Proponent seeks to rezone gravel pit property for industrial/commercial uses

ABERFOYLE – When it comes to planning, which comes first, a business proposal or a property rezoning?

On Oct. 16, councillors here struggled with the proposal for Part Lot 26, Concession 2 which involved amending the Wellington County Official Plan and Puslinch zoning bylaw.

Farhi Holding Corp. wants to allow industrial and commercial uses on a former gravel pit by changing the zoning from extractive industrial (EXI) and natural environment (NE-6) to a site specific industrial (IND) zone and natural environment (NE) zone.

The Oct. 16 public meeting provided a preliminary overview of the proposal; highlighted some of the applicable planning policies to be considered, comments received to date and outstanding items to be addressed; and explained the next steps in the planning review process.       

Melanie Horton, a planner with Harrington McAvan, represented Farhi Holding Corp.

Horton said the triangular 10-hectare (25-acre) property lies to the north of Highway 401, between Concession 7 and Sideroad 25N.

A report to council also noted the property is located immediately west of the Puslinch Economic Development Area and is currently vacant of any structures. It contains natural features to the north end of the property, including a portion of Mill Creek. 

Horton noted the land was formerly part the CBM aggregate operation (Coburn Pit), and the aggregate license on the property was surrendered in 2017.

Changes to the official plan and the township’s zoning bylaw would facilitate the future development of the site for industrial and commercial uses (such as offices and warehousing). 

Horton said “the rezoning would allow the reuse of the area for a range of employment uses.”

Surrounding land uses include Reid’s Heritage Lake community and other residential uses to the north, the Highway 401 West corridor to the immediate south, extractive sites (in the Puslinch Economic Development Area) to the east and Slovenski Park to the immediate west which is a seasonal trailer park/community.

Horton added “the key thing here is that there is no specific development plan at this time.”

As such, Horton agreed the application has been a bit of a challenge for planning and township staff.

“What we are trying to do is change the land use in principle from extractive to general industrial.”

She stated the rezoning would increase the portion of land zoned as natural environment.

She stressed the rezoning would only allow for ‘dry’ industrial uses.

Horton said she believes the site would be attractive for a use like warehousing.

She stated the site plan approval process would address details of any development proposal such as location on the property, setbacks, stormwater management and a long list of items.

Horton noted currently most of the property is designated as EXI.

“We’ve asked for a couple of additional uses in the IND zoning – notably a garden centre.”

She said a number of years ago, there was an expression of interest from the owner of a garden centre wanting to move the business to the location. The business subsequently found another location.

However, Horton considered it wise to have the opportunity open.

As to concerns raised from Slovenski Park, Horton said it lies along a load restricted roadway and there is no road access from Sideroad 25N to the Farhi property and the bridges on that road cannot carry heavy vehicles, she added.

The current access to the site is almost directly across from the CBM pit entrance, she said.

She noted the existence of a hydro corridor along Concession 7 and that, as a result of proposed expansion of Highway 401, about an acre of land was expropriated for that future expansion.

Councillor Matthew Bulmer was pleased to see the proposed additional use for potential employment lands.

However, he asked Horton for comments on the concerns raised by Slovenski Park residents. Bulmer noted there is the potential for incompatible land uses.

Horton agreed there would be consideration to eliminate potential noxious uses.

Councillor Jessica Goyda raised the issue of traffic impact.

Horton said this could be addressed in the site plan.

She also pointed out the bridge on Sideroad 25 remains an issue. Several councillors also raised concerns about the state of the bridge.

Councillor John Sepulis noted one of the recommendations of staff is to eliminate use of that bridge and have a new access coming off Concession 7 where a bridge would not be needed.

Sepulis asked if the proponent would consider providing an easement just to the south of the wooded areas.

Horton said she could not speak directly on behalf of the owner, but anticipated he would be willing to entertain the idea.

Sepulis added, “the bridge is in pretty rough shape and staff have recommended we do something next year.”

Horton said she believes the approach would work, but an actual location would depend on what is being developed.

Mayor James Seeley expressed similar concerns about the Sideroad 25N bridge. Seeley said replacement of the bridge would be an expensive proposition.

“It would be very much in our favour to negotiate a crossing. We look forward to working with you on that.”

Seeley asked what soil sampling had been done. He noted in the past, the land was used as a settling pond for years.

Horton said work was done as part of the application process. She noted the groundwater table is close to the surface in that area, which would determine how it could be develop.

Seeley also noted recent discussions he’d taken part in regarding the overuse of sodium in parking lots, which he indicated is important considering the land’s proximity to Mill Creek.

The mayor noted council was making no decision that night and staff would come back with a report later.