The gallery was full for Monday’s public meeting on the proposed rezoning of land in New Amherst to allow for a Catholic French language school to be built (see links below for more on the proposed school). The application for rezoning was first made last November and, with a time limit of 120 days for a decision before the developer can ask the OMB to intervene, the Public meeting was held on day 119. Although she does not live in the area, Emily Chorley was critical of the process and pointed to her own experience with the rezoning on College Street (see links below). Residents were also highly critical of both the process and of the planned school.
Max LeMarchant, a representative of the New Amherst developer, accused the objecting residents of xenophobia, bigotry and racism although as resident David Leech said, the problem is that 99% of students to the Catholic French school will be bussed from outside the area so it’s a poor fit for the community.
There were 17 letters received by the Town that objected to the school on the basis of traffic, noise, pollution, the change from the marketing of the area as being for retired people and a drop in property values. The letters also complained about the poor process with little public discussion and asked why were other closed schools not considered (e.g. St. Michaels). It was pointed out that the area originally provided land for a public elementary school in a different location but the Public school board said it was not wanted so several years ago it was converted to land for regular housing.
The applicant for rezoning, Glen Scheels of the GSP group, said:
- The school is smaller than usual with up to 250 students instead of the more common 500;
- The location is better than that originally set aside since it is near a park and on a collector road;
- Pickup and drop off would not be the problem it is at other schools since the school property has space for bus and cars to drop-off and pickup;
- The land use does conform to Provincial policy and the Town’s Official Plan [the implication being that an appeal to the OMB would likely succeed];
- Schools are viewed as community assets – in addition to being open for public use for meetings, their day care and playing fields will be available;
- A traffic study found only a minor problem with the need for a turn lane on Highway 2 which the County plans to implement soon;
- Noise is not a problem since it’s only operating Monday to Friday during the day;
- Existing buildings were considered but none were economically viable;
- Construction is planned for 2019 with operation starting in 2020.
The meeting also heard that Glenn McGlashon of the Planning department as well as the Planning and Sustainability Advisory committee endorsed the rezoning. Glenn conceded that the meeting was late and blamed clashes with Family day and school break for the delay in scheduling the meeting. But he said that the deadline is not typically acted on if there is progress with the application. He said that his mandate was to look at land use, not the user. Brian Darling endorsed this distinction.
Chair Aaron Burchat said that those who had written letters did not need to speak but could if they wanted. Four citizens chose to do that.
Paul Pagnuelo said that the area may not have been intended as such but it was marketed as being a retirement community. He said that the noise level from schools was not “reasonable” and he criticized the lack of public discussion until now.
David Leech said that the “vast majority of those who live there are seniors and retired”. Very few have children, fewer still are French – he disputed the applicants claim that 90% would be bussed in – he put the number at 99%. He said the school was a poor fit for the community, that the school will devalue property and that the process needs to be fixed. He called the accusations of xenophobia and racism reprehensible.
Barry Wray had submitted a letter but did not say a whole lot more except for complaining about the noise of diesel busses – but he also seemed to object to the accusations by Max. So much so that he gave the finger to Max – see Town video at 1:34:05.
Emily Chorley repeated her concerns about the process and asked why St. Michael’s could not be used since there was talk of it being closed/consolidated. Emily had not sent in a letter but had earlier made a presentation at the regular Council meeting and complained about the process.
Although the meeting was originally scheduled to be held after the Council meeting, what happened was that the regular meeting was recessed at around 5:50 and reconvened after the Public Meeting. The agenda for the regular meeting had the option of approving the rezoning or deferring for a report from staff. When the meeting was reconvened, Council voted to defer the matter for a report from staff and took the risk the developer would appeal to the OMB.
Further, at the end of the Council meeting, Aaron Burchat gave notice that he would move to ask staff to prepare a policy on how re-zoning applications should be done. The intent no doubt is to resolve the many complaints of poor process in this case.
- You-Tube Video of this meeting (scheduled to be removed in three months)
- Report on rezoning for the school on Cobourg News Blog – 5 March 2018
- Town Accused of not Listening – 15 Jan 2018 – Emily Chorley unhappy with Council over rezoning on College st.