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Woolwich seeks more planning autonomy

Dominated by discussions of two specific areas – Breslau and stockyards in St. Jacobs – Woolwich council’s stance on Waterloo Region’s proposed new official plan amounts to pushing back against unnecessary control from the upper tier municipality.

In essence, Woolwich would like to see the region keeps its nose out of township business.

Planning staff’s response to the regional official plan (ROP) won tentative support from councillors meeting this week, but deliberations about two specific points prompted changes to be included in a new draft, to be presented at next week’s council meeting.

Reacting to input from Marcus Shantz of Mercedes Corp., councillors asked staff to include stronger language in support of a train station in the farmers’ market area as part of the region’s proposed light rail transit scheme.

Connected to the transit line, the site could see some interesting development options, Shantz suggested.

Much more time was spent on the critiques raised by Tom Krizsan of Guelph-based Thomasfield Homes, who has specific interest in the sections of the report involving Breslau. His company holds 410 acres within the current settlement area, land which the region and township have earmarked for industrial development only. Krizsan, however, is proposing a mixed land use.

The site, he said, is ideal for a model community combining residential, industrial, commercial and retail in close proximity. Such mixed land-use policies are in keeping with the province’s Places to Grow initiative and Waterloo Region’s smart-growth strategy.

“Compact complete communities are those that have mixed land uses nearby, where people can live, work, shop and play within walking distance so as to minimize the use and length of automobile trips, thus reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, while at the same time promoting energy conservation, more efficiency and better health,” he told councillors.
Rather than 100 per cent industrial, he proposed a 60-40 split, arguing a residential component would be necessary to make development economically viable.

In the absence of a mixed-use policy, the land will just sit idle, Krizsan noted.

While his proposal got a sympathetic ear from council, planning staff remain convinced industrial development remains the best bet for the land, most of it located immediately east of the current residential area, including a 290-acre portion known as the Seagram lands.

“We have a fundamental difference as to what the complete community means to Breslau,” said director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley.

Supportive of the smart growth strategy, Kennaley said the policy does not dictate that every development has to be made up of residential, industrial and commercial uses. Rather, that the overall strategy for the area should encourage compact, walkable communities.

Looking at compatibility issues with residential neighbourhoods, the land’s best use would be for employment lands, he added.

Rather than dwell on just the Thomasfield proposal, Coun. Mark Bauman suggested the township should undertake a detailed secondary plan for Breslau, determining the type, location and pace of future growth for the village as a whole.

In the big picture, the planning staff’s report on the ROP calls for a reduction in duplication and overlap of planning responsibilities between the region and individual municipalities. There need to be more distinctions between the work done at the two levels of government, Kennaley said.

Currently, much of the work done for zone changes at the municipal levels is just repeated at the regional level. Such tasks and decisions should be left to the municipality, which is much more accountable to applicants – a Woolwich resident can’t get that from the region.

Local planning issues belong in township hands, where services are more accessible to residents, and where the decision makers have a stake in the community, Kennaley said in an interview.

“The area municipality goes through an approval process, and then it goes through the same thing at the region – the question is ‘why?’
“At that point, it seems to be a bit of a waste of time and energy and money.”

Complete authority for approving subdivisions, for instance, belongs in the hands of the township, he said, noting Kitchener already has that power, and the practice is common in other municipalities.

“The idea is to get planning closer to the people it affects.”

A revised township position on the ROP is expected back on the table when council meets again Feb. 24.

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