Kingston Council to consider proposed development on former tannery lands

An artist’s rendering of the proposed development at the Davis Tannery site. Submitted image.

On Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, Kingston City Council will consider a controversial development, as members vote on Patry Inc.’s Official Plan and Zoning By-Law amendment request regarding a proposed development on the lands of the old Davis Tannery. The developer is planning a mixed-use commercial and residential project at the site, located at 2 River Street and 50 Orchard Street.

In order for the project to go ahead, councilors will need to green-light a number of amendments to Kingston’s Official Plan and Zoning By-Laws. Currently, the land is zoned as a mixture of residential, arterial commercial, and environmental protection areas. Patry’s proposal seeks to redesignate a significant amount of the land for residential development, including space that is currently marked for environmental protection.

The proposal also includes the addition of a site-specific policy to the Official Plan, which would allow for “mixed-use buildings” within the residential zones, including a combination of “high-density” residential development with “ground floor commercial” space. In terms of the permitted commercial uses, the report includes the following services: a daycare centre, dry cleaning or laundry store, a fitness centre, food store, medical clinic, office, pharmacy, personal service shop, retail store, and restaurant.

A map showing the current land designation and what the developer is proposing to change. Submitted image.

In total, the proposed development includes up to 3,600 square meters of commercial space and a maximum of 6,000 square meters of “flexible commercial or residential” land use.

In a report presented to the city’s planning committee earlier this summer, City staff are recommending that the development and its proposed Zoning By-Law amendments be approved. The staff report also includes a controversial request for a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO), which would call on the provincial government to make changes to its Provincial Policy Statement to allow for remediation of the contaminated wetlands on the site. At a meeting on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, members of the Planning Committee voted 4-2 against the staff recommendations; however, City Council will have the final say at its meeting on Tuesday night.

The proposed development has generated a significant amount of controversy in recent months, given the developer’s request to redesignate space that is currently marked for environmental protection. However, the proposal does include plans to remediate the contaminated tannery lands, including space that is currently designated as a provincially significant wetland.

The majority of the land in question has sat vacant for decades, after the closure of the Davis Leather Tannery, with decades of industrial use leaving much of the site contaminated. Over the years, the city has explored various redevelopment and remediation efforts.

The staff report also points to additional environmental benefits which could come as a result of the development’s proximity to the downtown core: “The proposed development contributes to efforts to combat the changing climate regionally and locally by developing in a high density, compact form in proximity to the downtown, resulting in less land consumption and minimal construction of new transportation and servicing infrastructure.”

Despite some potential environmental benefits, the project has drawn sharp criticism from several community groups. No Clearcuts Kingston, a local environmental advocacy organization, is speaking out against the project, specifically regarding the number of trees that would need to be removed from the site in order to make room for the high-density development.

The group is circulating a letter that concerned citizens can copy and forward to members of City Council. The letter reads, in part: “As a local citizen, I am writing to voice my concerns regarding the request of Jay Patry Inc. for amendments to the Official Plan and zoning bylaws to allow the company to build on the former Davis Tannery land.”

The letter goes on, “I encourage you to support the Planning Committee which, after careful review and several public meetings, voted on August 4, 2022, to reject the developer’s request for these changes.”

No Clearcuts Kingston recently received the support of a member of Belleville City Council, with that city’s Green Task Force chair, Chris Malette, saying, “We in Belleville often look to Kingston as a municipal example of responsible stewardship of important and proper development where neighbourhoods, sensitive lands, and social issues are at stake. As a Belleville councillor who worked with our city’s Green Task Force… I would hope Kingston once again shows its collective wisdom in preserving valuable shoreline lands, wherever and however it can, and continues to set an example among municipal governments in Eastern Ontario in ‘doing the right thing.'”

Additionally, and as recently as Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, No Clear Cuts Kingston garnered further support in the push against the development. The organization released a letter, penned by Rachel Plotkin, Manager of the Boreal Project for the David Suzuki Foundation, which is addressed to Mayor Bryan Paterson and raises several arguments against the Patry Inc. proposal.

“I’m writing this letter on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation to express our significant, ongoing concerns with the proposed development in the former Davis Tannery lands, and the use of a Minister’s Zoning Order to subvert due process. As you are likely aware, Ontario, and Canada, and the world are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis. In response, there is an imperative to turn away from enabling further biodiversity loss and instead focus on restoring ecosystems that we have degraded, such as the tannery lands,” the letter begins.

Plotkin, who presented a delegation to City Staff and the Planning Committee earlier in the year, then points to “green washing tactics” she observed being employed by Patry Inc. in its proposal.

“I… was frankly dismayed by the greenwashing tactics of the development company, which presented its proposed development project as nature positive. For example, the company included, under a slide titled ‘Response to Climate Change,’ the fact that the parking lot would include spots for 120 Electric Vehicles. This is greenwashing at its most absurd; pitching a parking lot where forests/wetlands once stood as a ‘response to climate change,’” Plotkin states.

“Despite what the company might claim, and acknowledging its commitment to support partial remediation, the conversion of a natural area, even a degraded one, will not advance any measures to protect biodiversity or fight climate when looked at holistically.”

After further asserting a lack of hydrology, and a lack of environmental assessment undertaken by an impartial party (“the environmental assessment was done by the developers, who clearly… have a vested interest and the ability to frame their project as containing climate solutions.”), the letter points to a 2021 report from the Office of the Auditor General with regard to the use of MZOs, which noted that MZOs are “being used to fast track development.”

“The United Nations has declared this decade the decade of restoration, and our own federal government has made a commitment to halt and reverse nature loss,” the letter concludes. “If we are to redress the harms that we’ve collectively visited upon our lands and waters, we must invest in restoration, not further land conversion.”

An advertisement for Meet the River, an event in support of the preservation of the Cataraqui River. Image via Belle Park Project.

Ahead of Tuesday’s Kingston City Council meeting, several community events are being planned by those opposed to the development. Meet the River is an “arts, community, and environment-focused event” addressing issues related to the preservation of the Cataraqui River, and will take place on September 3 from 2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Doug Fluhrer Park.

Meanwhile, Protect the River, a public paddling protest, takes place on Monday, Sept. 5 at 4:30 p.m., starting from the boat ramp at the Woolen Mill (4 Cataraqui Street). “The river is forever. There is too much at stake to approve a proposal full of ‘to be determined’s and unanswered questions,” said Jeremy Milloy, one of the organizers of Protect the River, in a press release. “Kingston deserves forward-thinking developments that respect the land, the water, and the community, and that take climate change seriously.”

Residents can read the full agenda with reports for the Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, meeting of Kingston City Council on the City of Kingston website, and can watch the meeting live on the City’s YouTube channel.

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