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Deeming land use incompatible, Woolwich to fight

Woolwich officials remain unmoved in their opposition to a residential subdivision proposed for the Union Street industrial area of Elmira. In that regard, they’re backed by neighbours and environmental groups; the project’s only supporter remains the applicant, Hawk Ridge Homes.

The developer has taken the issue to the Ontario Municipal Board. In advance of a hearing scheduled for February, planning staff this week received council endorsement to deny the subdivision plan, joining the list of opponents.

Hawk Ridge Homes hopes to build 41 single-family and semi-detached homes on a 5.5-acre site, a former apple orchard fronting on Union Street. The location is adjacent to a variety of industrial uses, most notably Sulco Chemicals and Chemtura Co.

As it stands, the project is not compatible with the surrounding environment, director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley told councillors meeting Tuesday night. Region of Waterloo planners have similar concerns, he added.

The municipalities want to see a peer review of the noise study submitted by Hawk Ridge and the worst-case scenario study carried out for the chemical companies in advance of the OMB hearing, set to begin Feb. 27.

The latter is of particular importance, as the site’s proximity to the chemical plants forms the basis for much of the public opposition.

The report indicates that a release of oleum (sulphuric acid) from Sulco or anhydrous ammonia from Chemtura could quickly form a plume that would be lethal to residents of the proposed subdivision. About half of the homes would be located within so-called IDLH (immediately dangerous to life and health) zone surrounding the Sulco plant, for instance.

At the Dec. 20 meeting, Sulco general manager Ron Koniuch noted that risk increases with proximity to the industrial area, not just the prospect of a major spill but also chances of noise, odour and similar complaints.

He added that past measures to increase safety have reduced the risk to existing residential area, but this project would bring new homes into the danger zone.
“It certainly appears we’re letting this slip away from us,” he said of safety concerns if the project goes ahead.

His concerns were echoed by Ken Dreidger, a member of the APT Chemtura Committee, many of whose members served on the previous Chemtura Public Advisory Committee (CPAC) that opposed the project due to health and safety concerns.

“This is a dangerous place to let anyone live, let alone 48 families,” he said, noting that given the bankruptcy problems of Chemtura’s U.S. parent company, and the claims being paid out in various suits, there’s an increased chance of issues with the local operation.

“With fewer resources available to the Elmira plant, the risk of problems at this facility goes up.”

People should move into a subdivision with a reasonable expectation of safety, but that would not the case here, he told councillors, adding the fact that the issue is before the OMB does not absolve council of responsibility if anything happens.

“You’re going to have blood on your hands – if not legally, then morally.”

For Alan Marshall of the Elmira Environmental Hazards Team, problems with the proposed development extend to the checkered history of some adjacent land, the former home of Varnicolor Chemical. He urged council to disregard claims from the region and Ministry of the Environment that the site poses no dangers, maintaining that there has never been a proper assessment of the contaminants, let alone adequate rehabilitation of subsurface contaminants.

Marshall repeated earlier calls to block any development in the area until the facts are known.

“Please do not now or later approve this subdivision based upon approvals of higher tiers of government who have a vested interest in maintaining silence and confidentiality around the extent of soil and water contamination beside this new subdivision,” he said. “If you are forced to approve it by the OMB or the province, at least your objections and your conscience will be clear.”

While Woolwich opposes the project at this point, Kennaley said that stance could change if the developer is able to address the list of problems, including the safety concerns. A meeting between the parties is scheduled for Jan. 5, prior to the OMB hearing in February, which is expected to last 10 days.

That hearing will look at the planning issues surrounding the site and the proposed subdivision. The zoning in place today allows for residential development. The change being sought would permit higher density, with smaller lot sizes. In either scenario, a large section at the north end of the property would remain as open space due to the floodway and flood fringe designations assigned to the drain running through the land.

The plan under consideration would see the homes developed around new access points to the land, which would likely involve the extension of Bauman and College Streets, with the main entrance from First Street rather than Union Street.

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