February 26, 2014

Angelstone seeks zoning change

As published in The Erin Advocate

Sometimes, if you want to get things done, you are better off begging forgiveness later than asking permission in advance.

That may turn out to be the case for Angelstone Farms, on Wellington Road 50 in Erin, as they ask the Town for a zoning change that would permit them to do what they are already doing.

The operation of a world-class show jumping venue on prime agricultural land, including commercial activity and loud music at various events, drew legitimate complaints from area residents at a public meeting last week. Council made no decision on the application.

After a promotional presentation by Angelstone Vice President Ryan Clermont, Erin residents spoke both for and against activities at the equestrian centre.

Nancy Gilbert, the neighbour most affected, said she has lost the enjoyment of her property on “event” weekends due to heavy traffic, and music that vibrates her house. 

“I shouldn’t have to put up with it,” said Gilbert, who has hired Planning Consultant James Webb to review the situation. In a letter, Webb said “agriculture-related uses” are intended in the Official Plan to be “small-scale and directly related  to the farm operation”. He questioned how the proposed use could be justified as “supportive to the primary use of the property as a horse farm”.

Neighbours don’t mind Angelstone’s main business, which is training riders and horses, or even the competitions. It’s the evening nightclub atmosphere that they feel is out of place in a quiet farm area. “I don’t want to live down the road from a circus,” said Craig Porterfield.

Clermont said entertainment is essential to their business model, enabling them to create a full day of fun that attracts out-of town visitors and high-paying sponsors.

He admitted Angelstone had made mistakes in conducting events and dealing with neighbours. He expressed disappointment that Gilbert had not acknowledged measures being taken to improve the situation, but renewed his offer to “work together”.

Angelstone will hold only five event weekends this year (there were 10 last year) with music to 11 pm on Thursdays and midnight on Saturdays. They will stop playing radio stations on their sound system, convert to a series of small speakers in individual tents and buildings, instead of big ones on a pole and use a mobile app to notify competitors about their schedule.

They have promised to erect a fence to deter trespassing on private property, hire police to manage Saturday traffic, remove manure promptly and ensure that special lighting will not affect other properties. Clermont said Angelstone will not get any larger.

Their revised zoning application now includes 27 days of competition, 8-10 equestrian vendors, the sale of food and LLBO events with 200-400 competitors, 350-700 horses, 1,000-3,000 spectators and peak parking of 1,200 vehicles. It has been endorsed by County Planning, as long as events are only occasional, with no permanent non-farm buildings.

Councillor Barb Tocher said she would like to see an independent traffic study and an emergency evacuation plan. Residents had complained there is only one road access point, but there is a second driveway kept clear for emergency use.

The most basic economic development capacity could have engaged Angelstone when they approached the Town at their outset in 2010, helping with zoning and neighbour issues. Instead they were virtually ignored.

On one hand you have Mayor Lou Maieron attending Angelstone events and talking up a business that has invested $5 million here over four years. On the other you have Planner Sally Stull saying last week that until the neighbours’ complaints were received in late 2013, “planning staff are unaware of any activities at the property.”

Angelstone has built itself into what it says is Canada’s second most significant show jumping venue, providing free admission and projecting to spend $1.55 million on local employment, service providers, equipment, supplies and facility improvements this year.

Is Town Council going to suppress a business that generates an estimated $3 million in spending by competitors and spectators within a 30 km radius, on things like lodging, food, retail shopping and fuel? Erin may never have a hotel sector, but activity like this could foster growth in Bed & Breakfast and other small facilities.

Mary Venneman, who co-chaired the Equine Task Force that recently got council to recognize the equine sector as a major economic driver, said Erin has a crisis of identity: “We don’t know what we want to be when we grow up.”

She said if the Town can set a vision and strategic plan of how it wants to develop, it will guide decisions on issues like sewers and business growth.

Anthea Larke, who is building a smaller equestrian facility, urged council to “look at the big picture”, and asked, “What about the people who will lose if Erin becomes a no-go zone for business.” She said while efforts must be made to appease local concerns, “the benefits must outweigh the inconvenience to neighbours.”