Puslinch no longer accepting large-scale site alteration applications

Puslinch won’t be accepting any new large-scale fill applications in the near future.

On July 15, township councillors finally dealt with councillor Matthew Bulmer’s notice of motion asking the township to stop accepting new applications until the township revised its current fill bylaw.

Bulmer explained some changes from a previous motion he introduced included closing a potential loophole regarding individuals who dumped fill without a permit.

“I wanted to close the loophole so that they could not bring in more,” said Bulmer.

He explained if the individual is given an order to deal with the fill, they should be able to get a permit to deal with what is there – even if it is to remove it – but not to allow more fill to be brought in.

The township’s current alteration bylaw, passed in 2012, was adopted to permit the placement of fill while mitigating impacts to the natural environment, residents quality of life, and liability to the township.

The bylaw distinguishes between projects greater and less than 1,000 cubic metres, but Bulmer noted there is currently no formal arrangement between the township and conservation authorities to address  fill projects.

Bulmer’s motion noted projects larger than 1,000m3 have a greater potential to negatively impact the natural environment and residents’ quality of life.

He also said those projects also have a greater potential to be divided across regulatory boundaries such as conservation authorities, which do not consider quality-of-life impact to residents as part of their review.

The motion recognizes that current fees for projects over 1,000m3 may not be sufficient to cover costs of all projects.

There was also recognition that the current fill bylaw has already been amended once since its first passage and that it has been identified for further improvements. There have also been new best practices passed since passage of the original bylaw that could be used to enhance the township bylaw.

The move to temporarily cease accepting applications for new site alteration projects greater than 1,000m3 will provide staff and council time to work with conservation authorities to create a coordinated approach to deal with future applications.

Council’s review of the current bylaw would also look at whether an upper limit needs to be established for site alterations project (currently there is no limit). Reviews would also look at the potential of scalable fees for projects over 1,000m3 .

Bulmer thanked staff for assisting him and taking the time to work on the motion.

“It is not meant at all to be a criticism of the existing bylaw. But I think that with anything in life, we’re at our best when we learn as we go,” said Bulmer.

Mayor Dennis Lever agreed, noting, “This has been a very big learning experience for council.”

Bulmer said “we’ve had the opportunity to see the strengths and areas which could be improved.” He said he considered the existing bylaw a good foundation.

Councillor Ken Roth remained concerned about what might happen if a company such as Maple Leaf needed a fill application while the bylaw putting a hold on such applications was still in place – “Because this is going to take a long time to sort out.”

Lever replied all council would need to do is pass an exception to the bylaw for a specific case. The mayor agreed that revisions to the existing bylaw “will take a considerable amount of time.”

Roth also said in some ways the approach seemed to reward individuals for illegal dumping and encourage it if the township provides permit for materials already dumped.

“I don’t agree with that at all. I think if someone dumps illegally, they should have to remove the material – no negotiations – no nothing,” said Roth.

Bulmer said the exception only applies to projects that have already happened. His concern is there may be one or two sites that have received orders to take action – and are looking to take advantage of the laws of the land today.

“They are entitled to the opportunity to fix those sites,” said Bulmer. “But once this passes, that door of opportunity will close.”

Roth contended “it’s still illegal dumping and they should be made to remove it.”

Lever said illegal dumping will need to be treated in the same way as it is treated now – “It’s illegal.”

Roth argued against any move which would allow individuals to maintain what has already been dumped illegally.

Bulmer compared it to individuals who build homes without building permits “you have the opportunity to take out a permit to retain that building … or tear it down.”

For site alteration projects already filed, the township would process the applications.

CAO Karen Landry stressed that processing does not mean such applications would be approved by council.

“It would be evaluated and if the project is over 1,000m3  it is still subject to the public process,” said Landry.

Lever asked what happens if the application is denied and the material has already been dumped illegally.

As for new projects, “if they didn’t get it in today, they are out of luck.” Landry said for those dumping illegally, council’s action would be to take them to court.

Council passed the motion.