Council approves 541-unit development behind Orangeville Mall

May 29, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Baker

It may have taken the better part of a decade, but a local developer has finally been given the green light to build a new high-density subdivision behind the Orangeville Mall. 

This past Monday (May 25), Orangeville Council spent considerable time listening to 10 delegates give their thoughts and opinions regarding the 541-unit development, before debating whether to sign off on a report, compiled by Town staff, recommending the approval of the project. While most members weren’t particularly happy with the proposal, there was a general feeling that the municipality had no option but to approve it. 

In a detailed 36-page report submitted to Council last week, Town Planner Brandon Ward and Doug Jones, Orangeville’s General Manager of Infrastructure Services, found no reason to deny a revised development proposal for the site. An original application, submitted in 2018, called for 623 units to be constructed on approximately 44 acres of land along Hansen Boulevard, but a new proposal, received in March of this year, brought that total down to 541 units – 207 townhomes and 33 apartments.

“Staff is of the opinion that the proposal is consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement (POPISH), conforms to the growth plan, as well as the policies of the County’s official plan, and the Town’s official plan,” Mr. Ward and Mr. Jones outlined in their report. “It is therefore recommended that Council support the applications in their present form.”

Owned by Orangeville Highlands Limited and Brucedale Investments, the land behind the Orangeville Mall has been pegged for development for around 30 years. It was back in 2010 that the coalition revealed their plans to construct a slew of high-rise apartment blocks, and rows of townhomes in the area. Their plans have changed slightly over the years, taking on suggestions from various iterations of Orangeville Council, as well as concerned residents, to make up the proposal we see today.

Also included in the application is a four-acre community park, one-acre dog park, an integrated multi-use trail system and a stormwater management facility. The developers have also agreed to designate approximately 15.5 acres of land at the site as open space conservation area, essentially meaning it will not be developed. 

There was some public discord, and perhaps a twinge of a feeling of injustice heading into Monday’s meeting, with more than a few residents concerned that the future of this development was being decided at a time when Council is meeting virtually, meaning those in opposition aren’t able to fully voice their displeasure over the proposal. Of the ten delegates, only three spoke favourably about the project, and two of those were on the payroll of the developers. 

Karen Bennett, a planner who represents Orangeville Highlands and Brucedale Investments, informed Council this project, as it appears today, ticks all the necessary boxes and meets all the necessary municipal requirements. As such, she called on members to swiftly approve the development. 

She would go on to address some of the concerns raised by previous delegates, who felt the public wasn’t being afforded a proper opportunity to oppose the project.

“I do know there has been a lot of public interest in this application since the beginning of this process. In addition to two public meetings held in 2011, I have been involved in at least five other meetings whereby interested residents have been present, including a second formal public meeting in September 2018, and a very informative participant meeting held in May 2019,” Ms. Bennett said. “We have listened to concerns over the course of this process and we have tried to ensure our resubmission provides clarity.”

Accusations that the project would place considerable stress upon municipal infrastructure, and exacerbate flooding in the area are unsubstantiated, Ms. Bennett claimed, who pointed towards various tests and studies the developer has commissioned in the area over the past several years. 

“From a stormwater perspective, that has been studied and we have demonstrated that stormwater will be managed on-site with a pond. We have confirmed there will be no flooding resulting from this development, and we will maintain water balance on site, meaning pre-development infiltration will equal post-development infiltration,” she said. 

“There were a number of questions raised relating to traffic and intersections in the vicinity of the lands. A traffic impact study was prepared and peer reviewed by the Town’s own peer review consultant. The review was originally based on our 2017 plan, which had more units than the current plan, so the findings in that review are very conservative and actually overestimate the future traffic demands by about 100 units,” Ms. Russell continued. “The study includes an assessment of all future developments within the vicinity, and includes a growth rate as required by the Town. The study concludes the design of Hansen Boulevard, and all intersections within the study are feasible and will meet the future transportation needs of the town.”

The density range, as outlined in Orangeville’s land-use bylaws, calls for between 75 and 99 units per hectare. While the developer’s initial plan in 2017 brought the project dangerously close to the top end of that scale, at 97 units per hectare, Ms. Russell says they have “listened to residents through this process” and reduced the density considerably, down to 89 units per hectare.

“We’re seeking to create a functional and safe neighbourhood, with lots of public open space and a range of housing types. We’re also seeking to achieve an appropriate interface with the neighbouring land uses,” Ms. Bennett added. “We have worked hard with Orangeville and Credit Valley Conservation staff to solve all the technical issues.”

Dorothy Pedersen founded the Hansen High Density Awareness Group (HHDAG) in 2017 to fight back against the proposal. On Monday, she expressed her belief that the report presented to Council was incomplete, and that anybody who voted in favour of the development based on the allegedly incomplete report “was a fool”. 

“The complete CVC report is missing. The complete Ministry of Transportation report is missing. The Ministry of Natural Resources report is missing. None of the reports referred to tonight have been made available for inspection. Instead, information has been cherry-picked to present to (Council) and the public without giving you the benefit of auditing all the reports,” Ms. Pedersen said.

She added, “Asking you to vote on this report is akin to asking you to buy a fleet of vehicles based on the beautiful paint jobs, and sleek lines of design, without actually looking under the hood. You cannot make a fully informed decision on this plan until all the reports and test results have been provided in their entirety.”

Ms. Pedersen was one of only two Orangeville residents to speak about the development on Monday. Five of the delegates were residents of Mono, one was from Melancthon and the other two – Ms. Bennett and a lawyer representing Orangeville Highlands and Brucedale Investments, do not live in the area. 

Kicking off the debate amongst Council, Coun. Lisa Post asked if a decision could be pushed back 90 days to “give ample opportunity for all interested parties to have their concerns over the project addressed”. Her motion was seconded by Coun. Todd Taylor, but was ultimately defeated by four votes to three. 

Scott Snider, a lawyer from Turkstra Mazza Associates, was representing Orangeville Highlands and Brucedale Investments on Monday. Prior to the vote on Coun. Post’s motion, he indicated his clients “would not agree to a deferral, nor would they welcome it”. He indicated an appeal lodged with the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), to decide the fate of the project, was due to begin Monday, but had been delayed after the developers and Town staff came to a tentative agreement earlier this month. There were fears amongst Council that, should they reject the proposal, they would be forced into an expensive legal battle some believed would be impossible to win. 

With members seemingly set to sign off on the development, Coun. Grant Peters asked if two small adjustments could be proposed. First, he asked that the developers commit to a 20 percent reduction in potable water use, which he says could be achieved through installing more eco-friendly fixtures in the units, while also calling for the owners to find a way reduce energy use at the site. The proposals, he says, won’t cost the developers any additional money, and would help to set an eco-friendly precedent for other developments of this nature in Orangeville. 

While Deputy Mayor Andy Macintosh sided with Coun. Post and Coun. Taylor on the earlier vote to postpone a final decision by 90 days, he saw little option than to approve the project once that attempt failed. 

“I would have liked to have another 90 days, but I think the builders made a lot of concessions with this. I’d like to congratulate the high density group too, because the work they’ve done has helped us get to this point,” Mr. Macintosh said. “There’s a lot of good things with this subdivision. I know it’s not perfect, and it’s not what everyone wants. But, legally, we know we don’t have a lot of choice in this matter.”

That was a sentiment shared by Coun. Debbie Sherwood.

“People are of the opinion that we, Council, have the power to stop this. The bottom line is, we don’t. I feel for the compassion expressed by residents surrounding this development, however the landowner has a right to develop this land based on complying with our official plan, the provincial Places to Grow Act and the zoning and planning act,” Coun. Sherwood said.

She added, “Even though I don’t necessarily like the density and the types of housing proposed in this development, the thought of going through the expense of a lawyer, consultants and staff time to try and fight this at LPAT is a complete waste of tax dollars. Thousands of dollars will be spent to lose.”

Mayor Brown, in a previous interview with the Citizen, estimated the Town could spend as much as $100,000 attempting to fight this development at LPAT, and, realistically, had little chance of gaining a favourable outcome. 

Coun. Joe Andrews kept his comments short and sweet, calling the project a “win, win, win for the community”, commended both the developers and Town staff for covering all the bases throughout this process. 

Despite understanding there are no legal grounds for the Town to hold up this development, Coun. Todd Taylor said he could not vote in favour as he disagrees with the project on more of a holistic level. 

“I’m hopeful our town will be different from other larger municipalities. I wonder what this development could look like in 10 or 15 years. It’s not the Orangeville I want. It’s not the look I want,” Coun. Taylor said. “The very fact there isn’t 100, or 150 people staring at us while we’re having this discussion, and all of us feeling those eyes on us while we’re making this decision, is very concerning to me. I get that we’re in uncertain times, I don’t need to hear what COVID-19 is, and none of us know what the future holds. This just doesn’t sit well. The fact we’re passing this in this situation, it’s not the right thing to be doing in my opinion.”

While the project has now received approval from Council, it isn’t plain sailing yet. Mayor Brown indicated there were still several steps the developer had to take, and more municipal hoops they had to jump through before moving ahead with construction. Additional site-level approvals will be needed before they’re able to break ground at the site. It’s estimated that the installation of infrastructure could begin within a year of draft approval – likely next summer; however the developer would have up to three years from the draft approval date to fulfill all remaining conditions for the development. 

“This developer has been working with the Town, has been friendly to the Town for a number of years. They built the parkette near the local railway station, they helped the Town with the dog park over the last several years, and helped us secure the Pullen Well, which is an important part of the future growth of this town,”  Mayor Brown said. “Because of them working with the town over the past several years, I think they’re going to work with us moving forward. There’s still a lot of issues that need to be nailed down in terms of design.”


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