TBM residents skeptical of tree plans for Abbotts Subdivision

The Blue Mountains residents living near the proposed Abbotts Subdivision are skeptical of plans to create a tree protection zone as part of the controversial development.

On October 3, The Blue Mountains council held a public meeting about a zoning bylaw amendment that would rezone parts of the Bay Street West and Victoria Street North road allowance to the open space zone to allow for tree protection.

The lands are currently owned by the town, but would eventually be conveyed to the developer of the Abbotts proposal as part of the subdivision agreement.

The town itself brought forward the rezoning application as it was made necessary by a recent Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) decision on the proposed development. The OLT recently ruled in favour of the developer of the subdivision after the proponent launched an appeal citing the lack of decision on the matter from both the town and the county.

The rezoning would create a strip of land zoned for open space to would act as a buffer between some properties on Lakeshore Drive and the proposed development.

At the meeting, a number of local residents questioned the timing of the public meeting and the lack of specific details about how the tree preservation area would work and urged council to defer any decision until after the upcoming municipal election. Other issues raised by the public included: questions about the number of trees to be removed, the number of trees to be preserved and how drainage on the property would work.

Many speakers at the meeting questioned the lack of specific information about the proposal.

“It really just seems there is a lot that hasn’t been mentioned,” said neighbour June Porter. “I still don’t understand why only a little information has been provided to residents.”

Sue Roberts, a neighbouring property owner, objected to the zoning amendment.

“The applicant has not provided enough information to make informed comments,” she said.

Multiple speakers questioned the timing of the meeting, with council in lame duck status and the election looming on Oct. 24.

“Why is this being held today? It’s going to be the next council that approves it,” said Pete Sampson.

Neighbour Kim Gardner said she has been working on the issue for seven years and said she has become very discouraged by the whole process.

“I don’t think anything I say or anything our group says will make any difference at all,” she said.

Coun. Paula Hope, who received praise from multiple speakers at the meeting for her advocacy on the issue, said the comments from Gardner should be heeded.

“I’m saddened by your conclusion. That is something we all need to listen to very carefully,” she said.

Neighbour Anna Gordon said the Abbotts development will “fundamentally” impact her neighbourhood.

“You’re trying to push something through as if we wouldn’t notice,” said Gordon. “It would behoove you at this time to reconsider this and get all the facts. Please, please listen,” she said.

Mayor Alar Soever explained that council would not be making any decision at the meeting and it would likely go to the new council for approval.

“No decisions are being made here. This was a meeting to receive comments for the follow-up report. I’m presuming this report won’t be ready in time for this council,” he said.

Planning Director Adam Smith said town staff would take all the comments received at the meeting and bring forward a report on the matter for council’s consideration and a decision. He reiterated that rezoning is a requirement of the OLT decision.

“That’s a point we would like to reinforce,” he said.

Because the Ontario Land Tribunal is a provincial authority, the town must comply with the ruling.

Several speakers also suggested that Coun. Bill Abbotts should recuse himself from the decision-making process, as he is related to the proponent of the development.

After the meeting, Coun. Abbotts said he had spoken to the town’s integrity commissioner about the matter.

“She said there is no problem,” said Abbotts, who said the developer/proponent, Tammy Abbotts, is his cousin. “We haven’t spoken five words in five years. We’re not close. I have the same last name.”

The Abbotts subdivision proposal is for 20 units on a piece of land in Thornbury near Landsdowne St. N and Lakeshore Drive. Access to the development would be from new, one-way extensions off Bay Street West and Victoria Street North. The plan includes four single-detached dwellings and 16 semi-detached dwellings.

The town has requested the OLT review the decision, as it relates to the town’s request that the development includes six affordable/attainable housing units. A decision on the review is still pending.

Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca