July 18, 2012

Sewage plant not likely to be on Solmar land

As published in The Erin Advocate

Solmar Development Corp is prepared to build an expandable sewage treatment plant to service its new subdivision in the north end of Erin village, even if the Town is not ready to extend sewage service to the rest of the village.

The plant is not likely to be located on Solmar's 300 acres, according to company planner Maurizio Rogato.

"We are investigating downstream – I don't think it's going to be on our land," he said. Provincial policy requires sewers for the new subdivision, but if a broader sewage system is in Erin's future, it would be practical to have one plant on Town-owned land.

A plant would need further environmental assessment, but a location towards the south-east of the village would make it easier for treated discharge to enter the river where it has maximum water flow. (Two tributaries join the river just east of the downtown area.)

Town Council has made no decisions on these issues, as it awaits recommendations from the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP). Solmar's development process will run concurrently with the SSMP, since the firm wants to proceed as soon as possible. More than 600 new homes are expected.

"We are eager to see the SSMP conclude," said Rogato. "Is there a way of dealing with the looming question of the town-wide servicing? I see that as a bit of a partnership."

Solmar has proposed a modular plant that can be expanded "if and when" the Town opts for sewers. "I see that as an amicable way of moving forward," said Rogato.

There has been discussion about whether the Credit River can handle the discharge from a sewage plant, but Rogato does not see this issue holding up development. He said the treatment technology can be increased as needed, until the discharge meets the standard set by Credit Valley Conservation.

"We are well aware of the importance of protecting the river," he said.

A system will have to evolve over time, he said and it is an "ill-conceived notion" to think that everyone would have to hook up to sewers at the same time. "The proper way of thinking of things is, do we have any troubled areas in town right now, what are the true needs?"

Solmar has offered to build its plant to also handle septage (septic tank pumpings). This would benefit rural residents. A septage facility should be built large enough for more than just Erin's needs, earning revenue by accepting septage from other towns.

Solmar has also offered to allocate 200 units of sewage capacity for downtown businesses. There is a need there, but in general, the people who benefit from a service should be the ones paying for it. Should new residents in a subdivision pay the capital cost to treat downtown sewage, in the purchase price of their new homes?

Solmar will have to pay development charges, but that revenue cannot be spent to upgrade other parts of the Town. Former Mayor Rod Finnie has suggested that Solmar and other developers pay an extra $25,000 per lot to partially fund a sewage system. This would seem to force new residents to pay for service to existing residents.

"It would be a tax on a tax," said Rogato, suggesting that an extra charge could stifle new business growth. He noted that the Development Charges Act already requires that 90 per cent of new growth costs be covered by the developer and 10 per cent by the Town. "Can you realistically expect a private investor to come in and fund a plant for an entire town?"

Finnie said that while the Town must conform to legislation, "it is not uncommon for developers and municipalities to negotiate for services that have to be provided in order for development to go forward. Some municipalities even offer incentives in terms of the approval process in return for the developers contributing to municipal priorities."

If the SSMP is completed (maybe this winter) and council agrees on a general direction (also uncertain), they will still have to decide about partnering with Solmar and whether to actually start creating a larger sewer system. That could take a long time, especially if no one is actually demanding development or sewers.

"Not deciding is a decision in itself," said Rogato, but he stressed that once the SSMP is done, council should take some time to digest it and not be rushed into deciding on all the possibilities. "We will need to come up with a municipal service, and I would love for it to work in a fashion that allows council that flexibility.

"I don't like the idea of council having theoretically a gun held to its head. I don't want to speculate on what council may or may not do when it (the SSMP) concludes. But Solmar has now made a decision that it is time to move forward. We will be filing development approval applications, Official Plan amendments, a zoning bylaw amendment and a first phase of draft plan."

July 11, 2012

Subdivision needs pedestrian and cycle routes

As published in The Erin Advocate

I recently took a walk up the Tenth Line from Dundas Street, along the path that runs through the very middle of the L-shaped parcel of land owned by Solmar Development Corp, and tried to image that expanse of farmland filled with houses, businesses, parks and roads.

It will be a massive project, spanning about 1.25 kilometres along Dundas, and the same distance north to County Road 124. While construction is still years away, now is the time for us to start making suggestions, to ensure that this addition to the community is the best it can be.

The developer intends to file an initial application this summer, but it is accepting public input before the formal public meetings. I sat down with Solmar Planner Maurizio Rogato to ask some questions, and put in my own two cents worth.

I think a modern subdivision should have more than traditional roads and sidewalks to move people around.

"We have a central entrance way that we're going to have to, I think, make impressive," said Rogato. "We are going to have a definite pedestrian network. The majority of it will be traditional. Whatever encourages some sense of place, and connecting to those places, I'm a big supporter of."

The main road into the development from the south, going through the Seniors Housing, leading to the Central Square and carrying on to the industrial and commercial lands to the north, is a boulevard. Normally, that would mean a centre strip of land with trees between two sections of road.

What if that extra strip of land could instead be on one side of the road only, and include not only trees, but a paved path that could be wide enough for two-way bicycle traffic, plus a designated strip for pedestrians.

This would be consistent with the Active Transportation Plan being developed at the county level, which is intended to have a real impact on community design.

I have wondered about a green network of trails or off-road sidewalks in the residential areas, but that might take up too much land.

"Greenways, I don't know if they are implementable, but we're definitely looking at that," said Rogato. "I love the idea. You want to be able to connect. When you're introducing community uses like we are, the community parks and connecting those places, I get that. That's going to be a challenge."

It would be great if we could get one north-south bike/pedestrian path, and a second  east-west one that would connect the wooded area and school site on the east, to the Central Square in the middle and the park or stormwater pond area on the west.

This could connect to a proposed loop trail encircling the adjacent Deer Pit. That trail would run along an old rail spur line on the border of the Solmar land, as an offshoot of the Elora-Cataract Trailway.

The Central Square is intended to provide open space next to medium-density housing:

"This is all trying to create that connection, that sense of place, create the walkability, create the connection to public spheres where tremendous community things can occur if properly managed," said Rogato. "You can have outdoor markets, you can have art shows, connections with the schools. It's a place to congregate."

It would also be good to have some public access to the greenlands on the east, where a tributary of the West Credit River flows, plus access to the Elora-Cataract Trail, but Rogato said conservation authorities are very protective of such zones.

Pavement or interlocking stone may be too formal for a natural area. Wood chips would be OK, but they require regular maintenance. I think most people would be content with something simple, in the Bruce Trail style.

Rogato is aware that some current residents are not happy with the projected growth of Erin village, but he noted that Solmar bought land that was already designated for housing.

"Council made that decision for everybody," he said. "That's what the Official Plan of Erin calls for – the OP is supposed to be a community vision.

"Yes, developers are in the business of making money, like any other business would be. But at the same time, developers are community builders. We have a responsibility to the community, to ensure that we have assessed the needs of the community. Council shares that responsibility with us, and I'd like us to be cooperating together."

July 04, 2012

Historic Exchange Hotel looks modern inside

As published in The Erin Advocate

Renovations are proceeding nicely at the Exchange Hotel in Hillsburgh, with seven condominium units now on the market and plans made to open the Coach House Creamery restaurant on the Civic Holiday weekend.

A public walk through the interior of the hotel building was the highlight in a tour of downtown Hillsburgh hosted last week by lifelong resident Lee Tocher, a former owner of the property.

It is still a construction site, but much of the electrical, plumbing and drywall work is complete and the elevator shaft is in place.
Front door will have stained glass
Built about 1883, in the prosperous years that followed the arrival of the Credit Valley Railway, the Exchange "outclassed the other hotels in Hillsburgh" according to Wellington historian Steve Thorning.

It served as a headquarters for the well-to-do members of the Caledon Mountain Trout Club, and the main hotel parlour was a favourite meeting place for Erin Township Council.

Decorative brick exterior preserved
Tocher said traveling salesmen "in the old days" would often use the hotel as their base of operations in the area, showing their products in the sample room above the arched passageway that led to the livery stable.

"Years later, they had a restaurant in here and a big pool room at the back with three tables," he said. "It was a working hotel up until about 1966."

Tocher owned the building from 1966 to 1986, operating his store and renting out apartments. He has given some hotel artifacts to the new owners, including some glassware and a Seagrams 3-Star whiskey bottle, with a cork, which was inside a wall.

Developers Roy McCullough and Justin Morrow were on hand to show off the progress they've made.

"We've gone through a lot," said Morrow. "It's been about a year process trying to get it converted over to condominiums, and we just got approval last week."

The Creamery will be selling ice cream, soups, sandwiches and a variety of treats. The new restaurant is at the south end, while the north end on the ground floor is available for lease (or purchase) as retail or commercial space.
Septic system under construction

A section at the back of the building has been rebuilt, and reinforcements have been made to the structure. Most of the wood in the interior had to removed to meet fire regulations. They have also purchased the small building just north of the hotel. They are using it as an office, but it will soon be demolished.

There are four condo units on the second floor and three on the third, each with its own laundry facilities, furnace and air conditioning.

They range from a 534 sq.ft. one-bedroom unit called The Cataract, listed for $229,900, to The Grand (what Morrow calls the "gem"): a 1,490 sq.ft. two-bedroom unit stretching across the full front of the third floor, listed at $429,900. More information is available at www.exchange-hotel.com.

The Exchange Hotel was originally built by Bill Dwier, in a style that incorporated details normally found on much larger commercial buildings in cities. That exterior appearance has been preserved. The third floor has a mansard roof, with windows in dormers.

"This style was a feature of Second Empire buildings, perhaps the dominant style in the 1875 to 1890 period, and which still adds flavour to downtown Fergus and Guelph," said Thorning, in an article on the hotel. A series of his articles is available at www.erin.ca. Go to the About Erin section and click on History of Erin.