Requirements delay retirement residence
By Chad Ingram
A series of complicated technical requirements and legal opinions seem to be delaying the beginning of construction on a retirement residence slated for the former Fleming College property at 1 Sunnyside St. in Haliburton Village, the developer now hoping to have a building permit issued by mid-August.
Gardens Retirement Development Inc. has a 120-unit seniors’ residence planned for the property, the company first visiting Dysart et al council in September of last year. It was initially hoped that construction on the project, to be built in two phases, would be started by late June, so that framing on the first phase could be completed by October, allowing interior work to go on during the winter.
However, because of previous Ontario Municipal Board hearings on prior condo proposals for the property, there is a hold on zoning that requires a number of studies and reports be completed before the municipality and the developer can enter into a site plan agreement.
Phil Mardimae of Gardens Retirement Development Inc. visited Dysart et al councillors during their July 23 meeting, saying the company had completed, or substantially completed, the laundry list of requirements that had been laid out as a result of the order from the OMB.
“We are requesting removal of this hold provision,” Mardimae told councillors.
However, the municipality’s legal counsel has advised that the holding provision not be lifted until a site plan agreement between the municipality and the developer has been signed. There are also requirements for a drinking water responsibility agreement and approval for the design of the building’s water system. While Mardimae told council that typically the company constructs the water systems in sync with the building, having them approved once complete, it appears in this case that may need to be done upfront in order for a site plan agreement to proceed.
“Some things may fall out of the design and may have to go into the agreement,” Dysart et al senior planner Sue Harrison said. Harrison said the project represented “a very unique situation,” since council is tied to very specific details laid out by the OMB ruling, adding the municipality had not yet received all of the details it requires.
“We’re not looking to stop this development,” Harrison told Mardimae and members of his delegation, including planning consultant Greg Bishop. “We want this development to go forward.”
“We just want to ensure that we’ve met our legal obligations,” Harrison said.
Bishop said the condo development that had been proposed for the property and the planned retirement facility were not even comparable in scope.
“It’s not even the same animal, and we’re trying to plug that animal into the system we’re faced with,” Bishop said, adding that the OMB ruling had essentially thrown the kitchen sink at any future developer of the property.
Because the property is located along Highway 118, the process has involved approvals and permission from the Ministry of Transportation.
“We’ve got two levels of government,” Bishop said. “Now we’ve got the MTO out of the way.”
Noting the OMB ruling includes a clause that requirements be fulfilled, or be fulfilled to the satisfaction of council, Bishop insisted what happened from here on out was really the purview of the municipality.
“Ultimately, it is up to the township,” he said. Bishop said during other projects he’s worked on where holding provisions have been in place, a substantial amount of work was still able to be done, the holding provisions lifted not long before occupancy of the properties. He used the example of the condominium development on Wallings Way.
Harrison said that situation was different, as that holding provision had been issued by the municipality, this one by the OMB.
Since the time of the ruling, the OMB has been replaced by a new local tribunal system.
Bishop said the situation was like nothing he’s seen in his 25-year career in the county.
“The stumbling block for us at council is the OMB decision,” said Mayor Andrea Roberts, who stressed how important it was that the project proceed.
As soon as all the requirements were in place, Roberts said council could call a special meeting so that construction can begin as soon as possible.
“Council’s on notice,” Roberts said. “We need 48 hours. Our hands are tied with that OMB decision.”
Bishop stressed he would just like to come to whatever agreement would allow construction to proceed as soon as possible.
“What we need is a game plan going forward, so this building can start coming out the ground,” he said, adding he’d like to sit down with Harrison and the municipality’s solicitor.
Harrison agreed there’d be benefit to such a meeting.
“I’d like to get in the same room, agree with what changes are going to be done, and get them done,” she said.
“What I want to do is go away with a strong feeling that the township and developer are on the same page,” said Councillor John Smith.
It was agreed that Bishop would meet with Harrison and the municipality’s solicitor as soon as the lawyer’s schedule allowed.
The lengthy and circular conversation went on for more than an hour, Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy quipping near its conc lusion that he was just as confused as when it began. Kennedy stressed he just wanted to see the project move forward.
“If you need a building permit, I’m prepared to stay here until we get it done,” Kennedy told Mardimae.
Mardimae said with site plan and drinking water agreements in place, he’d like to have the building permit by mid-August.
“The municipality has final authority to approve occupancy,” he said, adding this was an additional control mechanism for council.
Former Dysart mayor Murray Fearrey was part of the delegation with Mardimae, introduced as a consultant.
“My concern going out of here today, is that we haven’t gotten any certainty,” Fearrey said. “It’s going to be a legal opinion – they’re not always right, they’re an opinion. And I don’t think that clause would have gone in the OMB order if it didn’t give council some flexibility to manoeuvre.”
Fearrey’s sentiment was echoed by Smith.
“Remember that lawyers provide advice, they do not make decisions,” Smith said.
When it comes to water supply, a 280-foot test well was drilled on the site and has revealed that enough water can be provided for the development, without negatively impacting neighbouring wells, according to Kevin Warner, a senior project manager and hydrologist with environmental consultancy Cambium.
Warner told councillors a 24-hour pumping test was performed and had done testing at a well on an adjacent property.
While the company issued a well survey in the area, “we had quite a few decline,” Warner said, adding this is not unusual, as people can be hesitant about having a company working in their wells.
“We did express the study was to their benefit,” he said.