Council approves Unity Farm Inn & Spa development

City Council votes during a virtual meeting on Tuesday, Sep. 15, 2020. The meeting was streamed live on the City’s YouTube channel.

City Council has approved a zoning bylaw and Official Plan amendment for the development of Unity Farm Inn & Spa after a lengthy, impassioned debate.

Gary Oosterhof, the councillor for Countryside District where the development will be located, implored his colleagues once again to reject the project.

“This development as proposed will simply exhaust the land and the residential community that surrounds it,” Oosterhof said. “Though this development wants to dress up like it belongs out here I think we all know that it does not fit.”

He argued that Countryside residents will take the decision to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), and that they should not be left to do so on their own. “This is not a simple file,” he said. “We all know that now. Things are not quite what they appear.”

Councillor Peter Stroud also opposed the development, fully aware, he said, of an inevitable Tribunal appeal from the developer. He suggested Council could defend a decision to reject the development – after City planning staff had twice recommended it – based on the declaration of a climate emergency in March 2019.

“In a climate emergency, does it make sense to build a luxury spa which consumes vast amounts of water in a sensitive aquifer?” he asked councillors. “It’s a very simple question and it’s not a planning question. Is it appropriate for us, during a climate emergency, to give the green light for a planning application that will serve only the rich, and will consume vast amounts of resources per person to the detriment of the local neighbourhood?”

“That kind of overconsumption during a climate emergency is going to be the demise of our species,” he argued. “If we side with the developers on this we are making a statement that we are an urban city that cares about urban luxuries, and not that cares about the climate emergency or the aquifer that the farmers depend on.”

Consultation with climate groups complete

The vote on the zoning bylaw amendment had already been delayed once at Council’s Aug. 11 meeting, out of respect for the City’s climate emergency declaration.

At that time, a local environmental group Kingston Climate Hub had submitted a letter calling for greater scrutiny of the project’s contribution to global warming, and for it to be weighed against the City’s sustainability goals. Stroud persuaded seven councillors that the integrity of the climate emergency declaration hung on their decision to either heed or ignore climate groups. The decision was deferred.

After meeting with and taking feedback from three community-based environmental groups, City planning staff reported once again that they were recommending the project proceed, noting it had been unanimously identified as going above and beyond conventional standards for sustainable development in the City.

Councillor Robert Kiley, who described the climate emergency declaration as something “dear to his heart,” argued in favour of the development, referencing City staff’s latest report.

“While residents’ concerns are absolutely imperative and we’re very sensitive to them,” Kiley said, “I think when we take their concerns on noise, on the environment, on water, and apply the data to it, we see there’s nothing that objectively tells us there will be a problem.”

“I think it will be good for the City as a whole, I think it will be good for Countryside in the long term,” he said.

Councillor Wayne Hill also expressed strong support for the development, saying it “ticks all the boxes.”

“It speaks to one of our key issues which is rural economic development. It speaks to our level – as a municipality, as a community – of creativity. Are we going to stand in the way of every developer who comes along and presents a project that really is forward-looking?”

“We have heard not just from people who are opposed to it in the community. We have heard from a lot of people who live nearby who are supportive of it as well,” he added. “I do understand, I do empathize and sympathize with them….. For the whole City of Kingston, this is a project that makes a lot of sense.”

Putting water use in perspective

According to planning documents, the site will consume 48,000 litres of water per day when fully built out, with a variety of water conservation and recycling mechanisms built into the design.

Councillor Bridget Doherty asked City Senior Planner James Bar to place that number in context by sharing consumption levels from other nearby businesses.

“South of the intersection at Unity Rd. and Battersea Rd, the County of Frontenac has a [provincial] Permit to Take Water to allow them to draw up to 144,000 litres of water per day for the municipal offices located at that site,” Bar said.

Coco Paving has a permit to pump over three million litres per day, he said, plus an additional one million for industrial uses. Meanwhile, The Colonnade Golf and Country Club has a permit to draw 335 000 litres per day to water the golf course. “That’s just a small snippet of some of the Permits to Take Water active in the Countryside district,” he said.

Doherty said she felt the council should approve the development to send a strong message to other developers that the City supports renewable energy projects, at a time when other levels of government have withdrawn financial incentives.

The bylaw zoning and Official Plan amendment passed by a vote of eight to five. Councillors Simon Chapelle, Lisa Osanic, Peter Stroud, Jeff McLaren and Gary Oosterhof opposed the motion.

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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