I had a new experience on Tuesday before Council. Well, the experience wasn’t really all that new: it was just another City process. But I’d never been to a Planning Department Pubic Forum Committee meeting before, mostly because they hardly ever meet and also because, unless someone invites you, you wouldn’t know there was one.
In this case it convened to hear a presentation by Ron Devereux, a Port Robinson resident and who told me of the meeting.
Mr. Devereux was concerned about a minor variance granted at a Committee of Adjustment hearing. It wasn’t the variance he was concerned about so much as the fact that no one knew about the hearing or, indeed, the fact that this development that required the minor variance was taking place in his neighbourhood without anyone being notified.
It was, as it so often happens, a matter of policy. The City sends out notices of applications for variances to owners of properties within 60 metres (200 feet) of the subject property, as required by law. Here, although the street is primarily residential, only another factory occupies that distance from the subject lands.
The land in question is the former Ennis Steel property at the end of South Street in Port Robinson. Someone wants to use it for a plant that processes what they call “clean, organic non-waste” – although they do mention the possibility of “household products” among the waste, which also includes woody bio-mass, bark, corn stalks and such – 20 truckloads a day of it. Although processing of these materials (shredding, crushing and composting) is to be inside the buildings for Stage One, Ron feels that they won’t be able to contain odour-causing substances, some of which he claimed are toxic even at low levels.
Eventually, the plan is to make fuels from the materials, which is also cause for concern for the obvious reasons, but there is a more immediate concern. Residents are alarmed that 20 trucks a day will be turning into the narrow street with a corner much more acute than 90 degrees. This corner is the stop for five school buses twice a day and also contains the entrance to the park and playground.
The residents are concerned that none of them were notified. They became aware of the situation when someone posted a photo of the hearing notice on Facebook, to late to attend. City Councillors had never heard about this plant coming to Thorold either, hearing about it when Ron called them.
Staff pointed out that the Committee of Adjustments couldn’t have ruled according to the end purpose anyways their purpose to make rulings strictly on minor zoning variance. Staff also said there was nothing they could do about the decision, since all decisions are binding and can be overturned only by the OMB. Finally, they pointed out that the land is zoned Heavy Industrial, which has no use restrictions, and provincial laws require they allow any use permitted by the zoning.
To the latter, Ron maintained that such concerns as those he expressed, especially with future alcohol processing in a residential neighbourhood, should be taken into account. As to safety factors, he pointed out the Toronto propane explosion, which had plenty of safety factors which were circumvented by employees.
“We, the residents of Port Robinson, feel we’ve been let down big time,” said Mr. Devereux at the end of the hearing.
Noting they couldn’t do anything about Stage One, staff suggested that it would be different at Stages Two and Three of the plant’s development. They would require zoning changes and that would involve notification of all concerned bodies and public meetings. It was suggested that they would look at the zoning for the revamp of the Comprehensive Zoning By-law, which has for some time been on-going.
In the meantime, Committee Chair Councillor Neale asked that staff provide a report to Council.