The Conestoga-Winterbourne Residents Association is asking neighbours to dig into their pockets and help fund their fight against a gravel pit proposed for nearby farmland.
The organization has been recognized as an official party at the Ontario Municipal Board hearing scheduled for Nov. 5 at the township office, but the process will not be cheap – to continue to pay their lawyers and other legal aids they have set a goal of raising $150,000 between now and the middle of June when residents will start to scatter for summer vacation.
The CWRA was formed in 2007 in opposition to a gravel pit proposed by Hunder Developments, which hopes to gain an aggregate licence for some 150 acres of land on two farm properties located at 128 Katherine St. S. and 1081 Hunsberger Rd.
About 25 volunteers have been out knocking on doors in West Montrose, Conestogo and Winterbourne asking for money, and the CWRA president recognizes that it may seem like a lot to ask for, but she believes it will be worth every penny.
“When you have all the change that is going to happen to our community, it’s just not going to be a viable place to live anymore,” said Keri Martin Vrbanac.
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“People aren’t going to want to live in an area with a gravel pit.”
To help put some of those costs in perspective, canvassers are handing out pamphlets that specify how property values in the Conestogo area will be affected based on their proximity to the pit.
Martin Vrbanac has documentation to prove that since 2010 properties that have been sold in the area have gone for up to 29 per cent below the asking price – a decrease that translates into tens of thousands or sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“This is with just a looming gravel pit; what will happen if there is a gravel pit? If the gravel pit goes forward, what are people who want to sell their homes looking at?”
A second issue for the CWRA is the increase of truck traffic in the region should the pit be approved. The president highlights the fact that trucks would be passing directly in front of the public school in Conestogo village, and that roads such as Northfield Drive which are already heavily congested will only get worse with the addition of more gravel trucks.
While some residents may be less-than-optimistic about the group’s chance to actually win at the OMB hearing given the board’s history for siding with industry over community groups, Martin Vrbanac points to the fact that in 2010 three gravel pits in Ontario were defeated at OMB hearings – giving them hope that they can do the same in Conestogo.
“They have to realize that it is possible for us to do this. It’s very probable that we can win this,” she said.
Over the past five years the CWRA has created a well-organized effort to halt the pit, which would have an impact on four residential areas, including Golf Course Road in Conestogo and Sunset Drive and Meadowbrook Place in Winterbourne.
Residents have come to meetings armed with detailed reports drawing on township, regional and provincial documents, arguing gravel extraction should not even be considered for the area. They’ve also had acoustic and dust studies completed by the applicant scrutinized by experts to poke holes in the argument that the pit will not negatively impact residents.
Martin Vrbanac said they have come a long way in five years, and it will all come down to their preparation over the summer that will determine the outcome of the five-week hearing next fall.
“We have five months to make sure we go into that OMB hearing as prepared as possible.
“We can viably win this. But we can’t win it if we don’t raise the funds to man the fight. That’s the bottom line.”