It’s not often we see issues in the rural area that divide communities, and even less often where it appears that the local councillor is on the opposite side of the community. As has been widely reported, the Broccolini application for a Zoning By-Law Amendment (ZBA) and Official Plan Amendment (OPA) on the edge of the village of North Gower has done just that.
The site in question is 1966 Roger Stevens Dr., an actively farmed piece of land on the southwest corner of the Highway 416 interchange. Originally designated for commercial/industrial uses just prior to amalgamation, the site has continued to be farmed, as development never took place. In July, Broccolini submitted an application for a ZBA and OPA to alter the permitted height on the property and to realign the existing zones. The result would be an increase in permitted height of 15 metres to 30 metres and would make the predominant zone on the site Rural General Industrial (RG). For the last 20 years, half of the property has been zoned Rural Commercial (RC), with the other half being the RG zone.
Recently, this application came to Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. Over the last few months, public input has led to significant changes, including an alteration to the permitted uses, the introduction of an open space buffer and a reduction in the requested height increase to 22 metres. Additionally, I brought forward amendments which would further improve the application, using suggestions from the community.
If your policy suggests buildings should be a certain height and your zoning permits higher than that height, the zoning takes precedence.
During the committee meeting, more than 30 delegations presented. These delegations were well-informed and had done their research on the application and the many policies contained within the North Gower Secondary Plan, the City’s Official Plan and the Provincial Policy Statement. Following these presentations, the committee voted four to one in favour of the staff recommendation to approve the application.
To many, it looked as if we did not listen and we did not take their policy concerns into account. I would like to take a moment to explain why such an assessment is inaccurate.
As noted, there are many policies that are relevant to an application of this sort. For policy to be most effective, it needs to be prescribed in the zoning. What one must keep in mind, councillors included, is that zoning takes precedence over policy. Therefore, if you create a specific policy pertaining to a specific area, you need to ensure that policy is captured in the zoning. For example, if your policy suggests buildings should be a certain height and your zoning permits higher than that height, the zoning takes precedence. This is what makes the alignment of policy and zoning so fundamentally important. As a result, when the community presented countless policy arguments against the zoning amendment, they were arguing against permitted uses that were already in place.
The solution to avoid situations like this in the future is to specify your policy within the zoning. For example, a longtime nursery in Richmond is zoned Rural Commercial but limited to a nursery. Therefore, all other RC permitted uses do not apply to that site. In hindsight, the zoning for 1966 Roger Stevens Dr. should have included limitations. If the council of the day never envisioned a 700,000 sq.-ft. building, it should have placed a building footprint cap within the zoning. Without these restrictions in place, the planning rationale to oppose is absent.
In order to represent the best interests of the community, the most effective way to address concerns was through collaboration between all parties, which resulted in the motion approved by committee, then by council last week. Many outstanding community concerns must still be dealt with during the Site Plan Control process, including servicing, traffic and drainage.
To summarize, this is not an issue of the committee versus the community. This is not an issue of a rural community being ignored. This is an issue of a historical zoning designation that was not properly prescribed in the beginning, never evolved over time and left the door open to an application the community never envisioned was possible.
Scott Moffatt is the city councillor for Rideau-Goulbourn Ward.
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