Development applications weigh public comment, but not the Facebook kind

·4 min read

As a resident or community member, there is an ideal and important time to voice concerns about a proposed new building, development, or subdivision.

“Conversations with the community about planning applications happen through a formal process. Not on Facebook and not in emails,” said Nathan Westendorp, director of planning for TBM at a recently held council meeting.

“If you want your message to count, then it has to go through the right channels so that staff have the ability to verify, review and assess those comments, and balance all the considerations that we are tasked with doing as professionals,” he continued.

Westendorp said the planning process can be complicated but the Planning Act has been set up to ensure the process is fair, consistent and predictable, not just for development applications, but also for the public.

“Once an application is deemed complete, the town or the county posts a notice of public meeting. That is the time to make your verbal submissions, at the public meeting. No other time under the Planning Act can they be permitted,” Westendorp said.

Under the Planning Act, written submissions can be received and evaluated anytime following the public meeting until a decision is made.

TBM, in partnership with the Blue Mountains Attainable Housing Corporation (BMAHC), is currently pursuing the establishment of attainable housing at 171 King Street East in Thornbury, also known as the Gateway site.

The land for the project was purchased by the town in 2019 and, since that time, the town and the BMAHC have been actively working through the planning process.

“It is anticipated that the Thornbury Gateway project will be a mixed-use, four-storey building(s) with some commercial space (approximately 1,162 sq.m) and mixed-income residential dwelling units – 50 units attainable and 34 units market value for a total of 84 units,” stated Trevor Houghton, manager of community planning for TBM in a staff report to council.

Since the conception of the Gateway project, concerns have been raised by numerous members of the community about the building’s height, appearance, parking availability, the site location and its proximity to the town’s wastewater treatment plant, walkability, as well as the overall financial viability of the project.

As concerns and inquiries continue to pour in at town hall about the project, TBM staff are clarifying the most effective route for community members to voice their concerns.

“It is critical to understand that any oral comments any member of the public may have on a specific planning application be provided at the statutory public meeting. This is important because it ensures those comments are documented as part of the planning file records,” Houghton said.

The Gateway project will require three planning applications – an official plan amendment, a zoning bylaw amendment and site plan approval.

Currently, the project is awaiting a conceptual site plan endorsed by the BMAHC. A conceptual site plan is required at this point to allow planning staff to determine the extent and nature of the required amendments. Westendorp noted that not all details are required at this time, but basic components of the project need to be confirmed.

Once a conceptual site plan is received, town planning staff will move into the process of initiating both the official plan and zoning bylaw amendment applications.

As planning staff deem these applications complete, the formal public consultation will begin and a public open house will be scheduled.

A visual impact assessment, which will show the relationship between what is being proposed and what the impacts of any surrounding land uses would be, is expected subsequent to deeming the application complete but before the public meeting.

Houghton anticipates the official plan and zoning bylaw amendment process will take eight months to complete.

If all planning applications are approved the project would then move into the site plan approval stage, which is anticipated to take approximately five months to complete.

“It should be noted that additional odour monitoring is expected to continue through the spring and summer of 2021 to update the conclusions of the Land Use Compatibility D-2 Assessment once the Thornbury Wastewater Treatment Plant headworks project has been completed,” Houghton added.

TBM planning staff have developed a series of flowcharts to break down the planning process and highlight the opportunities for public consultation.

“It's critical that we and the community understands, it is not until that formal public meeting process starts do those comments formally get put into that process,” added TBM CAO Shawn Everitt.

A public open house will be scheduled for the Gateway project once the BMAHC has endorsed a conceptual site plan and town planning staff deem the official plan and zoning bylaw amendment applications complete.

Town staff say additional signs will be posted at the Gateway site once the planning department has confirmed a date for the public open house.

For more information on the development projects in TBM and the current status of planning applications, visit TBM interactive development activity map.

Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca