A development company looking to bring a new health and wellness village to Collingwood’s south-east end has offered to foot the bill for the town to have a third-party consulting firm fast-track a review of their plans.
The developer is hoping this will pave the way for council to feel comfortable passing a resolution to support a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) request for the Poplar Regional Health and Wellness Village project sooner rather than later.
An MZO is a provincial order to change the zoning on a piece of land to allow something else to be built there that isn't currently allowed based on municipal zoning. In the case of the Poplar Sideroad proposal, the land is currently set aside for "employment" use such as factories, warehouses, and offices. The developer wants that changed to "mixed use" to allow commercial, education, recreation, residential, and health facilities to be built on the property.
During a committee meeting on Monday, Collingwood councillors got a first look at the proposed Poplar Regional Health and Wellness Village project that would bring housing, a sports centre, healthcare services, eco space, and research and innovation businesses to the lands surrounding Georgian College at Raglan Street and Poplar Sideroad.
During a special council meeting on Thursday (March 10), councillors reconsidered and passed a resolution to redirect their Official Plan consultants Planning Partnership Inc. and Urban Metrics to review the Poplar proposal. This would mean town staff don't have to put aside or delay current work to review the application.
The move is expected to delay work on the town's Official Plan update by about four weeks. According to the resolution, the proponents have confirmed they will compensate the town for the work.
Some councillors were critical of the action.
Coun. Yvonne Hamlin called MZOs “the flavour of the month,” and raised her concerns about supporting MZOs for any proposed development in Collingwood.
“There are many municipalities right now that are being courted right now to bypass their planning process and community input to get these kinds of approvals in place,” she said. “I don’t know that I’m against an MZO but I am very adamant that this council, which has had sufficient lessons in transparency, follow every rule as we walk through this process.”
Hamlin said MZOs cut red tape, but in her view, that doesn’t take away from other principles council should be following.
“That includes community input, both residential and (from) developers, and includes some attention to the planning process that has been set up. MZOs are a direct route to a building permit without looking at an Official Plan, perhaps without a site plan, without provincial policy statements, without the conservation authority being able to step in and say no,” she said. “It is a very draconian method of getting development approval.”
Hamlin asked that when the consultant reviews the proposal, they also investigate what safeguards the municipality has the right to put in place to ensure the developer delivers on their promises, while also following proper planning, should council decide to support an MZO request.
“In my view, if all these things could be met, I would be happy to support this motion. For myself, I need these answers,” she said. “I think it behooves us as a council particularly, after what we’ve been through, to make sure our community does not see us just giving a rubber stamp to any landowner to run to the province and get any approval it wants without any input from us.”
Coun. Deb Doherty said she was “fundamentally opposed” to the MZO process.
“We are on the eve of receiving our Official Plan review. It has had considerable input from the public and planning consultants at great expense. The timing at this point doesn’t make much sense to me,” she said. “I’m not comfortable with putting off our Official Plan review for four weeks in favour of a very late proposal from a developer. Other proponents were given the opportunity at the beginning to make specific (requests) at the outset. This proponent was not part of that process. It makes me question, why not?”
Mayor Brian Saunderson reminded council that on Thursday, they were voting specifically to direct a third-party consultant to review the plans and provide advice on a path forward.
“This is a fact-finding mission. We are directing consultants to look at this proposal, and that is being paid for by the developer,” said Saunderson.
Deputy Mayor Keith Hull said his intention for the motion was to gather information.
“I’m not trying to circumvent or endorse something that was only presented to this body on Monday evening,” said Hull after bringing the motion forward.
“This will put us in a position as a council to really look at this significant development from an educated standpoint,” he said.
Coun. Mariane McLeod asked for an amendment to the motion to include a request that the consultant includes information on municipal enforcement options and public consultation options in their report, which was passed unanimously.
“Big promises are being made and we’re being asked to trust. I would like trust, but verified,” said McLeod.
On Thursday night, councillors voted unanimously in favour of moving forward with having the consultant work with town staff to prepare a report reviewing the merits of the Poplar proposal.
Once a report comes back to council from the consultant, council will then consider whether or not to pass a resolution supporting the proponent’s application for a Ministerial Zoning Order.