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CHL part of battle over gravel pits

Confusion abounds over Woolwich’s plan to look at a cultural heritage landscape (CHL) designation for an area surrounding the historic covered bridge in West Montrose.

From the numbers in the audience at Tuesday’s council meeting and the push-back from opponents, you would think councillors were making a final decision rather than simply starting the formalprocess to investigate the possibility of a CHL.

Residents are understandably leery of any potential controls on what they can do with their properties, with some arguing the bridge itself already enjoys a heritage designation so there is no need to do more. At this point, however, the township is only investigating its options, as planning staff have determined a study is necessary under provincial regulations.

Long before any changes are made, West Montrose residents will have their say about the issue. And even if a CHL designation is to be made, the scope will be determined by the township in consultation with residents.

That some people have confused the CHL process with the much more rigourous and restrictive cultural heritage district designation has not helped the situation. Although the latter was mentioned in the report by Dr. Robert Shipley of the Heritage Resources Centre at the University of Waterloo, the township is not considering that option.

While some residents worry about the long-term impact of any heritage designation, the most pressing issue related to the CHL study is the fate of Capital Paving’s application to develop a large gravel pit near the bridge site.

The company sees the CHL process, which could take up to a year to complete, as delaying its plans. With Woolwich pondering an interim-control bylaw to freeze larger-scale development in the area for the duration of the study, the company sent solicitor Jonathan Kahn to challenge that notion.

Kahn called the proposed bylaw “unwarranted and inappropriate,” and warned the company would be forced to launch an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board if the township did not move quickly on its application. Capital Paving has just seven months left on a two-year window to file documents related to the gravel pit with the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Although the township would prefer to avoid an OMB hearing, that seems inevitable. Whatever council ultimately decides, someone is going to challenge the outcome. The same applies to the proposed Hunsberger pit near Conestogo.

If council sides with the developers, resident groups in both communities have built war chests in preparation for a legal battle. If the township supports its citizens, the developers will take their cases to the OMB and MNR. And, if history is any indicator, both those agencies will sweep aside municipal decisions and the wishes of the majority in opposition.

The poor provincial record of respecting local wishes is magnified in the case of gravel pits, where the Aggregate Resources Act is practically a cudgel, and the Ministry of Natural Resources seen as a defender of operators, not Ontarians.

Currently, provincial policies favour developers, putting far too much power in the hands of the OMB. Opponents such as Gravel Watch Ontario say the same is true of the aggregate policies.
The battle is just beginning.

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