Dennis Lever is relieved Puslinch Township has finally taken a position on the proposed Aikensville gravel pit, an issue which is going to be settled at the Ontario Municipal Board.
And he’s very happy that position is the same as his – in opposition to the pit.
“We needed a public show of where they stood,” he told the Wellington Advertiser after the council meeting on Nov. 5. “Now we know council is on the same side as we are – and we didn’t know that before.”
Lever is president of CARRA (Cranberry Area Residents and Ratepayers Association), which represents over 100 nearby landowners who were opposed to the pit from the start, due to its proximity to homes and the provincially significant wetlands on the site.
He asked council to pass a prepared resolution stating the township is opposed to Capital Paving’s proposal.
The resolution also stated the township is opposed to rezoning the land for “any pit,” and will hire the legal, planning, and technical experts “to best address and express this opposition.” The motion also contains a clause stating it “supersedes any previous resolution on this proposed pit by this council.”
It passed by a 3-1 vote, with Mayor Brad Whitcombe opposed. Councillor Don McKay declared a conflict of interest because he is employed by a company that has done work for Capital Paving.
“We’re disappointed the mayor voted against it,” Lever said. “But that wasn’t a big surprise, considering he voted against us twice at county council.”
In March, Whitcombe voted in favour of an official plan amendment designating 60 acres of land as a mineral aggregate area, although that bylaw was defeated 8-7 by county council.
Two months earlier, Whitcombe was one of four councillors who wanted to proceed with the bylaw, while 11 voted in favour of sending it back to the planning committee for review after possible errors in pit floor elevations were identified by Puslinch’s own hydrogeologist, Stan Denhoed.
Lever was not the only one disappointed last week with Whitcombe’s actions.
Councillor Dick Visser said Whitcombe was at first opposed to the pit location, but then seemed to change his mind at county council.
Whitcombe said in an interview on Nov. 7 he has stressed all along that council is not in a position to make a decision on the zoning until the official plan amendment was in place. He felt he had no choice but to oppose Lever’s motion.
“That resolution was inappropriately worded,” he said. “To me, saying council is opposed no matter what is never an appropriate decision.”
Whitcombe expressed regret that council has chosen to act before receiving legal and expert advice.
“Now that we have a resolution of council it is everyone’s duty to be respectful of that, but we also need to know the ramifications of it – so we know how council will proceed,” he said.
He hinted that the township’s attempt to have vertical zoning included in the Capital Paving application – which he called a possible “safeguard” – may now be lost if the Capital receives approval from the Ontario Municipal board, where the issue will likely be settled.
Whitcombe also said it is possible Puslinch could need more experts to help defend the portion of the resolution that states the township is opposed to “any pit” on the property.
And the resolution seems to prohibit any mediation between the involved parties, which is the OMB’s preferred way of dealing with the application, he added.
“It’s an interesting position for the municipality to be in right now,” Whitcombe said.
The mayor had suggested delaying a decision at the meeting last week, but the rest of council disagreed.
“I think we have no choice but to support CARRA,” Visser said, adding the group is very well prepared to present its case to the OMB.
Councillor Susan Fielding said she agreed with CARRA’s assertion that if the pit location is approved, it could set a precedent.
She also expressed frustration that Puslinch council’s endorsement of the official plan amendment was being misconstrued by some individuals as blanket council approval of the pit.
Councillor Matthew Bulmer said the township was never in favour of the pit, but never had a chance to vote against it either.
“The public wants to know if we’re in favour or opposed,” Bulmer said. If council could not support Lever’s resolution, he suggested the township draft its own opposition to the pit, with the help of its experts.
But Fielding moved Lever’s motion, seconded by Visser, and both supported it, with the help of Bulmer.
Nick Toth, land acquisition manager with Capital Paving, had little to say about council’s decision.
“This is before the board and I don’t have any comment on it,” Toth said.
It’s unclear exactly what the next steps will be for Capital, CARRA, and the township, although all parties seemed to indicate they are seeking legal advice.
The OMB has tentatively scheduled a pre-hearing in February and a full hearing in May.
Visser was upset last week with what he interpreted as the lack of support residents have received on the Aikensville matter – not only from Whitcombe, but also McKay and his wife, county councillor Barb McKay.
Both have declared conflicts of interest due to Don McKay’s connection to Capital Paving.
Visser called Barb McKay’s declaration at the county a “very tenuous” one. This is not the first time Visser has publicly expressed disappoint-ment with the McKays’ declarations.
Don McKay said he has no comment on Visser’s statements, although he did explain the company he works for – Ortech Consulting – has done work for Capital Paving.
So, on the advice of a lawyer, he and his wife decided to declare a conflict of interest on all matters pertaining to the Aikensville application.