Puslinch councillors rebuff predictions of amalgamation or annexation

ABERFOYLE – Councillors here rebuffed Joseph Hutter’s predictions of amalgamation or annexation if Puslinch does not up its game in economic development.

“Puslinch council needs to decide if they are a caretaker council or a council with vision,” Hutter told council on June 5.

Pressing an argument made in early April that the township’s lack of economic development would ultimately lead to amalgamation or annexation, he added, “My research indicates that if Puslinch council decides to do nothing … then the existing Puslinch council (2018-2022) could be the last.”

Hutter stated the current lack of economic development in the township represents a target for justifying amalgamation by the province. He noted sections of the township have been annexed before.

On sharing municipal services, Hutter said “there will probably never be any agreement between Puslinch and Guelph or Cambridge to interconnect municipal services.”

Hutter contended that “not allowing annexation of Puslinch, may result in greater costs to Puslinch, Guelph, Cambridge through loss of growth and development opportunities.”

He stressed, “A municipal corporation does not exist for its own sake. It is created primarily to provide and maintain essential local services required by the area.”

Guelph, the dominant city in the region, is facing growth pressures to the point where growth and development are imminent, he stated.

Hutter said he believes annexation could reduce the township’s residential tax burden via increased tax revenue from shared industrial, commercial development, and economies of scale from Guelph and/or Cambridge municipal services.

He also contended Guelph’s economic growth and need for new residential and commercial lands is undisputable.

Hutter cited the Corwhin Development Project of 2000 as an example of the township’s anti-development history. The project was planned as an upscale retirement community with an 18 hole golf course and ski hill.

Councillor Matthew Bulmer stated “if I’d been told some of the things you’ve been told, I too would share many of your concerns.”

Bulmer added at the most recent all-candidates meeting he too shared the opinion that at some point there might be a need for amalgamation – possibly with Guelph-Eramosa Township.

As to the city’s need for land, Bulmer stated, “The city currently has sufficient residential and industrial lands to last until 2041 within its official plan.”

He added “… so (the need) is not imminent, and in talking to city staff, the challenge faced is not land, but water.”

Additional residential and industrial growth does not put more water into the aquifer, he said.

As to the Corwhin development, Bulmer said suggesting one failed project represents an anti-development mindset at council “is an overstatement.”

Applications were made to both the county and township, “But before either body could make a decision, the applicant referred the matter to the Ontario Municipal Board – which turned it down.”

Bulmer said the OMB decision was appealed to the Superior Court of Ontario, which also turned it down.

“I am sorry someone led you to believe it had the support of the OMB, but whoever told you that, provided false information,” Bulmer said.

As to suggestions the township was “anti-development” Bulmer looked at what has happened since that application in 2000.

“If I look back at the residential components, I remember dealing with Irish Creek Estates, Meadows of Aberfoyle, Aberfoyle Creek Phase 3, Fox Run Phase 2, Audrey Meadows and Heritage Lake.”

Noting development underway in Morriston and an expansion at Mini-Lakes, he added, “Many times during those years, we’ve had a growth rate which rivalled many urban municipalities.”

Bulmer said he shares Hutter’s concern about economic development, “But I don’t want to lose sight of the work previous councils have done.”

Bulmer said the municipality worked with companies such as Royal Canin to address resident concerns. He noted that council has rezoned large pieces of property on McLean Road and along the Hanlon where there has been significant commercial activity.

With the heavy rains experienced in recent weeks, Bulmer was reminded of the township’s investment in Carroll Pond in its industrial park to ensure it remained a viable industrial park.

Up the road (Brock Road), Bulmer said the township supported the rezoning of lands for Milburn Auto Sales – and defended its decision which was appealed at the OMB by the City of Guelph. He also pointed to the development relocation of Victoria Park Golf Course.

Bulmer added the township has also invested in a Community Improvement Plan to encourage and enhance economic development.

He said, “The township fast-tracked the approval of the Maple Leaf Foods site. Council of the day here bent over backwards to help make that happen.”

Mayor James Seeley said Hutter offered an excellent presentation that involved a lot of work.

Seeley offered assurance that the county is always willing to meet him and developers about possibilities.