Council rejects Elginburg quarry expansion

Countryside Councillor Gary Oosterhof (second from right) speaks against the request to expand a quarry on Unity Road at a meeting of Kingston City Council on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Screen Captured Image.

At its meeting on Tuesday night (May 17, 2022), Kingston City Council rejected a proposed expansion of the Coco Properties Corporation quarry in Elginburg, citing environmental impacts and concerns from area residents. 

City staff had hoped to reach a settlement with the quarry owners, ending a lengthy battle between the two parties, which is currently before the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT). Since 2014, the owners have sought to expand the existing quarry from 57 hectares and 292 meters of frontage along Unity Road to 144 hectares and 500 meters of frontage.

The application seeks to make several amendments to the City’s Official Plan, including environmental and heritage protection. A proposed amendment to schedule 3-B of the Official Plan would redesignate lands currently marked for environmental protection, allowing expanded mining at the site.

After a series of public meetings were held between 2015 and 2018, the applicants filed an appeal with the OLT in March 2018, based on the City’s lack of a decision on the proposed amendments to the Official Plan and subsequent zoning by-laws. Last month, a fourth public meeting was held to update the public and Planning Committee on the status of the application. 

In its report to Council on Tuesday night, Staff recommended that Council vote to proceed with the minutes of settlement between the property owner and the City, permitting the amendments and paving the way for the quarry’s expansion. 

For Countryside Councillor Gary Oosterhof, whose district includes the quarry site, Tuesday’s vote was an opportunity for Council to “make a statement worth something.” In his address to Council, Oosterhof said, “Tonight, we cannot say we have not been informed. We all understand the history of non-compliance issues at the quarry, and we understand that the surrounding community is exhausted with the constant negative impact on their peaceful lives.”

“This file has been active since 2014, and that is a long while,“ Oosterhof continued. “The fact is, this quarry is not ready for expansion still. The ask for [amendments to the Official Plan] and a zoning by-law exemption is simply too much. It will become the Grand Canyon of our area if allowed to proceed, and not something to be proud of. We know better than to support this recommendation.“

Collins-Bayridge Councillor Lisa Osanic also spoke against the settlement recommendation. “We saw at Planning Committee all the farms, all the homes surrounding it, and their very fair concerns… We also have water quality in all that surrounding watershed that could be affected, and that really scares me,” said Osanic. 

Osanic also addressed the positive impact a Council vote to reject the settlement could have on residents currently fighting the expansion at the provincial tribunal: “I think it adds strength to their voice if Council supports those residents at [OLT] to say that ‘we hear you,’ and hopefully then the judges at [OLT] will validate their concerns.” The staff report also included hundreds of letters from area residents, many of whom wrote in against the proposed expansion. 

Considering that a rejection of the settlement would likely lead to an appeal at the OLT, Council did hear from the City’s legal team regarding the fate of similar tribunal appeal decisions. A recent case in Ramara, Ontario saw the municipality oppose a quarry’s plans for expansion, with similar environmental and community issues being raised. Ultimately, the land tribunal approved the zoning by-law and Official Plan amendments, allowing the expansion to proceed. Staff also estimated that it could cost the City of Kingston around $120,000 to fight this case.

Taking into account existing precedent at the land tribunal, as well as the high costs associated with fighting the appeal, Mayor Bryan Paterson shared his support for the settlement. “I feel that by fighting this at the [OLT], we will spend $120,000 of taxpayer money from other residents, and it’s very likely not to be effective, given what we saw from the township of Ramara.” 

“I think that the better choice is to recognize that this may not be the best forum for us to do that fight, to approve the minutes of settlement today, and then let’s fight that fight as needed. There’s (sic) lots of things we can continue to do to support residents in this case,” suggested the Mayor.  

Sydenham Councillor Peter Stroud rejected the notion that Council should base decisions on existing cases, as he argued the City should “do the right thing.” Stroud said, “[Going by precedent] is a guess, and it’s not a reason to not do the right thing. Everybody knows the difference between right and wrong, and if this quarry didn’t need so many exceptions, it could go ahead and be a quarry and expand all it wants.”

Ultimately, Council rejected the staff recommendations by a vote of 7-2, with Mayor Paterson and Councillor Wayne Hill the lone members in favour of the settlement. Instead, the body passed a 19-point motion directing staff to appeal the quarry’s expansion application at the OLT. 

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