Council delays spa decision to consult climate change specialists

Seven Kingston city councillors vote to defer a decision on bylaw and Official Plan amendments at a Zoom meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020.

Kingston City Council has voted to defer by one month their decision on zoning bylaw and Official Plan amendments for 2285 and 2311 Battersea Rd.

The site is the location of a proposed hospitality venue, Unity Farm Inn & Spa, by BPE development.

At a council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, Councillor Gary Oosterhof presented a motion to defer the decision until September. His intent is to allow consultation with Kingston Climate Hub, and at least one other recognized Climate focused organization, he said.

Kingston Climate Hub had submitted a letter to City Council that day, raising concerns about the environmental impact of the development.

“This application is a critical change in the Official Plan and zoning bylaw amendment that has far reaching implications,” Oosterhof said. As councillor for Countryside District, where the development would be located, Oosterhof has raised vocal opposition to the development citing concerns over groundwater sustainability, and incompatibility with the rural community.

“The City of Kingston has declared a climate change emergency and in my opinion, this development is not compliant with our commitment,” he said.

The motion to defer passed by a vote of seven to six, with councillors Gary Oosterhof, Robert Kiley, Simon Chapelle, Jeff McLaren, Lisa Osanic, Peter Stroud and Rob Hutchison voting in favour. Council will vote on the bylaw and Official Plan amendments for this property at their meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.

Debating the deferral

Kiley originally questioned the deferral, suggesting that the concerns of Kingston Climate Hub could be addressed and accommodated at later stages of the development process.

Doherty commended Kingston Climate Hub for their advocacy and commitment. However, she said the City had already consulted with experts including hydrogeologists and engineers, and had all the information they needed.

“Are we moving away from the experts towards advocacy work?” she asked. “That’s not proper guidance for us.”

Councillor Stroud argued in favour of deferral, saying the integrity of the City’s Climate Emergency Motion was on the line.

“Staff reviewed the technical information, which they always do,” Stroud said, “but they did not consult with any environmental group, nor have they on any file since we passed the Climate Emergency motion… To view this through a climate lens is exactly what the climate emergency motion promised,” he said.

“I don’t see how we can take that emergency motion seriously any longer if we can’t even wait a month to get some climate action input on this from climate activists.”

Stroud also challenged Doherty’s point that the City had adequately consulted with experts. “Ok, so some of those [climate activists] aren’t scientists but I don’t think it’s fair, Councillor Doherty, to say we’ve heard from the experts and that these people are not experts. That’s actually quite disrespectful.”

He also suggested that hired experts could be biased. “It’s like lawyers,” he said. “If you want an opinion, you can find someone who can give that opinion.”

Consulting with climate activists would bring balance to the information, he said, before Council votes on it.

Hutchison agreed with Stroud. “Sometimes the experts are wrong,” he said. “We’ve had situations where the City has lost. That just happens and I don’t blame staff, it’s bound to happen. It’s not just a matter of experts. It’s whose, experts speaking about what.”

“I think I would support Councillor Oosterhoff deferral as being the fairest way,” Hutchison added.

Councillor Boheme raised a concern that the deferral would set a precedent for future projects. “If you do it with one project, you should realistically do it with all. How would that play out with other projects?” he asked.

Jim Neill also opposed the deferral, worrying that it would set the City up for a costly legal engagement with the developer. The City’s own staff had reviewed and approved the planning application, he said, so refusing the development could result in an appeal.

“We can delay this, and quite frankly the proponent might be perfectly within their rights to appeal this because we’ve gone beyond the time allocation. Every appeal cost taxpayers between $125 thousand and $150 thousand a year. I don’t believe deferring this alters the fact that this would be indeed unsupportable at a tribunal hearing.”

Wayne Hill, who sits on the City’s Planning Committee along with Councillors Hutchison, Neill, Kiley, and Osanic, said that the City had already been inundated with information on this project. The deferral would simply be pushing the question down the road unnecessarily, he said.

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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