OMB re-zoning decision will take time

Duane Hicks

Local residents and the town will have to wait to learn the Ontario Municipal Board’s decision regarding an appeal of the re-zoning of property located between Minnie Avenue and Williams Avenue, sometimes referred to as the “Nelson Street Park.”
After hearing more than four hours of evidence both for and against re-zoning the property from open space to Residential Type 2 (R2) yesterday at the Civic Centre, OMB chair Joseph Sniezek adjourned the proceedings.
He said he would reserve a decision, and will inform those who made presentations of his decision at a later date.
This could take up to several months.
During yesterday’s hearing, appellant Eric Rude attested:
•the re-zoning would result in undesirable changes to the neighbourhood and devalue properties;
•the proposed re-zoning of the property on the corner of Minnie Avenue and Front Street (next to the Shevlin wood yard) from tourist commercial (C4) to “open space,” to offset the eliminated open space that would result from the conversion of the “Nelson Street Park,” does not provide a suitable alternative to the current open space as the site is a high-traffic area which is dangerous for children to play in;
•that usage of “Nelson Street Park” is not something that has to be measured;
•the property could be developed into more of an actual park (with benches, sun shelter, etc.) or be the future site for a proposed off-leash dog park;
•there are other properties the town could use for residential development (i.e., Huffman School, Erin Crescent, etc.);
•the re-zoning has been opposed by the public in the past, and many people feel the same way about the issue this time around;
•there’s doesn’t seem to be a clear rationale as to why housing lots are needed given the town’s population is shrinking and the future of its primary industry is uncertain; and
•the re-zoning is inconsistent with the Provincial Policy Statement;
Other concerned residents who spoke in support of the appeal included Jack Steinke, Melvin Haukaas, Michelle George, Robert Dakin, Bonnie Kielczewski, Kalan Kielczewski, and Mervyn Ahrens.
Fort Frances municipal planner Faye Flatt, meanwhile, made it clear yesterday all relevant planning issues were considered and addressed prior to the zoning bylaw amendment coming before town council last December.
She noted the proposed re-zoning falls in line not only with the town’s strategic and official plans, but the Northern Growth Plan and the Provincial Policy Statement (the latter a policy document enacted by the province to provide direction on matters of interest related to land use and development in Ontario).
For example, the PPS calls for efficient land use and development patterns using the existing infrastructure in built-up areas and avoiding development in areas that require extending that infrastructure.
This applies to the proposed development.
It also calls for development of under-used lots, among other objectives.
According to policy, the town did what it was supposed to do, noted Flatt, adding council has the authority to make decisions for the betterment of the community.
In addition to addressing the issues raised by Rude and the other witnesses, Flatt said she felt those issues were not based on land use planning.
The OMB consistently has held that appeals must be based on land use planning matters, and that the onus of proof is on the appellant to demonstrate land use planning grounds on which the appeal should be allowed.
As such, Flatt requested the appeal be dismissed.
Council voted in favour of re-zoning the property back on Dec. 19, with only Coun. John Albanese voting against it.
Rude then filed an appeal of the re-zoning with the OMB and was granted the hearing.
If the re-zoning appeal is dismissed, it’s expected the town will carry through with dividing the property into four or five lots and then selling them to those interested in building new homes there.