to councillors to keep them aware that she exists, she said, and isn’t okay with what’s going on.
“This is literally adjacent to my backyard, that would be disastrous,” she said.
“We’re all on well and septic here … that’s one of the biggest things,” she said of her concerns.
The community group has met several times since forming in the summertime, and Townsend says if she’s learned anything, it’s that “community matters” and she hopes their collective voices will “make a difference.”
“We’ve gathered as a group to make people aware this is what’s happening and it’s not okay and I think that’s the biggest thing that we can probably do,” she said. “We need to help do this together, it cannot be done alone.”
– With files from Paige Peacock