Agreeing to a few compromises, Woolwich this week avoided a legal battle over its new gravel pit policy.
Instead of the start of a challenge by aggregate companies, Monday’s session of the Ontario Municipal Board shifted from a prehearing conference to a full hearing. OMB chair Harold GoldKind endorsed a settlement between the township, developers and opponents lined up to fight some of the five pit applications currently before council.
The agreement, reached last week and endorsed at a special council meeting Nov. 19, sees some easing of tough new guidelines for weighing requests to extract gravel in the township.
Dan Kennaley, Woolwich’s director of engineering and planning, said the changes were minor, concessions the township could live with rather than roll the dice by going through the OMB process.
“In the end, we felt that the risk of coming out poorer through a board hearing made the settlement a good idea.”
The OMB became involved when the company behind one of the current gravel pit applications, Capital Paving, argued the new policies – known as official plan amendment 13 (OPA 13) – should not apply to its proposal to mine a site near the covered bridge in West Montrose. It appealed to the provincial agency, saying its application predated the township’s introduction of OPA 13.
While saying this week’s settlement will have no real impact on the five applications currently before township, Kennaley added he expects Capital Paving’s position will be part of the wrangling when its submission is reviewed next year.
Tony Dowling of the Bridge Keepers organization opposing the West Montrose pit said he expects the company to fight any call for the extra studies and associated peer reviews demanded under OPA 13.
A party to the OMB proceedings, Dowling said he was “comfortable” with the compromises because the bulk of the tougher provisions remain intact.
Developers asked for some of the provisions to include the term “where applicable,” said Kennaley, essentially calling on the township to treat smaller projects differently from larger, more complicated ones, something his department already does.
“Some of those small, straightforward applications, like additions to existing pits, don’t need all of the studies that we want to see for the bigger pits.”
Another concession weakens, in some cases, the township’s ability to demand monitoring – for noise or dust, for instance – once a pit is operational.
“It could make it more difficult down the road,” he admitted, but again that’s likely to be the case with the smaller operations that typically present fewer concerns.
Of the five applications now under consideration, three are classified as smaller in scale. Those pits will be discussed at a public meeting when council meets on Tuesday night. On the list are expansions to two existing small pits, one at 777 Sandy Hills Drive (NJ Excavating) and the other at 6225 and 6329 Middlebrook Rd. (DJ Lockhart). The third application involves a new small pit at 125 Peel St., Winterbourne (Kuntz Topsoil, Sand and Gravel).
A decision on those three proposals will likely follow in relatively short order, depending on the public input at next week’s meeting.
Likely to be far more involved, the two larger projects – Capital Paving’s and one at 128 Katherine St. S. – won’t be at the public stage for months.
Opponents expect a hard-fought battle in both cases. The Bridge Keepers have maintained a steady offensive, pushing for the area surrounding the bridge to be protected for heritage reasons.
Even though the OMB and Ministry of Natural Resource have a tendency to side with developers, Dowling said he hopes the township presses the applicant using its new guidelines. If it can’t prevent the pit from going ahead, it can work to scale back the size, and to win protection for the bridge, river and the people in the area, who are concerned about traffic on roads travelled by horse-drawn buggies and children walking to school.
“The idea would be to make it less of a threat to the covered bridge experience.”