Hansen high-density development back before Council

January 31, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Baker

The issue surrounding the potential development of lands behind Orangeville Mall was tackled by Orangeville’s new council for the first time on Monday (Jan. 28), with community leaders involved in the fight against the high-density project calling for our elected officials to stand behind their cause.

When news first broke in May 2018 that the owners of land behind the Orangeville Mall had submitted a new application to develop a 623-unit subdivision on the site, several community members sprung into action opposing the proposal. Dorothy Pedersen launched the Hansen High Density Awareness Group (HHDAG), recruited concerned citizens and vowed to fight developers over their decision to build.

At a public meeting held on Sept. 13 at Tony Rose Arena, Ms. Pedersen, flanked by a collection of passionate supporters surmised that the development would do nothing but “leave an ugly scar” on the community, effecting natural habitats, the municipality’s water supply, traffic and property values in the area. She challenged the council of the day to veto the project, something former Coun. Sylvia Bradley noted would be difficult, with the municipality only holding so much power when it comes to approving or denying certain projects within its borders.

Having initially filed an application for development back in 2010, the coalition of Orangeville Highlands Limited and Bruce-dale Investments held off on pursuing approval for a then 545-unit high-density subdivision at the site. Since submitting a new application eight months ago, the developers have, apparently, been unhappy with its progress and have filed an appeal with the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), formerly known as the Ontario Municipal Board. A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 26. 

Now, on the eve of that hearing, former mayoral candidate Darrin Davidson, who recently replaced Ms. Pedersen as the head of the HHDAG, has asked that Council consider setting up a sub-committee, whereby Town Staff, members of Council and members of HHDAG could meet to discuss potential solutions to what he described as “critical issues” with the development.

“There are critical issues with this potential subdivision that will have profound effects and impacts on the future of our social, economic and environmental interests,” Mr. Davidson said. “While we recognize the entitlements and rights of the investors who own the Hansen lands, we believe there are unrecognized alternatives and options to ensure a win-win-win for all stakeholders involved in this (process).”

Mr. Davidson, who in the lead-up to last year’s municipal election at one time called for the lands in question to be transformed into a municipal park, stopped short of discussing those alternatives, saying he would prefer to discuss them with the municipality in an official capacity as part of a sub-committee. 

Brandon Ward, the Town’s Manager of Planning, warned Council against striking such a committee without seeking approval from LPAT. Later, he questioned the need for a sub-committee at all.

“I would wonder what the focus and mandate of such a committee would entail. All applications go through a rigorous process and consultation is an important component to the review process,” Mr. Ward said. “This application originated back in 2011 and has advanced quite slowly. There have been several public information meetings. We could direct another open house or information session be held, but I would remind Council that, given this is currently before LPAT, any such direction should first go to them for acceptance.”

Mr. Davidson noted the group’s chief concern is with the level of density proposed at the site. With 623 units proposed for development on 11.83 hectares of open land, the proposal comfortably meets municipal bylaw requirements. Still, the sheer volume of units slated for the space is of some concern to some members of Council, who, at the request of Mr. Ward, largely remained quiet throughout three separate delegations on the issue.

Also presenting were Karen Bennett, a planner representing the two owner companies, who gave a similar presentation to the one made at September’s public hearing, and Karen Morrison, a Mono resident speaking out on behalf of residents along Starrview Crescent. Ms. Morrison noted she and her neighbours had been largely ignored up until this point, but that their concerns over a potential decrease in water supply and quality were as valid as every other concern that has been raised. 

She also questioned the vagueness of the information released by the developer regarding the subdivision, particularly as it relates to the size of the individual units.

“There’s no information on a parking plan, no information on the number of bedrooms, no information on the price point… We have no idea if there will be 1,500 people living in that subdivision, or if 3,000 people will live there. We have no idea what this will mean for our roads, schools, hospital,” Ms. Morrison said. “More work needs to be done. We need more information.”

While Mayor Sandy Brown agreed that, in a perfect world, he would have liked to see “a little less density” in the proposal, he suggested Council was potentially powerless to prevent the Hansen lands from being developed.

“Some of the planned issues are beyond the scope of Town Council. This process is ongoing; we all know our planning staff is concerned about the issues talked about this evening. Reports relating to traffic, the environment and water need to be completed, so there is still much work to be done,” Mayor Brown said.

He added, “My personal stand on this is that this is good development land. That land, at some point, will eventually be developed. I’m not entirely in favour of increasing density, I’d like to see that scaled back a bit, but this is good land.”

This comes at a time when we need more affordable housing. There are apartment buildings and stacked townhouses included in this proposal. They are more affordable than detached homes. The family behind this proposal has owned this land for some time, this has been planned for some time. I would like to see development of this land move forward.”

While an LPAT hearing is scheduled for Feb. 26, Mr. Ward was keen to reiterate that a final decision will not be made at that event. 

“This pre-hearing is more to check in on the status and process of the application. It’s an opportunity to refine an issues list and set a procedural order for an upcoming hearing event,” Mr. Ward said.

Regardless of that fact, Mr. Davidson noted the HHDAG would be present at the meeting and, in fact, has attained official party status to attend in an official capacity. 

While Council was unable to give the group directly what they wanted, a motion was put forth to instruct staff to confer with LPAT about the possibility of, in Mayor Brown’s words, “forming a sub-committee, or promote some other form of public engagement” so as to ensure the public’s voice is heard on that issue.

In claiming the final word, Coun. Todd Taylor promised the group of approximately 20 individuals in attendance, who each braved treacherous conditions on Monday evening to attend the meeting, that their voices were, indeed, being heard.

“It feels disingenuous to sit here and not comment, but you must understand what Council has been instructed to do… What I do want to say, and I think I speak for most of Council here, is that we are listening,” Coun. Taylor said.


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