City staff recommend spa again after environmental consultations

Proposed site of the Unity Farm Inn & Spa. Kingstonist file Photo.

City staff are once again recommending the Unity Farm Inn & Spa go ahead, after three climate groups have vetted the development.

“Each organization was able to conclude that the application’s proposed sustainability initiatives went above and beyond what the City’s current policy requires,” said an Information Report to City Council, published on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. The report will go before City Council at their meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 15.

“The combination of several common sustainability initiatives such as electric vehicle charging stations, solar, wind, and building construction practices, as well as the inclusion of a geothermal system, could yield significant positive environmental outcomes,” it said.

If built out as proposed, the City report said the development could be an example of sustainable leadership in building.

“Staff continue to recommend approval of the application as proposed as it is consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement, conforms to the City’s Official Plan, and represents good land use Planning,” the statement read. City staff first recommended the project after their review and report to the Planning Committee on Thursday, July 16, 2020.

Ben Pilon: ‘An excellent feeling’

Ben Pilon, the owner and developer of Unity Farm Inn & Spa, and president of its parent company BPE, said getting past this regulatory hurdle is “an excellent feeling.”

“We know we’re one of the greenest projects in Ontario, if not Canada, in terms of sustainability and what we’re building,” Pilon said on Thursday, Sep. 10, 2020. “The tough part was not knowing what the process was.”

BPE was thrown an additional curve ball in the development process on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, when council deferred a decision on their application for zoning bylaw and Official Plan amendments, an approval required to proceed.

Kingston Climate Hub (KCH) submitted a letter to council that same day calling for greater scrutiny of the environmental impacts of the project, which persuaded seven councillors to vote in favour of deferral.

City staff then asked BPE to produce a report detailing their Sustainability Initiatives, and reached out to three environmental advocacy groups in the community for their feedback. The groups — SWITCH, KCH and Sustainable Kingston — were asked to submit their responses in writing to the City by Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020.

It was an unprecedented step in the approval process for a new development. Pilon said, as he understands it, this is part of a planned overhaul of City policies following the declaration of a Climate Emergency in March 2019. He said he’s hopeful the City can now approve and streamline the process, without putting too much additional burden on developers during the crucial, pre-approval phase.

“There’s only so much work you can do before zoning,” he said. “You can’t fully develop your system before zoning because that system development costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. And then if you get denied, you’re never going to get that money back.”

He said developers face a balancing act, spending money to provide critical information before approval, but knowing that no payback is guaranteed. BPE has already developed several Kingston-area businesses including The Sanctuary co-working offices, The Grocery Basket coffee shop and grocer, Lovebird Bridal Boutique and others.

“With process, if you’re making it so cumbersome and so expensive, you’re only going to get large corporations to a project.” he added. “That’s my fear. You’re going to really scare away some small or medium businesses like myself.”

The Kingstonist has reached out to the City of Kingston to confirm which future developments will be subject to this additional level of scrutiny. Senior City Planner James Bar noted in a Sep. 8 email to the Kingstonist that the City is currently reviewing its processes. This article will be updated when a response is received.

The following is some of the feedback received from the environmental advocacy groups the City consulted with. The full text of their responses can be found in the Information Report to Council 20-201.

SWITCH — Energy efficiency & alternative energy technologies

Writing on behalf of the SWITCH board, SWITCH President and Board Chair David Hyndman noted that scope of his reply focused specifically on the energy generation and efficiency components of the project, his organization’s realm of expertise.

“Overall, the breadth of technologies outlined is impressive for a single-location development,” Hyndman wrote. “The inclusion of geothermal heating stands out as being significantly more than business as usual (BAU), particularly considering the geology of the location. Otherwise the technology mix, wind, solar, building envelope are mainstream, to a greater or lesser extent.”

Hyndman suggested that solar hot water was a notable exclusion from the technology mix presented. “This would be a good combination with the proposed geothermal system, potentially minimizing even further the use of a gas boiler,” he said.

Kingston Climate Hub: Greenhouse gas emissions

KCH, represented by Emily Ferguson and Colleen Gareau, provided detailed feedback and recommendations on BPE’s proposal.

“We acknowledge that the Unity Spa as currently proposed goes above and beyond the current requirements,” they wrote. “We urge closer scrutiny into the proposed project including energy requirements, impact on transportation, grid connection and gas burning backups, plus a full analysis of scope three carbon accounting.”

“We understand that the actions required to address the climate emergency may not be easy, nor politically popular,” they added. “But we all have the moral responsibility to act now and consider all decisions through the lens of Council’s unanimous Declaration of a Climate Emergency.”

Sustainable Kingston — supporting green business operation

“Our comments will remain focused on sustainability,” said Kristin Mullin, Executive Director of Sustainable Kingston. “Please note we have not taken into consideration what follows the climate impact or sustainability of maintaining the current zoning and not developing the site as proposed.”

Mullin said that overall, the proposed development would be an ideal candidate for membership in the program, with the potential to earn five to seven badges: Local, Sustainable Transportation, Community, Reusable Friendly and Food Recovery. With planned further efforts it could also qualify for Plant Based and Climate Action badges.

“The projects and commitments outlined in the Unity Farm Inn and Spa sustainability report position the development as a leader in smart, efficient and eco-friendly business,” Mullin said.

Looking ahead

Over the past several years of planning for the Unity Farm Inn & Spa project, BPE and City Council have had to respond to dozens of inquiries and objections from concerned residents.

Pilon said he is hopeful that as more details are solidified, uncertain neighbours will grow comfortable.

“You always get nervous when you’re walking in the dark,” he said. “I don’t think they’re scared of what we’re building, I think they’re scared of the unknown. Sometimes your imagination takes you on a bit of a trip.”

City Council will vote on Official Plan and zoning by-Law amendments for 2285 Battersea Road, 2311 Battersea Road and Kingston Con 6 PT Lot 33 RP; at their upcoming meeting on Tuesday, Sep. 15, 2020.

Samantha Butler-Hassan, Local Journalism Initiative

Samantha Butler-Hassan is a staff writer and life-long Kingston resident. She is a news junkie and mom who loves reading and exploring the community. This article has been made possible with the support of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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