November 28, 2012

Council receives Solmar plan despite warnings

As published in The Erin Advocate

Faced with the certainty of an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) if they refused, Town council voted last week to deem the subdivision applications from Solmar Development Corp. as "complete".

The resolution was passed unanimously without any public debate or questions from councillors, after they returned from a 70-minute closed-door session with their lawyer, during Tuesday's council meeting.

The decision overrides the objections of Town Planner Sally Stull, who told council the applications were incomplete and premature, since it is not possible to have definite information about sewers while the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) is still in progress.

Stull said she has not had time to fully evaluate the material and that further study is needed on a traffic bypass route. She reminded council that other developments have been on hold for several years, and that the Solmar plan exceeds Official Plan population targets by more than 700 homes.

"It would essentially eliminate anyone else from participating, unless they were within the current Erin village, which is of course stymied by the problem that it doesn't have servicing," she said.

In a separate report to council, Water Superintendent Frank Smedley outlines a broad series of concerns, including the need for new wells, lack of staff expertise with sewers, and the potential for settlement of basements and roads due to poor soil drainage conditions.

"The SSMP should be completed as soon as possible," he said. "This will allow Council to give clear direction to the developer and staff.

"This is our opportunity to work with a developer to reduce the cost of servicing the urban areas with municipal sewage, if this is the path Council chooses."

Last week's resolution has three additional points: Despite the "complete" status, approval of the applications would be premature until the SSMP is complete and council has time to assess its implications and consider a course of action; council is not satisfied with the level of detail in the documentation; and the legally-required public meeting is considered premature until the SSMP recommendations are available.

Wellington County is eager to have Erin accept its share of regional population growth. Gary Cousins, Wellington's Director of Planning and Development, has notified the Town that the County considers Solmar's applications "complete". He also said approval must wait for the SSMP, and his exact words on this issue were used in Erin's resolution.

Council's vote does not approve the 1,240-home proposal, but simply starts the formal application process, with input from the public, Town staff and outside agencies.

Stull said the project would make Erinville Drive a major collector road, and that the proposal includes 570 single detached dwellings, 472 semi-detached, 48 townhouse units and 150 apartment-type units.

"These applications provide tremendous benefits to the community, strong job creation, strong housing options," said Solmar Planner Maurizio Rogato, who appeared as a delegation to voice disagreement with Stull's report to council.

"We're not looking for a decision on the actual applications themselves, we're simply looking to state that the applications have been completed, and they can be circulated, which allows dialogue to take place."

When the applications came to council in October, Mayor Lou Maieron suggested a Social Impact Study, since Solmar could eventually more than double the number of homes in the village. Transition Erin, a citizen group that is responding to the Solmar plan, also wants such a study, and possibly a "Health Impact Assessment".

They are "looking forward to the remaining components of the Solmar application being released to the public so that we can study them." Information on the group is available at

James Kennedy of KLM Planning, working for Solmar, said all of the required information has been submitted, and that council can still meet its objective of not approving any new subdivision until the SSMP is completed and approved. That could be in February or March.

Solmar says the studies they have already done (some already available on the Town web site), supporting their applications for a draft plan of subdivision, and zoning and Official Plan amendments, will "inform" the SSMP process. Stull says the Solmar proposal "distracts" from the SSMP.

"There is no question about how these lands will be serviced," said Kennedy, noting that the province requires sewers for this scale of development. Solmar may be able to proceed with its own sewers, even if the Town decides against them for the existing village.

"You are a long way from the stage where major development is permitted. I can see no reason not to get started in this process," he said. "The SSMP will define the big picture, and the details relative to these applications will follow.

"Should council deem these applications incomplete, Solmar will appeal this decision to the Ontario Municipal Board. We would prefer not to be forced to take this approach. We don't really need to start off this process on that basis.

"If and when this development does proceed, it will generate millions of dollars in revenue for the Town, as well as a new fully-serviced business park attracting jobs to Erin."

Deeming the applications complete starts the clock on a legal 180-day period during which the Town theoretically would have to decide whether to approve the project. Rogato said that in practice, it often takes much longer.

"If things are moving, things are working cooperatively and we're reviewing reports, we want to be there as a willing partner," he said.

 But, after 180 days, if the developer feels that sufficient progress is not being made, Rogato said they have the right to force the issue by appealing to the OMB – an expensive process for both sides. Of course, if the applications are ultimately denied, that could also be appealed to the OMB.

After Solmar's presentation, Maeiron commented on a possible sewer plan for the existing village.

"We can approve it in principle, but where's the money coming from?" he said. "Because for 160 years, or for forever, this municipality has done nothing with respect to bringing the servicing up to today's standards."

He said it would not be realistic to have two sewage treatment plants, and noted that if Solmar builds its own expandable plant, the town could feed into it in the future.

"I'm not trying to side with the proponent, but working concurrently to bring in our needs, if we decide that we need servicing to today's municipal standards, with an incoming plant, sort of tends to make some sense to me," he said.