Puslinch says 'no' to Danby Products relocation plans

PUSLINCH — Puslinch council will not ask the province to use the CIHA tool to help Danby Products relocate to the township.

Council voted unanimously at Wednesday's council meeting against asking the province to use the Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator (CIHA) to help get the agriculture lands re-zoned to allow the building of the Estill Innovation Community.

The proposed project is for Danby Products Ltd. and Upper Canada Forest Group to set up a global headquarters in Puslinch, also with a business hub, board rooms, training rooms, a gym, a daycare and a commercial kitchen.

The location of the proposed development is 4631 Sideroad 20 N. The project would involve construction on a piece of land that is 61 acres large.

The project would require a change of zoning from agricultural land to industrial land.

Coun. John Sepulis who excused himself from the vote due to a conflict of interest that since he lives near the proposed development, his property value may be affected should the development go ahead.

An estimated audience of 70 people and even more online attended the meeting.

The development needed the support of council to approach the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing regarding the hastening of the rezoning. So if council wanted to consider using the CIHA tool in this case, it would have required passing a resolution for the Minister to expedite the rezoning process.

The CIHA tool, put in place by the More Homes for Everyone Act, would allow the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing expedite the rezoning process.

Mayor James Seeley spoke out against the CIHA process in a general sense and support for the council's power to positively affect the community.

"We want as much control as possible around this horseshoe ... The CIHA is not right for Puslinch."

Estill spoke as a delegate, explaining his position, stating both what the development offers the community, such as a boost to tax dollars, and also his options.

"We did a calculation of the tax base, that's $30,000,000.

"If Puslinch is not willing to partner on this, I understand.

"I'm not trying to shoehorn ourselves where we're not wanted," Estill said.

Local resident, Daniel Forestell spoke of the negative impact the development would have on the social nature of the nearby community. He and others, he said, take walks on the roads and stop to talk to their neighbours.

"What will become of our social fabric if Estill is allowed to build on these roads?

"Our concerns should not be dismissed as NIMBY-ism," Forestell said.

Another local resident, Dr. Dan Neundorf requested that council keep control of the decision making process and deny the CIHA tool in this case.

"Since December, I keep asking myself, why would a council we elected to represent us even think about giving away decision making to people who don't know who we are," Neundorf said.

Coun. Jessica Goyda sympathized with Estill, but also voiced concern for transfer of power in the zoning process from the council to the Minister.

"This concept is well-intentioned ... Once that request is made, we don't have a voice at the table any longer."

According to a previous presentation by Danby CEO Jim Estill and Upper Canada Forest Group CEO Warren Spitz, the project would bring many good jobs to the area.

“Immediate relocation of several company head offices with the addition of 500-plus jobs to the community and $100 million-plus development.

“Greater concentration of higher skilled, professional jobs that are paid higher, driving more taxes and disposable income into the local economy.”

A concern that residents wrote about in letters to council is the potential for increased traffic in the area if the development were to go forward.

Local resident, Andrew Vanderkooy put forward the image of people walking their dogs along the road with busy traffic going by.

“This is a street in which many people run along the side of the road, bike during the summer months, or walk their dogs,” Vanderkooy wrote.

Vanderkooy contends that this is a dangerous proposition.

“An increase in traffic on Sideroad 20 N would cause all of these things to become MUCH more dangerous especially considering the hills on this road where drivers have poor line of site,” Vanderkooy wrote.

Local resident Brian Crawley thinks that the headquarters are not compatible with rural residential character of the area.

“Firstly it is a residential area bounded by many houses that will be impacted by a proposed 600 worker force with it’s attending traffic noise and congestion that is incompatible with a rural residential road,” Crawley wrote.

The applicants still have the option to continue through the normal process of trying to get the project approved, which could be appealed if denied.

Jesse Gault is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.

Jesse Gault, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com