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Mount Albert residents pummel council about "secret" development
Feb. 24, 2017
Simon Martin

The old saying goes secrets don’t make friends. East Gwillimbury council learned that the hard way at a public meeting about a proposed Mount Albert mixed-use townhouse development on Centre Street Feb. 22. Residents finally had a chance to publicly voice their opposition to a development council agreed to behind closed doors with Averton as part of the Ontario Municipal Board appeal process.

They didn’t hold back. It was an hour-long pummeling as a cavalcade of Mount Albert residents let loose.

The first round went to lifelong resident Stacey Baker. She asked councillors how they could put such a development in an area that is designated a significant groundwater recharge area. “(The development) doesn’t belong in this tiny little wedge of forested area,” she said. “This has not been done in a transparent manner.”

She was one of many residents who said they didn’t have the faintest clue this parcel of forested land had been slated for development back in 1994. 

Next to step up and take a swing was longtime Mount Albert resident Jennifer Smalley-Higgs. “There was a lack of communication and lack of transparency,” she said. On top of concerns voiced by other residents, Smalley-Higgs was concerned about the safety of Centre Street and Mount Albert Road.

The concerns continued to pour in. Centre Street neighbour Kelly Phillips was worried about the groundwater issue. She was also uncomfortable the town was getting $250,000 in compensation as part of the settlement. “I think this is a terrible decision to destroy these lands,” she said.

Rob Morris didn’t hide what he wanted as he got to the microphone. “Would you please rescind the minutes of settlement,” he said passionately. “The fact you sold us out in secret turns my stomach.”
The last to take a swing at the piñata was Jennifer Gleitman. She didn’t leave any stone unturned. According to Gleitman, council and town staff dropped the ball not once but twice in not responding to applications from Averton promptly allowing the developer to appeal the process to the OMB. She hinted this wasn’t an accident. “Plenty can be done. Revoke the minutes of settlement,” she said. “You should be fighting for us, not against us.”

According to the town, the process went behind closed doors when Averton appealed the town’s 2010 Official Plan to the Ontario Municipal Board. The appeal was generally intended to maintain the village core development rights for commercial and residential uses on 19267 Centre St. that had been part of the Mount Albert Community Plan previously ratified in 1994.

The town entered into negotiations with Averton in private due to legal issues involving land acquisitions.

In December 2015, Averton submitted a zoning bylaw amendment and a site plan application to the town for the subject property. Averton appealed the bylaw to the OMB after it said the town took too long to hold a public meeting. As a result, the town’s director of planning, Nick Pileggi, said the public planning process was in the OMB’s hands.

The town settled with Averton in April 2016, allowing for a 20,000-square-foot commercial/mixed-use building, with associated parking facilities, and residential townhouse units on the property.

As part of the settlement, the town would receive $250,000 from the developer.

Pileggi said the town didn’t see any problem with the village core designation for the property when it put the Official Plan together more than six years ago. As for concerns that residents didn’t know the property was too be developed, Pileggi said the land designation is nothing new.

Town staff have also reviewed the traffic study conducted, and don’t believe the 64-unit development will be a problem for Centre Street traffic.

While the town decided to hold the public meeting, it has no bearing on the OMB appeal. The town has asked for the OMB hearing on March 16 to be adjourned at the request of residents interested in taking up party status as part of the hearing.

There has been no indication from the town that it is considering rescinding the minutes of settlement.