April 24, 2013

Partnership with developers deferred by council

1,000 new homes would triple Hillsburgh's population

As published in The Erin Avdocate

Consideration of a potential partnership with developers to share the costs of further sewer studies has been deferred by town council, saying they need time to digest a report that recommends full municipal services for both Erin village and Hillsburgh.

Residents packed the council chamber last week after learning that the council agenda included not only the draft Final Report of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP), but a motion drafted by Chief Administrative Officer Frank Miele to authorize collaboration and cost sharing with developers for the next three phases of the Environmental Assessment (EA).

Representatives of two developers appeared as delegations to support the motion, while the Transition Erin community group said the process is being rushed.

The SSMP report may still receive minor revisions after review by council and two committees. A "final" version will be published, and the public will be invited to make comments during a review period, which could lead to further changes. Only after that would Council vote on its recommendations and choose a course of action, which would include further EA phases if a sewer option is chosen.

"This is probably the single most important issue that's going to confront this council, and probably the next council," said Councillor John Brennan, saying more time is needed to consider the report. He noted that Councillor Barb Tocher was not present to give her input.

"We need to listen to reports from Transition Erin and comments from a lot of people before we proceed," said Councillor Deb Callaghan.

"There has been a considerable amount of investment – it's coming down to: what does council wish to do?" said Miele. Over the last four years the SSMP, representing Phases 1 and 2 of the EA, has cost the Town about $500,000, and Credit Valley Conservation a similar amount.

"If council wishes to pursue this SSMP, it needs to move forward," said Miele. "Phases 3, 4 and 5 need to be completed to determine the kinds of services we need. It is in Phase 3 that we need to identify the technology and how much it will cost. Because (the EA) is a costly venture, we need some financial support."

He said the only immediate cost resulting from his motion would be the $10,000 to $15,000 required to develop a Request for Proposal (RFP). Consultants would then bid for the opportunity to complete the next phases of the EA.

The cost of those studies could be from $250,000 to $500,000, said Miele, but only $100,000 is earmarked for this in the current capital budget. That is why he is recommending sharing the costs with developers as "co-proponents", a process governed by provincial regulations.

Shelley Foord, of Transition Erin's Wastewater Solutions Working Group, said they have been planning to present alternatives to the strategy recommended by the SSMP, but are waiting until all the reviews of the SSMP are complete.

"I'm concerned at the speed of how fast this is going along, and some of the wording in Mr. Miele's report – it refers to the $65 million facility," she said. "We're looking at options that would be far less than that, and haven't had a chance to present them yet."

They are studying decentralized "small-bore" systems, with waste initially processed in a digester on the homeowner's property, and the effluent pumped through small pipes to a small treatment plant. They're also studying upgrades to septic tanks.

"I quite agree with what you're saying," said Councillor Jose Wintersinger. "Council feels it's being rushed a little bit too. There are options, and we need to digest the information. We're not ready to make any decision on anything."

Maurizio Rogato of Solmar Development Corp. said he supports both Miele's report and the SSMP recommendations. "We wish to reiterate our position, which is to cooperate with the Town and of course the development industry," he said.

Consultant Bruce Donaldson, a partner in the Guelph planning firm BSR&D, spoke on behalf of Manuel Tavares (Dominion Meat Packers) who in 2002 bought land for a housing development in southeast Hillsburgh. Much of the planning work was completed, but the project was put on hold when the Town was forced to conduct the SSMP.

There were to be two phases, originally totalling about 167 homes on large lots with septic systems. But the density requirement is now at 6.5 homes per acre, with full sewer service.

"My client's project would have in excess of 800 units, and if you take into account other developments in Hillsburgh, I'm sure it will add up to about 1,000 units," said Donaldson.

The 2011 census showed only 1,065 people living Hillsburgh, so 1,000 new homes would more than triple the village population.

"We're looking forward to receiving a proposal from the municipality as to what you are looking for from Dominion Meats or Manuel Tavares and other developers in Hillsburgh, to contribute to the funding of the additional work that's required," said Donaldson.

"It makes some sense, if you're all going to paddle the canoe in the same direction, to all get into the canoe," said Mayor Lou Maieron. "But if the Town decides we don't want to go that route, we want to stay on septics, can the various proponents move forward on their own EA process, have it approved and build the infrastructure they need?"

Miele confirmed that a developer would have the right to potentially build their own sewage treatment plant, as long as they follow Ministry of the Environment regulations and get the necessary planning approvals.

"Under current provincial regulation, the Town would be required to assume ownership and operate the system," the SSMP report says.

"The concern is that you could get a dichotomous town, where the new portion has servicing and the old portion is on septics," said Maeiron.

The SSMP report expects that the total population of the urban areas (Erin village and Hillsburgh combined) will be capped at between 10,000 and 13,500, based on the capacity of the West Credit River to safely handle treated sewage effluent. The current urban population is about 4,300.

Provincial review agencies have yet to comment on the 10,000 to 13,500 cap, but are expected to do so in the next few weeks. The cap could be raised even higher with enhanced sewage treatment, something that would be studied in future phases of the EA.

The SSMP report outlines three possible scenarios for council to consider. The first is full servicing for both Erin village and Hillsburgh, with the goal of creating smaller lots, a range of housing types, intensifying and redeveloping existing areas, retaining businesses and attracting new ones.

Scenario two is to build sewers for Erin village only, resulting in downtown Hillsburgh struggling to survive. "Different service levels between Erin village and Hillsburgh may also have a bearing on where community facilities and institutions, such as schools, are located," the report says.

Scenario three is to build no sewers, and attempt to revert to development on large lots with septic systems, which would "deter new commercial and industrial from locating in the Town. Existing businesses may be forced to relocate from the downtown cores. It is likely that local employment levels will not improve and a majority of residents will continue to work outside of the Town," the report says.