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Déjà vu in Oshawa council chambers

Council chambers filled again as lawyer for waterfront developer files letter of appeal to OMB

Oshawa residents packed council chambers on April 9 to hear the latest on a pair of developments in the southern portion of the city, which will now go to an appeal before the Ontario Municipal Board. (Photo by Joel Wittnebel)

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Oshawa residents were once again out in full force to protest a pair of waterfront developments, which, after the filing of a pair of letters from a lawyer representing the developer, are now in the hands of the Ontario Municipal Board.

On April 9, during its regular council meeting, councillors received a pair of letters from Davie Howe LLP, the lawyer representing SO Developments, the owner of two plots of land in the city’s south end that have seen heavy blowback against the development proposals on the two sites on the west side of Park Road South, one just south of Philip Murray Avenue and the other south of Renaissance Drive adjacent to Lake Ontario.

Councillors heard an emotional plea from resident Karen Cronin, a member of the activist group Stop the Sprawl, who urged councillors to take a stand against the developer’s actions.

“Don’t get bullied into making decisions that will affect everyone here on out just because the developers want to make a buck,” she said.

However, according to Paul Ralph, the city’s commissioner of development services, it’s no longer in council’s hands.

“It’s now in front of the OMB, they are now the decision makers, unless the developer withdraws its appeal,” he says.

The timing of the appeals to council on behalf of the developer is significant, as the letters came at the end of March, only a few short days before a shift in the province of Ontario’s handling of the land appeal process.

Announced last year by the province was the disbanding of the Ontario Municipal Board and the creaton of the Land Planning Appeal Tribunal. Most significant among the changes was the focus to place more weight on decisions made by local councils.

That change came into affect on April 3, and by getting the appeal request in ahead of that date, Ralph says the developer was able to protect their “legal rights” to have their appeal heard by the OMB under the old process. And they aren’t the only ones, as Ralph says the OMB was recently “flooded” with appeals ahead of the transition date.

Moving forward, councillors who were previously avoiding the chance to share their stance and opinions on the two developments, will now have the chance to make their views known as council is urged to present a stance as part of the OMB process.

“Council will be asked by staff to take a position on each of the appeals,” Ralph says.

Before that stance is made however, a report will come forward providing the details surrounding the appeals, and any relevant information from staff that could assist council in making its decision. The preliminary report for the more contentious of the two developments, that being the land labelled as “Block B” adjacent to Lake Ontario slated to be developmed into approximately 200 dwelling units, is set to come to council’s Development Services committee on April 16. A report for the other site, known as Block A, is not yet known.

Under questions from Councillor Bob Chapman, Ralph also made it known that it is unclear just how long it will take for the project to move through the OMB process, only noting that “it will take some time.”

In terms of more lengthy appeals, the typical OMB process is to have a pre-hearing, similar to a criminal pretrial in which information is shared from both sides before moving into the hearing process. In terms of a recent Oshawa case that was before the OMB, that one dealing with the lands formerly home to the Donevan Collegiate on Harmony Road, a pre-hearing took five months before it was heard.

Councillor Amy McQuaid-England also addressed concerns from residents who were angry at the fact that they had not been notified of the developer’s appeals, despite providing their contact information at the start of the process.

However, Ralph noted that because it shifted to the hands of the OMB, it would be in their hands now to provide notifications, which they would be doing moving forward.

A request from Councillor McQuaid-England to host another public meeting to hear from residents once again, did not gain much traction with her fellow councillors.

“I think staff got a pretty clear message in January 2017,” Ralph says, speaking of the original public meeting surrounding the two developments that ran until nearly 2 a.m. and saw many of the 200 residents in attendance take to the microphone to speak. With that said, Ralph notes that residents do have the opportunity to share their views during the OMB process.

As part of the developer’s appeal, the letters from the lawyer list a series of reasons for pushing the decision to the OMB.

In terms of Block A, the letter from Davie Howe LLP lists a series of 10 reasons for the appeal, including that the city has failed to make a decision on the zoning applications within 120 days of the subdivision application and 180 days for the condominium application.  The reasoning also notes that the proposed development represents an “appropriate and efficient use” of the lands, which are currently being “underutilized.”

As well, the letter notes that the development is compatible with surrounding lands. This comes after much debate between the development and General Motors, which sits directly to the north.

When the applications were first received, a letter from GM Canada landed at city hall opposing the development’s height and proximity to their General Assembly, which they said could hinder development on the southern portion of their site.

Finally, the letter also notes that the project fits in with city development plans, along with the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

“The Proposed Development represents good land use planning, is appropriate for the Subject Lands and is in the public interest,” the letter states.

A similar letter was also received for the much more contentious Block B lands south of Renaissance Drive and west of Park Road South.

Along with mentioning the missed deadlines and the developments compatability with the city’s, region’s and provincial development plans the letter notes that the proposed development is also “compatible with the surrounding neighbourhood and helps achieve and appropriate transition of residential building types and densities within the context of the surrounding neighbourhood area.”

As well, “the Proposed Development would take advantage of existing infrastructure and transportation facilities while providing a range of housing types for future residents,” the letter notes.

Finally, the letter notes that Block B “represents good land use planning, is appropriate for the Subject Lands and is in the public interest.”