Settlement reached in Jones Baseline Ontario Land Tribunal appeal

Jones Baseline Community Group appealed rezoning of agricultural land for a factory in 2021

GUELPH/ERAMOSA – An appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) seeking to reverse the rezoning of 27.8 acres of agricultural land to rural industrial in Guelph/Eramosa for a large factory has been withdrawn.

Fridge and freezer manufacturer Minus Forty, which currently occupies an 80,000 square foot space in Georgetown, has plans to move its operations and construct a much larger plant at 5063 Jones Baseline, between Rockwood and Guelph.

Guelph/Eramosa council approved the rezoning, with conditions, on Nov. 15, 2021, despite vehement opposition from nearby residents.

Those residents, forming the non-profit Jones Baseline Community Group, launched an appeal of council’s decision with the OLT.

“Our main hope, and we know it’s not a great hope, is that the Ontario Land Tribunal would overrule the rezoning and they’ll see the mistakes and the long-term consequences that this is going to have in the community and in the neighbourhood,” community group member Jon Pigozzo told the Advertiser in 2021.

But following a settlement between the group and Jones Baseline Corp (Minus Forty), reached in December, the appeal has since been withdrawn.

A Dec. 23 letter from the group’s legal counsel, David Donnelly, requests the Ontario Land Tribunal to close its file, stating a settlement was reached resolving the group’s appeal in its entirety.

The withdrawal was accepted by the tribunal on Jan. 17.

Pigozzo, who is one of the founding members of the community group, previously told the Advertiser the worst case scenario would involve mediation and discussion of how to minimize the factory’s effects on the neighbourhood.

“That’s basically what happened,” Pigozzo said by phone in a recent interview.

“Needless to say, the factory [will] still go ahead. It’s disappointing overall, but at least we’re able to come to some agreements on certain things that will mitigate some of the inconveniences to the neighbourhood.”

Details of the settlement reached between the community group and Minus Forty haven’t been made public and Pigozzo wasn’t sure how much he could talk about it.

He noted “it’s mostly sort of the design and stuff” and that withdrawal of the appeal was one of the settlement terms.

The Advertiser repeatedly attempted to contact Donnelly by email and phone for comment on this article, but did not receive a response.

Alex Ciccone, a lawyer at the law firm Garrod Pickfield which represented Minus Forty, declined to comment on the settlement, only confirming the appeal had been withdrawn and that “the requested zoning for the subject property is now in force.”

Pigozzo provided some insight into why the group settled, saying funding had dried up.

“It’s an expensive thing to do,” he remarked.

A Small Change Fund, which has raised $5,914 as of Jan. 30, continues online and the group is discussing a spring fundraiser to pay its legal and professional bills.

“It’s not going to cover everything,” Pigozzo said of the money raised thus far.

As for the settlement, he maintains the group isn’t “making money off of anything; we’re a non-profit organization.”

Pigozzo also said the odds of the OLT ruling in favour of the group and overturning council’s decision were low.

After council voted 4-1 in favour of rezoning the land in 2021, the group was “starting from way behind,” Pigozzo said.

“Council didn’t help us,” he said. “We feel like they didn’t do what was in the best interest of the residents in this community.”

The Advertiser sent emails requesting comment for this story to councillors Corey Woods and Mark Bouwmeester, who both voted in favour of the rezoning during the 2018-22 council term.

Woods stated in an email, “council was able to mitigate some of the local issues with the site,” and listed examples such as farther setbacks from homes, relocation of loading bays so truck lights aren’t shining at homes, and landscaping and fencing to reduce noise.

“Guelph/Eramosa Township is in desperate need of more commercial/industrial development,” Woods added, noting commercial development eases the residential tax burden.

He said he hopes the township’s land already set aside for commercial and industrial purposes – such as over 100 acres on Wellington Road 124, west of Guelph – is used in the future.

Bouwmeester finds it “unfortunate” some residents feel unrepresented and believes the factory will “be of great benefit to all residents.”

“I can assure you that all the proper planning processes were followed,” he stated in an email, adding “the application met the long-standing land designation for that area.”

With the appeal withdrawn, the next step for Minus Forty — absorbed along with two other companies into a new operation called Due North, and purchased by New York-based private equity firm Ronin Equity Partners in 2021 — is to meet conditions to lift a holding provision on the property.

Since the appeal launched, there has been no activity related to the property as far as the township is concerned, CAO Ian Roger said by phone on Jan. 30.

Township staff and “witnesses” were prepared for the OLT hearing, scheduled to begin Feb. 13, Roger said, but lawyers at Garrod Pickfield led the work.

“It appeared that throughout the process more effort was being made by [Minus Forty] trying to resolve it with the people appealing the decision,” Roger said.

As of Monday, the township had only received word of the settlement, but no indication for when a site plan application would be forthcoming.

If and when it does, township staff will be in charge of approval, following changes to provincial legislation removing power from municipal councils.

To release the holding provision on the property, allowing for the first phase of development to occur, Minus Forty needs to:

  • obtain site plan approval from township staff;
  • obtain approval of a proposed septic system and stormwater management pond from the province;
  • make improvements to the existing municipal drain through an engineering report;
  • make improvements to Jones Baseline; and
  • submit additional well and water testing to the township and province.

Representatives of Ronin Equity Partners, Due North, and Minus Forty, including previous Minus Forty owner Julian Attree, who is now Due North’s chief strategy and commercial officer, did not respond to emails or messages from the Advertiser requesting comment.

Despite an unfavourable outcome for the community group, Pigozzo says neighbouring residents have all gotten to know each other over the years.

“So it has brought our community closer that way, which is the one silver lining out of everything,” he said.