No recommendation made on South River Road proposals

Centre Wellington is not prepared to make a recommendation on provisional approval of two plans of subdivision along South River Road until the township growth strategy is completed.

In short, the municipality wants to look at the two plans as part of the “bigger picture” when it comes to development in Centre Wellington.

The Oct. 19 managing director of planning and development Brett Salmon recommended informing Wellington County that Centre Wellington will not make comment until the township’s strategy is completed, which may not happen until late 2016.

Earlier this year, the county received applications for the approval of two adjacent draft plans of subdivision, south of the Grand River in the Elora-Salem urban centre.

The first proposes between 372 and 475 dwelling units, including 286 to 389 single detached units and 86 multiple-residence units on a parcel of land with an area of 22.07 hectares.

The other proposes between 238 and 292 dwelling units, including 63 to 117 single detached dwellings and 175 multiple-residence units, on multiple parcels of land totaling 18.25 hectares.

Municipal and county review of the proposed plans and technical reports such as servicing, traffic and hydrogeology is ongoing and should continue, but Salmon said one of the most important considerations for any plan is whether or not the proposed subdivision is premature or in the public interest.

Salmon reasoned that a council recommendation at this time was premature until the township’s growth strategy is completed.

Salmon noted the Provincial Growth Plan applies to Wellington County and has resulted in population and employment forecasts the county and each of the lower tier municipalities must use for future planning purposes.

For Centre Wellington, the population is expected to grow from 27,290 (in 2006) to 41,350 (in 2031), an increase of 14,060 persons. The Fergus urban centre is expected to grow from 13,430 to 22,760 (9,330 increase). The Elora-Salem urban centre is expected to grow from 6,640 to 10,950 (4,310 increase).

In order to implement the Growth Plan, municipalities are required to develop and implement official plan policies, including phasing policies and other strategies, for designated greenfield areas to achieve intensification and density targets.

Salmon said the previous council recognized the need for a growth management strategy in its 2010 to 2014 strategic plan. Salmon noted revised growth forecasts pending adoption by the county will see additional growth allocated to Centre Wellington from 2031 to 2041.

“If these forecasts are adopted by the county, the projections to be used for planning purposes will see the overall township population grow to 52,350, with Fergus growing to 31,630 and Elora-Salem to 13,060,” he said.

Salmon noted Centre Wellington took a similar approach during the preparation of its Official Plan after amalgamation.

Elora Ridge Development’s request to expand the Elora-Salem urban boundary and for draft plan approval was deferred so it could be considered as part of the development of the Official Plan.

Salmon said the growth management strategy should determine the timing of development based in part on the township’s ability to finance the necessary infrastructure.

Councillor Don Fisher asked if this means the township will not make any recommendation on the subdivisions.

“Not until the growth strategy is complete,” Salmon said.

Fisher asked if the county was aware of Salmon’s recommendation. Salmon said he believes the county is supportive of the approach.

Fisher asked if the county cannot make a decision until the township makes a recommendation. Salmon said typically that is the process, but the county could potentially move ahead on the issue anyway.

“But that possibility is remote,” Salmon said.

Fisher asked whether there could be an Ontario Municipal Board challenge as a result of a decision on the subdivision not being made within an appropriate time – “as a result of the township’s action.”

Salmon agreed it could happen.

“So there is the possibility of a significant OMB hearing,” Fisher said.

Councillor Fred Morris asked if a delay to finish the township growth strategy was a defensible position in an OMB hearing.

“I wouldn’t be bringing this recommendation today if I didn’t think it was,” Salmon said. He noted the likelihood of appeal is stronger if the move is seen as simply a delay tactic, as compared to a legitimate need to look at the bigger picture.

Salmon said he hoped the developers’ team would work with the township in looking at that bigger picture – because they have a vested interest in making the application work.

Morris stressed he agreed with Salmon’s approach and recommendation.

“I strongly feel because of our growth prospects we do have to manage our growth,” said Morris.

Councillor Steven VanLeeuwen noted the South River Road development proposal has been controversial based on where it is and neighbourhood push back.

VanLeeuwen asked if this approach would be taken with other large scale developments being proposed. Salmon said it depends on circumstances.

In the South River Road development, there are issues of population density and the development would use up the majority of housing allocation for the Elora-Salem urban area. Infrastructure requirements are also an issue, Salmon said.

Part of the growth strategy would investigate whether population density requirements can be addressed in other ways.

Salmon noted there is an application underway for the northwest Fergus secondary plan. But planning for that area has been underway since 2007-08. The first phase of that development is about 200 units.

Salmon clarified that if all phases were proposed at the same time, he would use the same argument to defer and include it within the township’s overall growth strategy.

Because of the early planning, servicing was already established in that area along the Beatty Line.

Councillor Mary Lloyd noted the 2016 draft capital budget has proposed funds to continue studies for the growth management plan. She added there are a number of other studies and plans underway to address future needs of the community.

Lloyd noted the current building lot inventory indicates the township already has sufficient space to accommodate the next three years of growth.

She suggested that “rather than have an abundance of places in which to grow – we do it in a thoughtful manner.”

Salmon said the township has an adequate supply of lots for the next five years – either registered plans or those which are draft approved.

“We have enough that we can afford to take a pause to get a strategy rolling,” he said.

Mayor Kelly Linton said one of the first items on the township’s recently passed strategic plan centred on healthy growth.

“This is not about us pushing this off or that we do not want to make difficult decisions – this is about a commitment by council to move ahead with the growth strategy,” Linton said.

Salmon said he believes  looking at the South River Road developments in the context of the overall growth of Centre Wellington will help council make a better decision.

“We do know the lands brought into the urban centre in 2002 indicates there is a need, but it needs to be looked at in context.”

Fisher asked if council had sought a legal opinion. Salmon responded this was a planning recommendation.

Councillors eventually endorsed Salmon’s recommendation. As it was a committee of the whole recommendation, the issue will come up for final endorsement on Oct. 26.