A new city report says Windsor is at "significant risk" of losing out on a proposed $5-billion electric vehicle battery plant if the province doesn't speed up zoning approvals for the land.
In a report headed to council Monday, city staff say councillors should approve a draft letter from Mayor Drew Dilkens to Maud Murray, Ontario's deputy minister of economic development, job creation and trade. In that letter, Dilkens would ask the province to speed up certain zoning allowances needed before Stellantis and LG Energy Solutions can start building the plant.
The city says the companies want to start site work in August.
The report recommends that the province issue a Minister's Zoning Order (MZO). If approved, it would be the second one ever used in the region, the first being in 1998.
An MZO is an order that fast tracks the zoning process, but it also prevents people from making appeals to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT).
"The letter and then council's endorsement of that letter and then the province then accepting that and moving forward with it is critical," said Greg Atkinson, senior planner with the city.
"It's part of the process that was understood by all of the parties from the outset, and this has been a joint venture from all levels of government."
No major environmental worries
"It's a process that happens all the time, but given the timing that needs to be in place in terms of the start of construction, this is elevated above a typical development."
The new plant was announced for Windsor in March and promises to bring about 2,500 jobs to the region. It will be Canada's first lithium-ion EV battery facility.
The future plant will be at 9865 Twin Oaks Dr. Tim Byrne, chief administrative officer with the Essex Region Conservation Authority, says the authority was asked for input on the location.
Byrne says the organization doesn't have any significant environmental concerns.
The ERCA did raise some issues related to storm water management, and water quality and quantity. The ERCA is also looking into existing municipal drainage facilities and "potential downstream impacts on Little River," he said.
"It is a fairly open track of land, and there was only a couple of isolated areas where we had some hedgerows and also a small cluster of trees, and the tress present were common species," he said. The ERCA will work with the city for additional tree planning sites.
Byrne said MZOs can be of "grave concern" if they're used used to bypass environmental issues. But in this case, he said, he's not worried.
"I'm not saying we just pave over paradise and we just construct something because the MZO makes it more expeditious for that occur," he said. "We still have to look at these development proposals very judiciously and we are doing so."
CBC News is pursuing comment from the province. But Atkinson says the city is "confident" the approvals will move forward since all levels of government have been actively involved in bringing the EV battery plant investment to Windsor.