Council has officially paused new development in Collingwood for the next year.
During a seven-hour meeting on April 26, town council passed (in a 6-3 vote) an interim control bylaw that prohibits any new construction unless the project already has a building permit from the town. Renovations are permitted, but only for projects where the use of the building (particularly where water and wastewater is concerned) won't change.
The one-year moratorium was suggested by town staff because the water treatment plant is running out of capacity for new development.
According to the staff report, if nothing changes, the water treatment plant can produce enough treated, potable water for 1,941 more single-family dwelling units (and that’s with five per cent of the capacity reserved as a safety measure) outside of existing homes and those with building permits. However the system could be overtaxed in the winter when cold water proves more work to treat at the chlorination step.
The decision was made after several hours of both public and in-camera meetings with most council discussion occurring in closed session.
During the council meeting, a parade of deputants that included lawyers, developers, consultants, and residents, each took their five minute allocation - most of them to express opposition to the interim control bylaw.
One lawyer called it an atom bomb and urged council to rule out other options before “going nuclear.”
Leo Longo, representing three property owners/developers in town, said there were other tools in the toolbox better suited for situation.
“What you’ve presented tonight is the most blunt,” he said.
Robert Voigt, representing the Georgian Triangle Development Institute, said the public works staff report on water capacity and potential solutions for increasing local capacity “clearly defined several options.”
He said the options in the staff report to change operations and improve infrastructure short-term before the full plant expansion is complete “should be the only path forward.”
Voigt told council the interim control bylaw would have “extraordinarily damaging and far-reaching implications on the entire community.”
The implications, he said, include the loss of hundreds of well-paying jobs, risk for current and future residents of becoming unhoused, elimination of tens of millions of dollars worth of development charges, and a deficit of 400 to 800 new homes.
Other presenters representing the development industry said applications must still be considered and moved along (up to the building permit stage) even with the bylaw in place. They strongly suggested council use other planning mechanisms like approving a site plan or zoning change with a hold provision while the town works out more capacity for its water treatment plant.
According to the town’s solicitor, Eric Davis, holding provisions can be appealed and possibly wouldn’t produce the desired results.
Davis said the interim bylaw would not prevent staff from receiving and processing planning applications. But no new building permits would be issued while the control bylaw is in place.
The bylaw is in place for one year. It can be extended for one more year, or lifted early by a council vote.
According to Davis, the interim control bylaw can also be amended by council while it is in place.
CAO Sonya Skinner said staff and council could consider exemptions to the bylaw.
Several presenters stated the developments they were representing should be exempt from the moratorium because of the stage of planning they had already reached, or because the homes had already sold.
Though few council members made any comments in the public portion of the meeting, both Mayor Brian Saunderson and Coun. Yvonne Hamlin noted council was faced with a difficult decision, but neither saw a viable alternative to the moratorium.
“We have thousands of units in our pipeline right now,” said Hamlin, referring to potential future developments in various stages of the planning process. “Without a system in place that our land-use planning study will give us … we will be in a position where we will have an oversubscription of water as units are built.”
She said it was of the most difficult things a council could deal with.
Mayor Saunderson agreed the town was facing “an extremely difficult situation.”
“We have known about this issue, and we have to deal with it,” said Saunderson. “There is no alternative … this bylaw allows us to hit pause.”
While the interim control bylaw is in place, the town will work with consultants on land-use planning study meant to identify changes that could be made to the town’s regulatory policies and bylaws governing development and how it impacts water and wastewater servicing capacity.
Council also voted (this time unanimously) to have staff start working to increase the local water plant capacity in two ways while moving forward with the water treatment plant expansion plans.
Staff were directed to send out the request for proposals for the plant expansion, and have the successful bidder start working on a new chlorine tank first so it can be used before the plant expansion is complete.
According to Peggy Slama, director of public works, engineering and environmental services, the new tank could take between two and three years to complete and would provide an additional capacity of about 1,900 homes.
The other way staff have been told to increase capacity is to keep more water in Collingwood.
The town currently provides drinking water to The Blue Mountains and New Tecumseth (as much as 35 to 50 per cent of the Collingwood plant’s capacity is sent to those two municipalities).
Staff are working on a new agreement with New Tecumseth, the old contract expired in May 2020, but the towns have continued to follow the terms set in the expired agreement.
However, Slama said it wouldn’t be enough for Collingwood to reduce the amount of water sent to The Blue Mountains and New Tecumseth.
aTo get the capacity Collingwood needs for future development, Slama said the town will have to apply several options, including reducing the amount of water piped out of Collingwood, and trying to fast track the water treatment plant expansion.
The expansion is due to be complete at the end of 2025, and a 2020 report indicated it could cost about $65 million.