May 16, 2012

Solmar would pay for initial sewage plant

As published in The Erin Advocate

Solmar is pressing ahead with plans for more than 600 new homes in the north end of Erin village, inviting public comments and promising to pay for the initial phase of a sewage treatment plant.

"We've been very patient," said Maurizio Rogato, a planner with Solmar Development Corp., who hosted a public meeting last week at the Legion hall. "Your input is actually important."

It was an informal session to explain the initial concept and allow residents to ask questions – not part of the legal planning process. New housing has been on hold for the past five years while Erin has studied growth and sewage issues with its Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP).

Solmar plans to file its development application with the Town of Erin very soon, for the 300 acres they own between Dundas Street and County Road 124, from the Deer Pit to the wooded area east of the 10th Line. They are planning a mix of commercial, employment (industrial) and residential development.

The exact number of homes has not been determined, but Rogato expects it to be "upwards of 600". That would mean a significant increase in the population of Erin village, which now has about 3,000 people. County projections show growth to about 4,400 by the year 2031, but it could be higher.

"There is a need for jobs, and a need for housing for young people and seniors," he said.

(Maurizio Rogato of Solmar explains plans at public meeting.)

The area will be developed in stages, with a mix of densities to include detached homes, semi-detached and townhomes, said Rogato, but not likely any high-rise apartment buildings. Some housing is designated as "affordable," including a section for seniors.

The County guideline is six homes per acre, but that is a county-wide average, so a lower number could be negotiated for Erin.

"It will be denser than you're used to," said Rogato. "There are density regulations that we have to abide by – it's not our choice."

No subdivisions can be built until the SSMP is complete, possibly next winter. Solmar is starting its application now, to run concurrent with the SSMP, since the initial phase of the planning process is expected to take two years.

A sales program could then start. But provincial policy requires sewers for new housing developments, and there is a need to find an alternative to aging septic systems and holding tanks for existing buildings, so it could be several years before anything actually happens.

"Instead of only providing servicing capabilities for our lands, we would build a modular facility," he said. "The Town could decide – we don't want municipal services here. But should the Town decide one day to have those, it could be accommodated through the modular facility...There will be enormous setback requirements. It won't be in the middle of someone's neighbourhood."

No plans have yet been made for the waste facility, but Rogato's "guess" is that Solmar would spend about $3 million on it, including service for the non-residential area. It has not been decided whether it will be on the developer's land, or further downstream in the village. CVC will have to determine whether the West Credit River can handle the discharge, and approve a preferable location.

"Modular" means that a small plant could be built to handle sewage primarily from the new development, plus some capacity for other village properties in urgent need of sewage service. There would also be treatment for local septage – the waste pumped out of septic tanks, and the holding tanks behind downtown businesses. The septage component would be at the Town's expense, said Rogato.

The Town would likely assume ownership and responsibility for the plant, just as it does with other infrastructure such as roads.

The plant could later be expanded by the Town to handle more waste, as a sewage system is phased in throughout the urban areas. The cost of a full plant is not known, but informal estimates put it at more than $50 million.

Actual work on sewers has to wait not only for the SSMP, but for an additional environmental assessment on the treatment plant itself. Even then it could take decades to hook up most of the urban areas, since some homes have septic systems that are relatively new.

"We will never get the whole town on sewers," said County Councillor Ken Chapman.

The Solmar land had been owned by Duncan Armstrong, Reeve of Erin Township from 1987 to 1994. Just before the development restrictions of the Green Belt legislation were to take effect in 2005, Town Council added the land to the Erin village urban area, opening it up for future growth. It was owned by Mattamy Homes, and then by Solmar.

"These lands are slated for development," said Rogato. "The conversation isn't so much 'when' or 'if' the lands develop. The more important conversation is 'how'. What is the outcome, what is the desired community input?"

Some at the meeting were not happy with the prospect of significant growth, with one audience member saying to Rogato, "It doesn't matter what we say, you are going to go ahead with this and make it work."

Rogato said that while Solmar is pressing ahead, it hopes to do so in a "cooperative" manner and that the entire development is likely to produce a financial gain for the municipality. People are welcome to contact the company for information or to make comments by email: Solmar is a Canadian company based in Concord, which has developed residential, commercial and industrial projects over the last 25 years.

"For me, the most important part of the plan is the employment lands, because that's going to be sustainable, that's a long-term approach for Erin," said Rogato, noting that the Town's help will be needed to attract business to these lands. "That's a tax base that the Town can count on, that's jobs that the public can count on. And the only way you are going to get good employment lands to function well is to have them properly serviced."

Of the 300 acres owned by Solmar, only 125 acres would be residential. The plan also includes 40 acres of employment (industrial) land, 12 of commercial development along County Road 124, 40 of wooded greenspace with trails, 15 of parks, 15 for a school site and three for a place of worship.

Another 14 acres is marked as a Stormwater Management Pond. This is located next to the public land of the Deer Pit, which was recently regraded to enable stormwater drainage. The water travels through a pipe under the Elora-Cataract Trailway, just south of the Solmar land, down the 10th Line and into a tributary of the West Credit River.

The homes will have at least R2000 energy efficiency, but Rogato is not sure it will be feasible to build them to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard. LEED is an international building certification program, focusing on sustainable site development, water and energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environment quality.

"We're interested in affordable solutions," he said. "But we are committed to some form of environmental development."