Forget the prodigal son. Four years after being rejected the first time through, a reworked plan for a subdivision adjacent to Elmira’s Union Street industrial area is finding the reception as chilly as ever.
Just like the last time, representatives of the applicant, Hawk Ridge Homes, were the only ones in favour of the project pitched to Woolwich council Tuesday night at a public planning meeting.
The developer is proposing a new alignment for the 5.5-acre site, currently home to an old apple orchard, it envisions as an ideal spot for 39 new homes.
A previous plan first tabled in 2009 was widely opposed and rejected by the township. The case ended up before the quasi-judicial Ontario Municipal Board, which turned down the project based on inadequate noise mitigation from nearby industrial users, most notably the Chemtura Co. and Sulco (Canada Colors and Chemicals) plants.
Most of the opposition then and now, however, stemmed from the close proximity to the chemical plants – the new homes would be inside the danger zone in the event of a catastrophic spill.
“This is certainly not an area to be placing a new residential subdivision,” stressed Canada Colors and Chemicals vice-president Ron Koniuch in addressing councillors Apr. 19.
As was the case the last time, he pointed to worst-case scenario plans that show the site is too close to the industrial plants on the east side of Union Street. That location also houses the wastewater treatment plant.
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.
“It’s just not acceptable,” said Koniuch. “Simply put, the lands aren’t suitable for residential land development.”
That sentiment was shared by Pat McLean, a former chair of the Chemtura Public Advisory Committee and a member of the groups that replaced CPAC, RAC/TAG.
She called the location inappropriate for a subdivision, arguing while the township’s official plan makes it seem as if development at the site is inevitable, but the zoning on the property is a historical holdover – “We do know better now.”
McLean pointed to new provincial guidelines recognizing the importance of buffer zones around industrial areas, particularly those with larger risk. Allowing a new subdivision not only puts the new residents at risk, but poses a threat to the viability of the industrial base in that part of town given the complaints that would follow, along with the safety concerns.
“This development should not be allowed to happen.”
Detailing a long list of spills, fires and explosions at the Chemtura plan, fellow longtime Elmira environmental activist Susan Bryant also called on Woolwich to put the kibosh on the Hawk Ridge proposal.
“This would place people in harm’s way – it’s an incompatible land use,” she said, noting the new plan does not address the real risks.
“The health and safety risks have not changed,” she said.
For its part, the developer focused on the new layout of the subdivision. A new classification added by the Ministry of the Environment in 2013 allows for higher noise levels associated with infilling around industrial areas, explained Arlene Beaumont, a planner with W.E. Oughtred & Associates. Along with noise-mitigating measures like sound barriers, triple-glazed windows and lot reorientations, the changes satisfy the deficiencies identified by the OMB, she added.
The revised plans calls for 15 single-family and 24 semi-detached homes on the site at 36-68 Union Street in Elmira. Currently dead ends, Bauman and College streets would be opened up to Union Street, allowing for north-south lot configurations on the property bounded by First Street to the south.
Tuesday night’s meeting was for information only. Planning staff will be taking input from public before eventually coming back to council with a recommendation report at a later date.