Residents pack building to speak out on industrial development

If the comments made on Monday night are any indication, the majority of Guelph-Eramosa residents are firmly opposed to  a new industrial development at the southwest corner of Highway 7 and Wellington Road 29.

It was standing room only at the public meeting, as over 130 people packed the council chamber – and every resident who spoke was opposed to the proposal from landowners David and Marlene Robertson.

Township planning consultant Bernie Hermsen explained the Robertsons propose the creation of 30 industrial lots and a storm water management pond on 33 hectares, with access onto County Road 29. Each lot would include its own well and tertiary treatment system.

The original application was submitted in 2004, and a revised application was submitted last October, Hermsen said.

Bruce Donaldson, who represents the Robertsons, said the land was 15 years ago designated rural industrial in the county’s official plan, which made clear the intention for the property.

Donaldson noted the Robertsons, who saw a need for industrial land in the area, have submitted many studies in support of the development, including those dealing with water, traffic, archaeology, agriculture and servicing.

He added “it was always our intention” to use Highway 7 as the main route for traffic, with no intent to have traffic travelling southeast to the hamlet of Eden Mills.

But many in the audience worried that is exactly what will happen, including several youths who spoke about the concerns of young people living nearby.

“We don’t want any more traffic on these roads,” said Robin Bresnahan, a local high school student who presented council with a petition signed by 35 of his peers who are opposed the development. A pair of younger children also presented a petition signed by over 70 local youths.

Bresnahan said the industrial subdivision will “pollute the land and water in our area;” not to mention the noise pollution that will result from increased traffic. He is also concerned about the loss of prime agricultural land – a sentiment that was echoed by many others in attendance.

“There’s absolutely no way to mitigate the loss of farmland,” resident Libby Little told council. She cautioned the township about trading immediate personal financial gain for the future of local children.

Others are worried about the impact the development could have on groundwater quantity and quality.

“How quickly we forget Walkerton,” said Carolin Bot, speaking for residents Pat and Bob Ralston. Bot noted the development would sit directly atop the same aquifer that provides locals with drinking water.

Tim Laing, representing a group of residents calling themselves the Friends of the Eramosa River Valley, presented council with a petition signed by 150 locals opposed to the industrial development.

“We can not take water quality for granted,” Laing said. “The threats to our groundwater are severe.”

He added it would be “unconscionable” to place added stress – in the form of noise and traffic – on seniors living in the Eden House care facility on County?Road 29, which would be surrounded by the development.

John Cox, a consultant representing Eden House owner John Bowmeester, said the facility houses over 80 residents, many with ties to the local community, and also employs 75 people.

Cox said Bowmeester is worried about the impact the development could have on County?Road 29 and is also concerned about some of the permitted uses in the rural industrial zone and about the appearance of the industrial subdivision.

Eden Mills resident Mike Nagy said flatly that the proposal “lacks vision” and more resembles developments in the 1950s and 1970s than something from the 21st century. Nagy also noted the storm water pond will be located in the most vulnerable area of the property.

Eden Mills’ Dale Hamilton, who was a councillor at the time the land was designated by the county as rural industrial, said the intent was never to have a subdivision go forward without municipal services.

Kathryn Dean said the reason her family moved to the area was because “it’s God’s country” and the beauty of the area had yet to be destroyed. She said that may change if the development proceeds.

Other concerns expressed at the meeting included a possible decrease in local property values, light pollution, seasonal flooding in the area, hours and days of operation of businesses and the possibility of more accidents at the corner of Highway 7 and County?Road 29.

Councillor Reta Moyer said it is regrettable that some residents have the perception that council is not dealing with the proposal in the proper manner.

“We’re not trying to stonewall you,” she said to the crowd, adding it would be premature for council to make a decision before it considers all the pertinent information.

Councillor Doug Breen thanked everyone for attending the meeting, which he called “an excellent example of democracy” at work. He added residents came “out in force” with great questions and comments, and he noted it was “a huge deal” that several youths took part in the process.

Mayor Chris White said council will consider all the questions and comments made at the meeting and the township would host another public meeting – at a larger location – to get the answers to those questions that were not addressed.