Opposition mounting against Village of Hope development

·5 min read

West Nipissing council wants more information before dealing with a zoning amendment sought by Genesis Village of Hope Inc. to run a ‘group home’ on four acres of land in Verner.

Ward 6 Councillor Roland Larabie said there is considerable “interest” in the development planned for a narrow band of land between Old Highway 17 and the Veuve River. He said environmental issues are being raised that may affect council’s decision, as well as other non-environmental issues.

“I have concerns for the environment,” Coun. Larabie said at the Oct. 20 meeting. He described how development around Deer Lake “is frozen” and requires 1,000-foot septic system set-backs because it drains into the Veuve River, which has a “direct impact to Verner drinking water.”

Before he spoke, Mayor Joanne Savage told council that a 91-signature petition opposing the development was received just prior to the meeting. It was posted to the municipal website alongside the Village of Hope’s promotional literature for the development.

Genesis is a faith-based organization in Hamilton primarily serving youth at risk of addiction and homelessness. It seeks an amendment to West Nipissing’s existing rural residential zoning for the Kirkpatrick Township property. A proposed new definition of Group Home would allow 12 residents plus staff “to live under responsible supervision.” It would also expand permitted uses to include a greenhouse and place of worship, as well as agricultural uses (excluding truck gardening, animal husbandry, and dairying).

Two letters from neighbouring landowners opposed the development at the planning board stage in September. They can be found in the staff recommendations beginning on page 83 of the council agenda for Oct. 20.

Jacques and Roxanne Proulx, who live beside the Genesis property, said they have multiple concerns.

“This project would greatly affect the safety and privacy of our residence and our family,” their letter dated September 22 stated. “There is talk about having troubled youth living here. We have two small children and the idea of having multiple troubled youth so close to us is a concern … Do they intend to fence their entire property?”

The Proulx’s said they hoped to raise their family in a “quiet, country setting, in a rural area, on a dirt road with minimal neighbours around.

“We are not just talking about adding one couple or one family as our neighbours. We are talking about multiple people living and working here,” they stated.

Property value loss was raised as well due to the nature of the group home service and hobby farm smells.

“The value of our home will most likely also be greatly affected by this. If ever we wanted to sell in the future, no one will want to buy a quiet, country home beside a community living residence,” they said.

Frank McKay, an abutting neighbour to the property, said the proposal causes “significant concern given that the development does not fit within the general land use of the area and has the potential for significant environmental and community disruption.”

To begin, McKay stated the proposal does not meet the West Nipissing Official Plan definition or intent of a group home, adding there’s not enough property for all the accessory buildings planned while also leaving room for a suitable septic system.

An artistic aerial view of the full build plan includes a 3,000-square foot community hub with chapel and attached 645-square foot garage; behind that are 12 supportive housing units of 200-square feet each; in the middle a 2,152-square foot barn, a 1,291-square foot greenhouse with a fenced-in enclosure for hobby farm animals; closer to the river will be a 1,076-square foot shed/outhouse, 1,076-square foot boathouse, 968-square foot gazebo and 376-square foot treehouse.

McKay claimed Genesis was actually planning twice as many residential units and larger buildings, saying their website information differed from the drawing submitted with the application. BayToday couldn’t find such a discrepancy after searching the website, reading the council package, and reviewing the corporate literature. The first phase is a community hub and chapel, behind that will be the residential units as phase two.

On stronger ground, McKay did draw attention to the heavy clay soils in the area that would demand an extensive and advanced-technology septic system. He suggested council help find Genesis a more suitable piece of property.

His letter raised additional points regarding the hobby farm nature of the development. Genesis proposes that the growing of vegetables and harvesting of eggs could provide learning experiences and income for residents. McKay said that’s a commercial activity and isn’t consistent with either a group home or rural residential zones. He also said manure management for livestock requires at least a 40-metre setback from property lines while noting the land Genesis owns is only about 60-metres wide.

McKay did question site security noting the clientele are expected to be at-risk youth with potential intellectual and developmental challenges that might put off-site people at risk.

The planning and advisory committee recommended the amendment despite the letters of opposition. The staff report cited the Provincial Policy Statement 2014 that encourages a variety of housing in rural areas to meet the “health, economic and well-being needs” when there are demographic and economic changes. It also referred to the West Nipissing Official Plan, which indicates group homes and crisis care are among the specialized housing types acceptable in the rural district.

Moved by Normand Roberge and seconded by Councillor Dan Roveda, the recommendation from the planning board chaired by Counsellor Denis Senecal stipulated that buffers be required at the east and west property boundaries. It also suggested that a site plan control agreement be established before issuing building permits.

Genesis founder and CEO Niluka Johnson declined an interview request to address the concerns being raised. She said they’d wait until after the zoning process is resolved.

Staff were asked to report back about the environmental concerns for the Nov. 17 council meeting.

Dave Dale, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca