Woolwich maintains its opposition to Hunsberger pit
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Woolwich maintains its opposition to Hunsberger pit

Director of engineering and planning provides testimony this week to protracted OMB hearing

In the midst of a protracted hearing, Woolwich hasn’t changed its tune about a gravel pit proposed for a site near Conestogo, continuing to call the plan unsuitable.

Given the unacceptable impacts on the area, including visual and noise, the application for the so-called Hunsberger pit “does not constitute good planning and is not in the public interest,” Dan Kennaley, the township’s director of engineering and planning, testified at an Ontario Municipal Board hearing Tuesday afternoon.

The quasi-judicial proceeding, underway since September 3, is expected to run through mid-October, with lawyers for the township, Region of Waterloo, the Conestogo-Winterbourne Residents Association and the applicant, Hunder Developments, poring through thousands of pages of documents related to the project.

On Tuesday afternoon, Kennaley was being questioned by the township’s lawyer, Eileen Costello, about the process that led to Woolwich council voting against the Hunder application, which dates back to discussions in 2007. Despite talks over the years, including revised reports covering such issues as visual impacts, noise and dust levels, township planners remained unconvinced the gravel pit could be compatible with the surrounding residential neighbourhoods, Kennaley said.

The Hunder application calls for aggregate extraction on some 150 acres of land on two farm properties located at 128 Katherine St. S. and 1081 Hunsberger Rd. The operation would see some 500,000 tonnes of gravel extracted each year, with a 4.3 million tonnes available.

The pit would be bordered by four residential neighbourhoods, including Golf Course Road in Conestogo and Sunset Drive and Meadowbrook Place in Winterbourne.

Through the process, neighbours, many organized under the banner of the Conestogo-Winterbourne Residents Association (CWRA), repeatedly aired a long list of concerns they say remain unaddressed, including longstanding issues with noise, traffic and visual impacts, as well as the loss of prime agricultural land.

Experts hired by CWRA to review the studies submitted by the applicants found a long list of shortcomings, including overall nonconformity to the township’s planning documents. Those deficiencies were echoed by Kennaley in his testimony this week.

Of the changes a gravel pit would make to the landscape, for instance, he said, “There will be numerous unacceptable visual impacts.”

Studies submitted by the applicant have failed to satisfy his concerns about not only visual impacts, but also the negatives around noise and traffic, particularly the troubled Crowsfoot Corner. As well, the township is not convinced the applicant’s plan for rehabilitating the agricultural land will be sufficient once the pit is decommissioned.

Worries about just how long the pit would operate have the township pushing for a sunset clause should the OMB overturn council’s decision and allow the pit to go ahead, Kennaley added.

The open-ended nature of allowing asphalt and concrete recycling on the scene, which has the possibility of extending the operation indefinitely, is another concern. The recycling option was not part of the pre-application consultations between Hunder and the township, so its inclusion in the application itself caught planners off-guard, he noted.

Given a projected 4.3 million tonnes of gravel and a permit to extract 500,000 tonnes a year, the pit would be expected to last nine years. Providing some flexibility for market demand, a 15-year timeframe would be a “reasonable limit,” Kennaley argued.

The OMB hearing will continue into next month, with testimony from all sides.

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