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CAO laments 'this is getting messy' as TBM council waffles over Campus of Care

Council delays decision to continue designing water/wastewater service plan, CAO warns more delays could unravel entire project

The Blue Mountains council has still not made a decision on whether staff can continue to work on a plan for water and wastewater services for the future Campus of Care property just outside of Thornbury.

The project seems to attract strong opinions on both sides with packed meetings and vocal opposition. 

On May 13, council held a marathon meeting that lasted eight hours and included a parade of residents who brought their opposition and support of the Campus of Care long-term home and housing development, the future of which is uncertain at this point.

The town's CAO stepped in to urge council to make a decision, to ask questions and tell staff outright what about the servicing project needs to be changed while they were all in the council chambers together. 

After hours of discussion and debate and a nearly full gallery, council finally voted, agreeing only to let staff bring the designs for the water/wastewater services to 60 per cent complete. This doesn't involve any physical construction.

Currently, the design work is approximately 30 per cent complete and at committee of the whole two weeks earlier staff brought a report recommending the advancement of the design work.

The council resolution also directs Coun. June Porter, the chair of the operations committee, to work with town staff and engineering consultants to address concerns raised by the community about the proposed servicing work. A report is to come back directly to the council meeting on June 3 for consideration.

Two former town mayors – Alar Soever and Ellen Anderson – expressed support for the Campus of Care, with Anderson’s comments being read by former Coun. Bill Abbotts, who also spoke in favour of the project.

Numerous project opponents made presentations at the meeting with comments ranging from outright opposition to the Campus of Care concept itself to concerns about the options the town is considering to service the property.

The microphone was well-used by the public during the commenting portion of the meeting. 

At various points in the meeting, town CAO Shawn Everitt took centre stage to address the skepticism in the room about the project and to urge council to come to a decision on the matter to provide clear direction to staff on the issue of servicing the property.

“We need to be able to move forward with this work, without this work, it puts, absolutely, the Campus of Care project totally in jeopardy,” said Everitt. “Without the servicing, the Campus of Care doesn’t happen.”

While there is no site plan yet since the town and developers haven't reached a deal for the sale of the land, the concept plan for the site is 160 long-term care beds, another 160 beds available as attainable labour force housing, 300 multi-family units, 80 daycare spaces, community gardens, pickleball courts, a playground, and 250+ retirement living beds. The deal currently in negotiations is for the developers to buy 18.7 acres and the town would keep 11 acres on the north side of the property for future use. 

Everitt countered the complaints from residents that Campus of Care had been developed behind closed doors and was being pushed by the province. He said the town initiated the project after a process that involved two public workshops to brainstorm ideas for the concept. After that process, the town went to the province with the idea.

“This was not the province. This was not staff,” Everitt said. “It was the council of the day that pushed the Campus of Care and presented it to the province.”

Everitt also said that the town and the two developers on the project – peopleCare and Skyline Development Acquisitions – have not reached a final deal on the sale of the land for the project.

In May 2023, council voted unanimously in favour of a letter of intent to sell 18.7 acres of the 125 Peel Street property owned by the town to the developers for $15 million. However, the deal has not yet been finalized. Everitt said changes from the provincial government on municipal development charges had delayed that process.

“We don’t have an agreement,” said Everitt.

Multiple members of council said they had supported the committee of the whole decision to table the servicing report for the land because of the lack of an agreement on the sale.

“We do not have a deal on that land as yet,” said Coun. Gail Ardiel. “Until we have a deal, I don’t know why we’re moving forward with the servicing.”

Coun. June Porter said approval of a servicing option would be a risky bet.

“It is not responsible to invest on a what if. The deal is not done,” she said.

Coun. Paula Hope said it would be fiscally responsible to table the servicing until a deal is official.

“Now that it’s out there that we don’t have a deal, that’s why the tabling happened,” said Hope. “I feel very strongly that we should be tabling the services. It’s important we don’t commit the community to any kind of funding.”

But the meeting chair, Deputy Mayor Peter Bordignon, suggested it was flawed logic to halt the work on designing the water and wastewater service plan while waiting for a sale.

Bordignon said they were not approving “pipes in the ground” at this point in the process. He said they were being asked to make a decision to move the servicing design to the next phase.

“We’re stalled on the tracks. I don’t know if this is a backdoor way to kill the project. I have no idea where this is coming from,” said Bordignon, who said a long delay could ruin the project. “It could effectively kill a deal that would have so much impact on the town. At the end of the day, we have to make hard decisions.”

Everitt again noted the future project, and sale, hinged on a servicing plan. He advised council that without advancing the servicing for the property, a deal to sell the land was unlikely.

“The only way a deal can move forward is if there is a commitment to service the property,” said Everitt.

On several occasions, Everitt urged council to provide specific examples of what they would like to see changed in the staff recommendation to service the Campus of Care lands. He said planning and operations staff and engineering consultants were gathered together in the council chambers to answer any questions or concerns.

“I’m at a loss as to why council wouldn’t bring (the issues) forward now to avoid tabling it,” said Everitt. “Council, I ask you to make a decision.”

However, as the meeting dragged on, Everitt eventually suggested that council briefly defer the decision until a subsequent report could be prepared to address the various concerns raised by the community.

“This is getting incredibly messy,” he said. “Doing this on the fly is not going to achieve what council is looking to achieve.”

In the end, the option of a brief delay to bring another report with more information prevailed and the matter will return to the council table on June 3.

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About the Author: Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Chris Fell covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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