They’re not ready to break out the champagne just yet, but it is chilling. Conestogo residents did have plenty to celebrate this week, however, as the Ontario Municipal Board quashed plans for a gravel pit on land near the Golf Course Road subdivision.
With its decision released Monday, the OMB denied Hunder Developments’ bid to move the project forward over the objections of Woolwich Township. The company has 30 days from the date of the decision, April 14, to launch an appeal.
Reached Wednesday, Bob Hunsberger of Hunder Developments said he had not seen the OMB documents and, as such, was unable to respond to the board’s findings.
“I can’t comment on the decision,” he said, adding that he would have to read the decision paper and look at the options before contemplating an appeal. “It’s a little early for that.”
The Hunder application contemplated 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 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.
The township determined the proposal did not conform with its official plan (OP). It first rejected the applicant’s bid for an OP amendment in 2011, prompting the property owners to launch an appeal to the OMB. A number of meetings and prehearings followed, culminating in a lengthy hearing last fall. This week’s decision stems from that process.
Over the whole course of events, residents fought a multi-year battle against the proposed pit. This week, there was some tempered rejoicing that the fight might be drawing to a close.
“It’s a great feeling. I’m the happiest I’ve been in seven years,” Keri Martin Vrbanac, president of the Conestogo-Winterbourne Residents Association, said Wednesday. “It’s been a very long process. It couldn’t have been better news.”
The decision was also welcomed by Dan Kennaley, Woolwich’s director of engineering and planning.
“It’s good news all around,” he said.
“We were opposed to that particular pit, so we’re really pleased with the decision of the board.”
Like the residents, the township will also be watching to see if the applicant appeals the OMB decision, with Kennaley noting there would have to be strong grounds for an appeal given the detailed reasons against the application.
Among other reasons for denying the Hunder bid, OMB vice-chair Susan de Avellar Schiller found shortcomings in the applicant’s assertions the pit would not cause traffic problems at the Crowsfoot intersection or that noise would not be an issue, especially in conjunction with the nearby Jigs Hollow pit.
“The board finds that Hunder has failed to demonstrate that the transportation elements of its proposed operation will have no unacceptable impacts and, as such, the board further finds that the Hunder proposal does not conform to the requirements of the OP,” she said in her decision.
Likewise, on the noise front, “the board finds that Hunder has failed to demonstrate that its proposed noise mitigation measures will result in a pit operation that has no unacceptable impacts. As such, the board finds that the Hunsberger pit does not conform to the OP.”
In that light, the board dismissed Hunder’s appeal under two sections of the Planning Act, and ordering that “the Hon. Minister of Natural Resources is respectfully directed to refuse to issue the license sought by Hunder Development Ltd.”
The OMB decision is a win in itself, regardless of any potential appeal, said Martin Vrbanac.
“At this point we feel victorious, no matter what,” she said.
“We worked hard – we just never gave up,” she added, noting everyone believed in fighting for the community and what makes it a great place to live. “That’s what we wanted to maintain. It was all worth it.”
“Everybody is cautiously optimistic … that it will not go forward,” said Conestogo resident Gordon Haywood, a veteran of the long process. “I think it would be difficult for them (Hunder) to appeal and have it overturned.”
If it comes to that, the residents are prepared to keep the battle going, said Martin Vrbanac, adding they’re also getting ready to celebrate when the 30 days have passed.