The gallery at the Committee of the Whole Council meeting on Monday was full with some people standing. They were there to express their concern about the planned school in New Amherst and, if their efforts failed, to show concern about the process used to come to a decision on the necessary re-zoning. The School will be built by the third school board with schools in Cobourg: Conseil Scolaire Catholique MonAvenier – this is a French Language School and not French immersion. Students must be fluent in French. There was a public meeting in March that got heated (see link below) so there was no surprise when the issue came to Council. To counter the expected opposition, both the developer and School Board representative made presentations.
As explained at the public meeting, the school will be a single story building on land currently vacant at the north-west corner of New Amherst Boulevard and Fred Adams Street. The Official Plan permits this land usage but a rezoning is required – as a result, Gil Brocanier, Brian Darling and John Henderson expressed concern that if permission were denied, the Town would be faced with an expensive OMB hearing that they would be sure to lose.
Ontario School Boards
As explained on the Ontario Ministry of Education Web site,“four school systems are publicly funded: the French public system, the French Catholic system, the English public system and the English Catholic system”. There are four French language public school boards and eight French language Catholic school boards of which Conseil Scolaire Catholique MonAvenir is one (previously Conseil scolaire de district catholique Centre-Sud) and based in Toronto. Go here for a list of their schools. There are 450 French-language schools in Ontario (Public and Catholic) out of 4000 elementary schools and 850 secondary schools.
Currently, some of the potential French speaking students for the new Cobourg school go to the nearest school in Peterborough by bus and some go to St. Michael’s French immersion. Although capacity will be 250, it is not expected to be reached for maybe 25 years.
But the discussion was not about that. The applicant, Glenn Scheels of GSP Group, said that it was about:
- Process – was the required process followed and even if it was, maybe an information meeting should be held earlier
- Traffic – will traffic be adversely affected? His co-presenter, Julia Salvini of Salvini consulting said that traffic from the school would be less than if the land were to be used for housing similar to the existing nearby development.
- Safety – All pickup and drop-offs by busses and individuals for both the school and day-care would be on the property and not on the streets.
- The Type of Community – previously, the developer had said that there was no claim that New Amherst was a retirement community but Dennis Nabieszko (representing residents) said that salespeople had said that it was.
The original development planned for a Public Elementary school in a different location but the school board declared it surplus and residents were led to believe that no school would therefore be built. Both Director of Planning Glenn McGlashon and the developer felt that the location was a good one since it’s on a collector road.
André Balais, Director of Education for the school board said that the school brought amenities to the community such as day care, meeting rooms, a gymnasium and playing fields. The idea of day-care drew a lot of discussion – it would be in French and have a capacity of 15 toddlers and 24 pre-school spots.
Suzanne Séguin disputed that there are enough Northumberland French speakers of school age and quoted the Census numbers for all ages – but André said he deferred to his planning department and Debra McCarthy said that from her experience the numbers used by the Ministry would be correct.
Dennis Nabieszko spoke on behalf of residents. He said he wanted to take the emotion out of it. He said that the vast majority of residents were against the idea and that:
“…. almost all in favour were from either executives and managers of the New Amherst developer, the New Amherst Homes builder, their suppliers and sub-contractors, employees, and the school board.”
Gil Brocanier later conceded that a re-zoning decision should not be based on job creation.
Dennis said that “New Amherst alleges they have never marketed this neighbourhood as an adult lifestyle and retirement community. This is misleading and simply not true.” He then made the observation that there are no public playgrounds in the community.
New Amherst is claiming how important a school is to this community, but they did not think so four years ago when they asked that the designated land for a school be rezoned to residential. That was opportunistic and this request for rezoning is also opportunistic. For the last four years, people moved into the neighbourhood with no expectation of a school being built on this site, or the previously designated site.
They have misled residents and are now misleading Council.
He pointed out that a school for French speaking students does not meet local needs because students will be mostly bussed in. He disagreed with Glenn McGlashon and said that the proposal does not in fact comply with Cobourg’s Official Plan. See Dennis’s full presentation in the Links below.
Glenn McGlashon said that it’s not the Town’s role to question the Ministry of Education in planning schools but he did say that the school could take 20-25 years to reach capacity and in that time demographics in the neighbourhood could change. He said that 6 other sites in Cobourg were investigated and none were suitable. Glenn also said that the Notification process followed the Planning Act, the Official plan and Council requirements and although requirements were exceeded (by mail-outs), they could be improved.
Separately, Aaron Burchat moved a motion (that was approved) to ask staff to prepare a policy that provided better engagement of the public.
Debra McCarthy asked why do we let residents think they can ask council do something against legislation?
The issue was put to a recorded vote:
|John Henderson||Yes||We would have to argue against our own planners.|
|Brian Darling||Yes||We need to protect against litigation we can’t win|
|Suzanne Séguin||No||Public should have been involved earlier – people should be listened to|
|Gil Brocanier||Yes||We need to protect against litigation we can’t win|
So the re-zoning was approved 5 – 2. This needs to be confirmed at the regular council meeting next Monday. Note on April 30. Regular Council approved the re-zoning with the same vote split.
- School Re-Zoning meeting gets heated – 20 March 2018
- New School in New Amherst – 5 March 2018
- New Amherst Delegation – Dennis Nabieszko – April 23, 2018