by Neil Carleton
With the public gallery full and dozens of extra chairs occupied on Tuesday night, it was determined that the assembled audience exceeded the occupancy limit for fire code regulations. Some residents had to leave to the Council chamber before the public meeting on May 21 could proceed to review a controversial zoning application for a proposed firearms training facility. Those who gave up their seats, or arrived late, strained to hear the proceedings from the lobby of the municipal building. Others discovered the adjacent meeting room and clustered around the doorway that opened into the assembly. It was indeed the place to be.
Residents of the Cedar Hill area in Mississippi Mills were shocked earlier this month to discover that a firearms training facility was being proposed for their countryside community. They quickly mobilized to learn more and discuss their issues of concern. This was reported in The Millstone News on May 12, link here , and May 18, link here.
At Tuesday night’s public meeting, preregistered delegations had an opportunity to express their views on the zoning application before Council members. The presentations were thoughtful, well researched, and passionate.
The residents of Cedar Hill love the area they call home. They describe it in terms of peace, quiet, tranquility, good neighbours helping each other in times of need, and the rich diversity of wildlife they see and hear every day. They’re more than a little worried that what they cherish could be destroyed by a development where the sound of persistent gunfire would instead rule the rural landscape.
On the recommendation of the town planner, Council voted to defer the application until further details were available. This was greeted by applause from all sides of the chamber and out into the town hall lobby. Another public meeting will be scheduled after additional information has been provided by the applicants, or the public relations consultant they hired last Friday to represent them.
Council was certainly influenced in its decision by the residents who were in attendance. With power point slides and personal impact statements, they made a very convincing argument that this proposal should not be approved. Federal, provincial, and municipal documents were cited to support their case, and point out the many problems associated with a zoning change from RU to C5 and the subsequent development of a firearms training facility.
COMMUNITY OFFICIAL PLAN
The rules are clear. “Despite any other general or special Act, no public or private work shall be undertaken and no by-law shall be passed for any purpose that does not conform to this Plan.”
The purpose of the proposed rezoning for a firearms training facility:
- is not a permitted C5 rural use;
- is not compatible with existing surrounding uses and environmental features;
- is not consistent with the rural character of the area;
- does not protect traditional land uses of the area.
The application does not conform to the official plan and therefore Council should not approve it.
PROVINCIAL POLICY STATEMENT
The official plan is the most important vehicle for the implementation of the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS). Under the Planning Act, the PPS focuses growth within settlement areas and away from significant and sensitive resources. The proposed development is near provincially significant wetlands, and not in a settlement area. This application is not compliant with the Provincial Policy Statement and should not be approved.
MANY OTHER PROBLEMS
There are more than a few other problems for the proposed development and operation of a firearms training centre in our community.
The development of a shooting facility requires Ministerial approval. There is no evidence that the necessary documentation has been prepared and submitted by the applicants, or approved by the province.
Noise from an indoor shooting range could be a problem for residents living close by and in the neighbourhood. No details have been available from the applicants on the design, building specifications, or noise-proofing commitments of this proposed facility.
Noise from outdoor shooting will be a serious problem. The laws of physics encourage the transmission of gunfire sound over long distances in an outdoor environment without discriminating whether it is generated by pistols, or machine guns, or assault rifles that are used in target practice, or tactical training, or counter attack exercises. From what is understood about the application, and the accompanying from Millbrook Inc., the community could be overwhelmed by gunfire from members of the Canadian armed forces, federal and provincial police, and other security stakeholders using the site.
There is legitimate fear that the noise of gunfire that will be generated from this proposed business will damage health. A landscape defined by this kind of gunfire will destroy a way of life. Noise of this nature will lower property values. It will also adversely affect Cedar Hill businesses that successfully attract thousands and thousands of visitors each year to their quiet, rural settings.
Under noise by-law 02-89, citizens have a right in our community to an environment free of unusual, unnecessary, or excessive noise which degrades the quality and tranquility of our lives. Although it doesn’t seem this proposed business will produce an effluent stream of toxic air, or water, or material waste, its anticipated byproduct of loud, repetitive, persistent, and intrusive noise should be considered just as much of a health danger.
The proposed development is on land close to provincially significant wetlands. The nearby landscape is also compatible habitat for threatened and endangered species.
This application seems to have proceeded without the requirement of the official plan for an environmental review. Such a review is necessary for development proposed on lands within or adjacent to areas that have been designated as environmentally sensitive/significant. There is no evidence of an environmental review with this application.
Furthermore, where a development proposal could affect certain natural heritage features or land adjacent to such features and areas, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) shall be conducted. An EIA is required to support planning applications, including zoning by-law amendments. There is no evidence of an EIA with this application.
If you missed the 11 p.m. news on CBC TV Tuesday night, you can watch the 2:03 minute archived feature about the meeting with reporter Sherry Aske here. A 4:19 minute feature with CBC Radio One reporter Andrew Foot, which was aired Wednesday, May 22, on the Ottawa Morning program, is archived here.
The current access to the property is by a private lane primarily on an unopened road allowance. Substantial portions of the lane traverse the private lands of three owners who will not permit access over their property if a firearms training facility is approved by rezoning.
The community is proud of its volunteer fire service. There is a genuine concern, however, that our firefighters and residents would be at considerable risk if a fire ever escaped from the property and spread across the rugged landscape we call home during the advanced training activities on site that Millbrook Inc. has referred to in its letter of support.