ERIN – Roughly 50 people are seated or standing in an upstairs room at the Hillsburgh Arena on the evening of May 23.
Projected onto a screen at the front is a map with a shaded area representing 129 acres in Hillsburgh proposed to become a massive residential development.
It’s there, at 63 and 63A Trafalgar Road, where Markham-based Ballantry Homes, a subsidiary of Beachcroft Investments Inc., wants to construct a 799-unit, mixed housing development.
Of those units, plans show 446 would be single-detached homes and 353 would be townhouses, with varying lot sizes.
Maurizio Rogato of Blackthorn Development (formerly of Solmar Development Corp., which has an ongoing development in Erin) led an oft-interrupted presentation about the development, on behalf of Beachcroft Investments, at the community meeting.
A concept design, which may be reworked in some fashion, shows multiple connections to the community.
Rogato pitched the design as “an interconnected community.”
Northern woodlots will be kept, with trails added and leading to seven park trailheads.
There are plans for two larger park spaces, one being 2.5 acres in size and the other 3 acres, near Traflagar Road, above stormwater tanks installed underground.
Fronting Trafalgar Road is a 19th century home with one of the development’s park spaces abutting the property to the north.
The property is listed on the town’s heritage inventory, but has yet to be officially designated under provincial law.
Beachcroft Investments commissioned a heritage impact assessment for the home, and plans to have the home restored and repurposed, though it’s not yet known what for.
A 6.4-acre area is being set aside with the intention of later constructing housing designed with seniors in mind, and buildings for medical and commercial tenants.
“We haven’t really drilled down on the plan for it,” Rogato told the room.
“Our intention is senior’s housing; as the process unfolds, anything’s possible.”
Whether it was the stuffy heat in the room or resistance to change, decorum, at times, descended into cacophony as questions, remarks and insults were shouted across the room.
Rogato may have struggled to maintain his composure and outsized smile, but he didn’t readily show it as the presentation was repeatedly interrupted.
Less than two minutes in, a woman seated in the front row blurted out, “Why do you have to build so many houses? I mean, that’s ridiculous.”
Rogato referenced longstanding provincial planning policy dictating housing and density targets in new developments as justification.
“This is a community master plan that is going to take time to develop, time to build,” he told the room in an attempt to allay fears of the developer bringing overnight change to Hillsburgh.
“In fact, what we go through to get approvals takes a very long time.”
Beachcroft Investments currently has three applications before the town and county, including: an official plan amendment, a zoning bylaw amendment, and a draft plan of subdivision.
Development, to occur in phases, is contingent on servicing being ready, including segments three and four of the new wastewater treatment plant.
Verbal and written comments from a June public meeting on the development will need to be considered and responded to, and other “commenting agencies,” including the school board and conservation authority, have yet to fully weigh-in on the proposal.
Some vocal residents suggested work had already begun, confusing ongoing construction work in Hillsburgh related to the wastewater treatment plant with the proposed development.
“We haven’t done a thing except study the property,” Beachcroft land development director Uzo Rossouw clarified at the meeting.
A man asked why the community hadn’t been made aware of the proposed development sooner.
Erin planning and development director Jack Krubnik stood to respond, but was drowned out by shouting from across the room.
“How long has this been on the shelf waiting?” the man yelled, his voice growing louder.
“Okay, let me answer the question,” Krubnik said, his voice drowned out by more yelling.
“Nothing is ready to go,” he added before being cut short by people yelling and talking over each other.
Others began shushing people to allow Krubnik to respond.
“It will take many, many months for us to come to a conclusion where there is a subdivision in place that the county approves,” Krubnik said, reiterating it’s the county with ultimate approval authority.
Prior to being sold to Beachcroft Investments last November, the land was owned by developer Manuel Tavares, who in 2003 purchased the acreage known as “Homestead Farm” from the Nodwell family.
The Nodwells immigrated from Ireland in 1838 and farmed the land into the 20th century before the family’s descendants sold it to Tavares and left town.
The land has been held for two decades, awaiting wastewater servicing and infrastructure.
Beachcroft’s applications were submitted in March and completed in April. The full build-out of the subdivision is estimated to be at least a decade away.
But Rogato was frank: “I can assure you, the size of this master plan will pretty much increase your population significantly.”
According to Statistics Canada census data, there were 429 residences with 1,152 people living in the village in 2021.
Murmuring among residents in response to Rogato’s comment filled the room.
“This is probably a good time to give ideas to the developers on what you’d like to see in the community,” Mayor Michael Dehn told the gathering, which had grown to roughly 70 people.
“We’re doing it, so we might as well try to do a great job,” Rogato said, noting the purpose of the informal meeting is to gather community feedback.
“We’re supposed to be with our ears on tonight.”
As some residents blurted out comments having nothing to do with the development, or interrupted others who were asked questions, it became clear some had little interest in the presentation.
“Guys, can we hear the presentation, please?” a man stood and said, trying to end a spat across the room.
“Guys, no disrespect. Can we just finish the presentation? We would like to hear it.”
“You’re going to go ahead and do whatever you want anyhow,” another man howled.
A woman made several remarks about the town not needing development, and said she had moved to Hillsburgh two years ago to get away from “bureaucracy and BS.”
“How many more slides are there?” a man called out.
Others posed more articulate questions and concerns.
Residents largely voiced concerns with traffic, safety, environmental disruption, a lack of available services and infrastructure to support more people, and a reluctance to see change in the village.
“We’re trying to marry you with us, and of course it’s growing pains,” a man stood to say, noting he had lived in town for 13 years.
There are positives and negatives to growth, Rogato said, noting the developer had fronted millions of dollars for the town’s wastewater treatment plant.
“Does everyone always feel that traffic is moving great, [that] community services are there? No. Are there problems that show up with development? Yes,” he said.
But residents’ issues are to be addressed throughout the planning process, he asserted.
“Our responsibility is to respond to those comments, to address them properly,” Rogato said.08-concept-plan
With housing costs completely removing homes from the reaches of most, pricing was front-of-mind for those in the room.
But Rogato and Rossouw couldn’t, or wouldn’t, speak to it.
“Once the plan is draft-plan approved, and once the marketing commences, yes there will be pricing available,” Rogato said.
“At this time, we’re literally at the beginnings of the process.”
The mayor asked if the developer would consider limiting how many homes could be purchased by a single buyer, to prevent an investor from coming in and driving up prices by purchasing and flipping homes.
Rossouw said there were no plans “at the moment” to sell off units in such a way.
“I’m not sure that’s ever been a problem,” she added.
Without getting into details, Dehn said it had been with another developer.
Although Rogato said he doesn’t see what Dehn described happening, he could not offer assurance that it won’t.
The mayor said he was trying to help the developer build positive relations with the community.
“The more you can reassure people that you’re going to consider these kind of things, I think—” Dehn said, without finishing his thought.
“We’re considering everything,” Rogato responded.
Speaking to the Advertiser following the meeting, Rogato said the strong feedback is welcome.
“Just because people are upset doesn’t make it a bad meeting,” he remarked.
Nothing heard that evening was all that different from comments he has received at past meetings over the past 25 years, Rogato said.
The informal meeting serves to get the ball rolling ahead of a future public meeting required by law, organizers said.
The mandated public meeting, at which written and verbal comments can be submitted, is scheduled for 3pm on June 8 at Erin town hall (5684 Trafalgar Road) south of Hillsburgh.
To view documents pertaining to the proposed development, click or tap here.