Members of Kingston’s Planning Committee rejected a proposal by Party Inc., which would have seen the Davis Tannery lands rezoned in order to allow for a large-scale residential and commercial development project. In a 4-2 vote on Thursday night, committee members denied Patry’s request for Official Plan and Zoning By-Law amendments, which were needed in order for Patry to construct 1,670 residential units at the tannery site.
The project would have included 9,700 square meters of commercial space, as well as four hectares of open space and a waterfront park. The development would have also allowed for an option to build 100 affordable housing units, with the City having the option to acquire 25 of those units for its own social programs.
The 13-hectare site, located at 2 River Street and 50 Orchard Street, was once the site of the former Davis leather tannery but has sat vacant for several decades. Much of the site is significantly contaminated, with many citizens and members of Council calling for the area to be cleaned up.
City Staff had recommended that the committee approve the development and its rezoning requests, with staff calling for re-zoning in accordance with three phases of the project. The staff report also included a controversial request for a Minster’s Zoning Order (MZO) by the province for phase four. According to the report, an MZO is necessary “to remediate the contaminated portion of wetland, re-naturalize it, and allow a portion of those lands for re-development.”
The report noted that an MZO is not being requested to expedite the application, but to “overcome a fundamental provincial policy issue” with Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement (PPS), currently prohibiting cleanup and redevelopment of industrial sites within provincially designated wetlands.
Paige Agnew, the City’s Commissioner of Corporate Services, addressed obtaining an MZO, describing it as a request that is “very much driven by the municipality.”
“Although it is the minister’s sole discretion as to whether they support an MZO or not, the process that happens leading up to the minister reviewing something and applying their signature for approval is very collaborative,” Agnew stated.
The public portion of the meeting saw a number of presentations to the committee, with residents addressing concerns surrounding the overall environmental impact of the proposed development. Jeremy Milloy noted the importance of the wetland designation. “The point of a provincially significant wetland designation is not just so that the Province will have authority, it’s so that the Province can exercise its duty to protect our wetlands,” he said.
Annabelle Mills voiced similar concerns, as she shared her own desired alternatives to the development. “My first wish would be to see Kingston buy back from Patry the tannery land, which we could remediate using plants.” Mills also spoke on behalf of the advocacy group No Clearcuts Kingston, which has been vocal about its opposition to the project, given the number of trees that would need to be cut down in order to make way for the development.
Several delegates spoke in favour of the project, as well, with DBIA Chair Ed Smith addressing the support of Kingston’s business community toward the proposal. Citing the need for greater residential development near the downtown core, Smith said, “Our business owners are on a long road to recovery, [following] the devestating effects of COVID-19. As we move into the future, the key to the survival of our business community is to hyper-focus on our mission to attract more people to experience and contribute to our downtown community.”
Marijo Cuerrier, Executive Director of Downtown Kingston, spoke about the ways the development would allow downtown businesses to add to the customer base. “We need more people to frequent [the] downtown. Residential intensification is the number-one priority to creating a stable customer and employee base for the community. There is a housing shortage… Kingston needs housing. How can we turn down 1,670 new units?” questioned Cuerrier.
Other groups have also come out in favour of Patry’s proposal, including Kingston’s Chamber of Commerce. In July, the Chamber unanimously endorsed the project, stating, “The Patry proposal represents an opportunity to sustain and grow a healthy community while at the same time puts to effective use vacant land so close to the downtown core.”
Throughout the meeting, staff and proponents of the development had the ability to address comments made by the public. James Bar, Manager of Development Approvals at the City of Kingston, reiterated the staff’s commitment to due process throughout the entire application period. “The staff report that we have put together, in our opinion, is appropriate and comprehensive for the step that we are at in moving this development forward,” he said. “We are dealing with zoning and Official Plan framework that establishes the basis of land use for a site; it’s really the first step in establishing what can actually be developed.”
According to Bar, many elements would still need to be worked out, but staff feel it is “appropriate” to move the proposal to the next stage of the application process. “The Federal Government is still working on its plans for the inner-harbour, but… these lands don’t have the zoning established to be able to move to the next stage,” he explained.
Members of the committee also heard from representatives of Patry Inc., who addressed questions regarding the contamination currently at the site, and some of the environmental assessments that have been carried out. “From day one, this project would not [have been] supportable if this wetland were not heavily contaminated,” said Robert Snetsinger, an environmental expert with Patry. “This wetland is not helping the local ecology, the offsite contamination has been well documented.”
After public comments and responses from staff and the applicants, members of the committee had the opportunity to ask questions, before the recommendations were put to a vote. Williamsville Councillor Jim Neill compared the current request for an MZO to other developments in the past. “I won’t be supporting the MZO portion of the recommendation, I haven’t seen a really compelling reason like the other MZO’s that I’ve supported in the past,” he said.
Wayne Hill, Councillor for Lakeside district reflected on the variety of comments heard throughout the meeting. “I’m disappointed, to some degree, at the level of discourse… Experts are not experts only when they agree with your point of view,” Hill stated. “And we’ve heard from a lot of experts, both on our staff and from the proponent, and I did hear some pretty disparaging comments… that maybe expertise wasn’t in play.
“I just want to comment on how thorough I thought the report was, and the good work that staff have done, and recognize that it’s a beginning and not an end,” he added. “This is the first serious proposal, that I’ve seen, that would allow for that contamination to be cleaned up. I think we have to take a really hard look at turning something like this down because it’s not coming back again anytime soon.”
Lisa Osanic, who represents the Collins-Bayridge district, addressed the length of time councillors and City staff have spent on this particular item. “We have spent hours and hours on this Tannery land file over the last many years… This is the third public meeting, we’ve had motions at Council leading up to this… I don’t take this file lightly at all.
“There’s problems with [the proposal], and while I sympathize with our housing crisis… the trade-off of what we’re going to be doing, the destruction of wildlife, does not warrant it… We’re taking down a forest,” remarked Osanic. “There’s no way that I can support an MZO to pave over the wetland, that’s the biggest thing, [it’s] dangerous [and] precedent-setting.”
Loyalist-Cataraqui district councillor Simon Chappelle argued that proper public consultation was not conducted regarding the recommendation for an MZO. “I don’t agree that we’ve had consultation on this specific issue. I believe there are significant problems in having the MZO applied to a provincially significant wetland.”
Before putting the entire list of staff recommendations to a vote, members of the committee opted first to strike the clause regarding the MZO. Once that passed, the Planning Committee voted 4-2 against the recommendations as amended, with Councillors Kiley and Hill voting in favour. The committee’s decision will be presented to City Council next month, with that body having the ultimate decision as to whether or not the proposal will be approved.