by Neil Carleton
The first people to arrive Monday night were seated by 5:00 p.m. When the public meeting was called to order a few minutes after 6:00 p.m., there was standing room only. In his opening remarks, the Reeve of Drummond / North Elmsley Township, Aubrey Churchill, observed that it was the largest crowd he’d ever seen in the Council chamber. With 66 seated and 16 standing, it was a full house.
At issue was an application by Dag and Allie Militky to rezone 13259 Highway 7 (near the Ferguson Falls Road) from Rural to Highway Commercial – Special Exception for a proposed paintball operation. The April 2013 decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal shut down their previous paintball business at 4120 Vaughan Side Road in West Carleton. That location was just east of Mississippi Mills.
Following a thorough report on the situation by Township Planner Karl Grenke, the meeting proceeded with 9 presentations from those who were in favour of the zoning amendment. They spoke from the heart about becoming part of a large paintball family through a sport where respect, teamwork, and trust are common goals. Also cited were situations were lives were turned around by the sport.
When Reeve Churchill called for any presentations in opposition to the application, 16 residents spoke against it. Prior to the public meeting, the township received more than 2 dozen letters of concern and objection from residents. The concerns included the impact of noise on neighbours and wildlife, highway danger with increased traffic turning off/on a very fast and busy highway, and a decline in property values. Residents spoke passionately about the peace, quiet, and other rural characteristics of their neighbourhood.
Although the applicant’s previous dispute with neighbours and the City of Ottawa is not a component in the proposal’s evaluation by the township, this controversy was referred to by several residents in their comments. The final opposing presentation was a direct question to Council. “Is the Township willing to put up with this company? They didn’t listen to Ottawa, and they won’t listen to you. You’re small potatoes.”
In their presentation, accompanied by a consultant from McIntosh Perry, the applicants explained, among other things, that:
- it was tough to consult with neighbours ahead of time;
- the opinions of the complainants about their previous operation were exaggerated and had been dismissed by the Court;
- the Highway 7 property is not a quiet, rural neighbourhood;
- mitigation measures could include fencing, berms, tree planting, and exaggerated set-backs;
- they want to rezone the front of the property first with the back section on hold until/if an Environmental Impact Assessment is needed.
The resulting questions and comments from residents were far ranging, including:
- applicant’s map has changed 3 times and is still not correct;
- Highway 7 is a fast, busy throughway and was not designed for starts and stops;
- how will Council mitigate the loss of property value in the neighbourhood;
- rezoning proposal opens up a lot of problems with so many unknowns;
- seriousness of the concerns are evidenced by the record turn-out.
In the course of concluding dialogue, the issue of an Environmental Impact Assessment was again raised. Although proponents of a multi-season, scientific study reinforced that endangered and other species can’t be inventoried at this time of year (when they’re absent from the habitat or dormant and buried under snow and ice), the applicant’s consultant advised that a winter EIA had been accepted by the Ontario Municipal Board in an appeal case.
The staff recommendation, page 18 of the Planning Report, is that the application does not conclusively comply with all provisions of the Township’s Official Plan. As such, staff do not support the application as submitted. It’s the suggestion of staff that the deferral of a decision by Council is possible if the applicants were to provide additional information and modifications, “most specifically addressing noise and attenuation, as well as certainty with regards to entrance, traffic, and environmental concerns.” If Council chooses to defer, and a revised application is submitted, a second public meeting will be scheduled.
Council’s decision will be communicated by mail within 15 days of the resolution. In accordance with provincial legislation, notification of any public meeting regarding a revised rezoning application will be provided 20 days in advance.