A public meeting here July 14 to hear comments about the proposed second phase of the Salem Springs single family condominium project had several interesting twists to it.
The result is council is going to negotiate with the developer to determine if it can obtain an easement at the edge of the Irvine River for possible walking trails. The land is Part Lot 15, Concession 11 North, in Salem.
Township planner Brett Salmon said in his report the existing condominium has five single family homes on three-quarter acre lots, and the second phase has five lots, on a half-acre each. There is private services and access is via a private road called Wissler Ridge, created as part of the development in the first phase.
For the second phase, a zoning amendment is needed.
Salmon said since the application is relatively simple, he saw no reason why council could not approve the bylaw that night.
There were no formal objections, but Elora resident Ian Rankine presented council with a three page commentary, and suggested the township, the county, and the Grand River Conservation Authority “need to study this proposal carefully in light of the official plans of both the township and the county, the 2005 Provincial Policy Statements, and the regulatory mandates of the Conservation Authority.”
Councillor Kirk McElwain, referring to his letter, questioned Salmon about the assertion that property owners on the Irvine River can claim ownership of the land to the middle of the stream.
Rankine said his concern was aroused by a map that accompanied the notice for the meeting. “It appears that the north bank of the Irvine River and fully half of the river itself will become private property if this zoning bylaw amendment and draft plan of condominium proceed,” he wrote.
“What is the rationale for the township, the county, and the Grand River Conservation Authority privatizing this major tributary of the Grand River?” he asked, adding does privatization conflict with the Grand’s heritage designation.
McElwain asked if it is true the property owners own the land to half way across the Irvine River.
Salmon said, “Their deeds say they do.” But, he added, on navigable waterways, the river bottom is owned by the Crown.
He said in this case, all properties in the area show the ownership right into the river, and he noted that, too, is common in the Fergus part of the township with the Grand River.
But, Salmon said, “What that means in practical purposes – I’m not aware of people trying to shove people out of the river for trespassing.”
He said in the end, the courts would have to decide the ownership issue, and he doubts it would be a lower court.
Rankine’s letter said his second reason for speaking arose from research on the Elora and Irvine Gorges. He said in 1952, there was a proposal for a 34-acre development along the Irvine River from Elora to Salem, and another 84 acres along the Grand between Fergus and Elora.
But, he said, the local councils of the day did not act and now there is little public access to them except for the Irvine Parade and Irvine Promenade walkways written into the 1857 Allan and Mathieson Lot 19 survey.
Rankine said 50 years later, the province, township, and county planning documents call for long-term economic, environmental, and social well being thinking that would support public access to the Irvine River – not just in the area identified within Centre Wellington, but all the way from Salem to Highway 6.
“The township will grow and the need for recreational land for humans and habitat for our wildlife must be considered when a council sets a precedent to privatize the banks of a river and fully half of the river bed,” Rankine wrote.
He cited a number of ways the bylaw conflicts with the Provincial Policy Statement, and two ways it conflicts with the township’s official plan. He said the official plan states “public access to the river is encouraged.”
Under questions from McElwain, Salmon said old Nichol township approved the original phase of Salem Springs, and there is no way to reach the river’s edge for a trail because that side of the river is surrounded by private property.
“Access here would be nice, but … It’s difficult to get meaningful public access at this site,” he said.
Salmon said the plan includes intensification of population as an infilling proposal, and it uses infrastructure that is already in place there.
Rankine said he is concerned because it appears council is willing to repeat an error already made by Nichol.
He said the Wissler Ridge easement is in place for access by the people living at the development, and he wondered why it cannot be extended with another easement along the river for a trail.
Salmon said that the proposal will still need site plan approval, and changing the zoning that night would not have an affect on that part of the negotiations with the developer. He said of the site plan proposal, “The wording is general enough if public access is desired, we could consider it.”
Salmon said a trail might be “impractical here,” but it would “leave the door open” for trails on other parts of river over the long term.
It was then that another surprise entered the deliberations. Developer Martin Johanns told council that there are five lots to build on for condos, and all the land in the condominium is going to be held in common.
“People do walk through,” he said of the development. “We could have a trail here.”
He agreed that a public trail might be impractical because the development is surrounded by private land, and people would have to walk through back yards “unless you come from the other side with a bridge. I’m not against a trail, but there are a few problems.”
But, he said, he likes the idea of trails along the river.
“Between Elora and Fergus, you’ve got a beautiful river – but you can’t get to it. Everybody here loves the nature idea.”
Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj told Johanns, “I’m glad you’re receptive.”
She said the township will consider the proposals and see if anything can be done for a trail.
When council closed the public meeting and later met in regular council, it considered the zoning bylaw.
Councillor Fred Morris wondered if council would forfeit it leverage in negotiations by approving the bylaw.
Salmon said the zoning will not affect that. He pointed out the conditions of draft approval included:
– walkways and walkway ramps, including the surfacing thereof and all other means of pedestrian access; and
– easements conveyed to the municipality for the construction, maintenance or improvement of watercourses, ditches, land drainage works, sanitary sewage, facilities and other public utilities of the municipality or local board thereof on the land; and
– that the owner enter into an agreement with Centre Wellington for the purposes of satisfying “all the requirements financial and otherwise, of the township.
The township also will have included in the condominium agreement the opportunity for the township to review and approve any proposed condominium description, declaration, and any arrangements for shared use of facilities and any related agreements and easements in respect of this plan of condominium development prior to final approval.
“I think there’s enough latitude,” Salmon said.
Councillor Shawn Watters then moved that staff be in-structed to negotiate public access where possible.”
Councillor Bob Foster wondered, “Can we do that?”
Salmon said it is permitted to negotiate easements, and there is something similar at the Grand River Raceway, where a trail crosses private land. He said the issue might be “tricky.”
Councillor Walt Visser said, “I question our authority to push this on an individual.
Council then passed the bylaw and the negotiations.