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Committee faces ‘unintended consequences’ of Collingwood development freeze

‘This news has been devastating to me after dealing with COVID-19 for the last two years,’ says co-owner of Low Down, asking for exemption to expand her restaurant
Cassie MacKell is co-owner of Low Down. Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

As the Town of Collingwood’s development pause drags on, local business owners are expressing concern that the interim control bylaw is causing them strife as they try to emerge out of two years of pandemic hardship.

During Monday’s (May 9) development and operations standing committee meeting, multiple deputants including Cassie MacKell, co-owner of Low Down Bar at 65 Simcoe Street, spoke to the committee about the stress the pause is causing. MacKell came to speak about her request for a building permit being denied to expand her business into a neighbouring space, which she intends to use to add 11 more seats to her successful restaurant.

“Unfortunately we were told we can’t go through the building application process at this point because of the ICBL (interim control bylaw),” said MacKell. “This news has been devastating to me after dealing with COVID-19 for the last two years.”

During the pandemic, MacKell said Low Down was closed to indoor dining for 500 days due to ever-changing restrictions.

“At this time, we were hoping to thrive and succeed throughout the summer here in Collingwood,” she said.

MacKell said she’s been working with an engineer and architect on plans for the expansion, and has been paying rent on the new space despite not being able to use it. She said her engineer has confirmed that the addition of the 11 extra seats will result in no change to the building’s water capacity needs.

She spoke to council asking for the Low Down expansion to be added to the list of exemptions being considered. She said if she waited for the next round of exemptions, council wouldn’t be able to vote on her exemption until their June meeting, and between the time it would take to then get her permit granted and construction to commence and be completed, she would be looking at September before the renovations could be finished.

“It would mean I would be missing out on the peak season here in Collingwood for tourists,” said MacKell.

Manager of Planning Services Lindsay Ayers noted that Low Down is not the only business in town that has been impacted by the extension of the interim control bylaw.

“We do have a number of other businesses that are looking to expand or establish that don’t have any additional water demands, but regardless, the ICBL remains in effect today and it’s very clear that an exemption would need to be granted,” said Ayers.

Town council passed an interim control bylaw in April 2021 after staff announced the current water treatment plant could not produce enough water to meet the expected demand caused by growth over the next five years leading up to the planned expansion of the plant.

At the time of the vote, the town indicated it was a one-year moratorium with the possibility of another year's extension while the town worked on new policies for allocating water to development.

Among those new policies is a three-part framework for allocating town services to new development as part of the application process.

One of those parts, the zoning bylaw amendment, will provide the town with an ultimate safeguard where building permits cannot be issued unless adequate availability of water and wastewater capacity is confirmed by the municipality.

Three appeals to the zoning bylaw amendment at the Ontario Land Tribunal have now put a halt on lifting the development freeze. The Planning Act dictates that the control bylaw (and therefore the development freeze) will continue to be in effect until the appeals are handled.

On Monday, Ayers also noted in her report to councillors that it had become clear that the three appeals are not immediately resolvable in the short-term, and are unlikely to be resolved until 2023.

Acting Mayor Keith Hull was sympathetic to MacKell’s situation.

“I’m a little concerned we are at a point tonight where we have passed a plan forward as it relates to criteria for making sure capacity is properly allocated, but really, with a year passing, don’t seem to have a really solid handle on who may be coming forward in the next month to two months looking to make a request.”

“It would be logical... for this one extension of use to be moved forward,” said Hull.

Another deputant on Monday raised the issue of the ICBL preventing needed services from coming to Collingwood.

David Finbow spoke representing Collingwood Family Dental at 1 Huron Street. He said the dentist that would be running the practice entered into a lease for Suite 205 in the Mountain View Towne Centre in late 2021.

“Her intent is to relocate her dental practice to Collingwood,” said Finbow. “Suite 205 has not yet been approved for tenant services. She made an application for a building permit in March, and was told that changing the use from vacant suite to a doctor’s office contravened the ICBL.”

Finbow noted there is an additional water allocation need in converting the space for dental office use of about one and a half SDUs (single detached unit’s worth of water). He said the doctor did send a letter to CAO Sonya Skinner in April advising of the need.

“The intent is to move quickly, as it will take two to three months of construction to get this suite ready,” he said. “From our understanding, the only issue with our application is the ICBL.”

Finbow asked that an exemption be granted in the case of the Collingwood Family Dental business.

According to most recent estimates by town staff, the town has approximately 430 SDUs of water capacity it can distribute annually from 2022 through 2024. About 100 SDUs of the 430 have been allocated for development that does not require any Planning Act approvals.

Coun. Yvonne Hamlin said she felt bad for the situations the deputants found themselves in.

“I think, one of the unintended consequences of having a system of control over the allocation of water – because we don’t have enough – is we’re catching up properties that don’t need any more water,” said Hamlin. “I feel so bad sitting here trying to decide whether a dentist can open her office.”

Hamlin put forward an amendment to exempt the Low Down expansion from the ICBL, pending staff reviewing the engineering report. It was passed unanimously by the committee.

She also requested a second amendment that when a request for a building permit comes forward for projects where no additional water capacity is required, they also be exempt from the ICBL, pending approval by council and subject to an engineering report reviewed by town staff. That amendment was also carried unanimously.

The main motion outlined an overview of how exemptions would be granted going forward while the ICBL is still in effect. According to the overview, exemption requests will be considered by town staff and council once in May for a June decision, and once in August for a September decision. In December 2022, staff will re-evaluate the situation, while taking the state of the three appeals at that time into consideration.

Also as part of the motion, the committee voted unanimously in favour of endorsing the short-term ICBL exemption program that will be in effect at least until the end of 2022, supporting the town’s servicing capacity allocation policy start date of May 17, and supporting ICBL exemptions for two other projects at 26 Elm St. (once a site plan is advanced for consideration) and 31 Huron St.

All decisions made at committee will need to be ratified at their regular meeting of council on May 16 before going into effect.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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