Unifor is not about to get its new parking lot approved anytime soon.
With the exception of Councilor Don Matheson, Council was unanimous in its vote to defeat changing the zoning from residential to allow Unifor to expand a parking lot on Shipley Ave.
Residents of the area recently signed a petition against the expansion citing many concerns from traffic safety to the illegal use of the land in question.
Greg Schmalz spoke on behalf of the residents saying that the proposed used ” … is not in keeping with the Official Plan or intended uses for the property. The proponent (Unifor) went forward without due process or permits.”
He pointed out that the area in question is extensively used by pedestrians and cyclists and is also now part of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail. “There are no sidewalks in this area and a parking lot on a small residential lot will only increase traffic congestion, particularly as there is also bus unloading for Unifor visitors.”
Unifor recently expanded its ‘upper’ parking lot that now has over 400 existing parking spaces. “This (lower parking lot) is 100 percent about convenience,” said Schmalz.
As part of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail System, the residents would like to see the lot become a rest stop and the Residents’ Association indicated that it wold raise the funds to landscape it if Unifor would donate the property.
Unifor Planner Ron Davidson said that it appeared the resentment toward Unifor stemmed from the contentious wind turbine issue. A wind turbine had been constructed at the Unifor site several years ago despite intensive opposition by residents in the surrounding area. “Perhaps Council should be made to understand the importance of Unifor to the community. Unifor employs some 100 local people and pays $250,000 in taxes each year,” said Davidson, “and Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority (SVCA) approved the project saying that the impact on the environment would be ‘negligible’.”
He also said that the concept was to use permeable pavers in an open weave design that would allow rainwater to permeate along with drought resistance shrub landscaping. According to Davidson, existing electrical was there from the time that there was a residence on the property belonging to the Director of the facility, when it was the CAW Family Education Centre, and that no new electrical had been installed. Part of the proposal is to have three charging stations for vehicles.
Councilor Neil Menage asked Davidson if he believed the lot being used for parking is an existing residential lot under zoning or a ‘legal non-conforming’ use. Davidson said that “… currently it (parking) is an illegal use of the lot”.
The Bruce County planner, Dan Kingsbury, who recommended the re-zoning be approved, said that the lot would accommodate visiting residents in what is known as the Cove Residence of Unifor situated on the lakefront area of the facility, as they required more parking space. Menage asked how many residents there were to require additional parking and where they had been parking for the last 20 to 30 years. The planner did not know the number.
Councilor Rich agreed that Unifor does pay a lot in taxes but he continued, “The relationship between Unifor and the residents is not good and there is an opportunity here for Unifor to mend that relationship but, instead, you (Unifor) are trying to get four more parking spaces?”
Again, Davidson said that “… a lot of this goes back to the wind turbine issue.”
Councilor Mike Myatt expressed his disappointment and that he had expected more from the Unifor planner (Davidson) “… than to bring up the wind turbine issue. This does however, remind me of that and how we (Town) lost that battle. I find it unfortunate that we seem to be heading down the same old path with Unifor. You (County planner) said there were two primary uses for this property, residential and institutional. I think there is a third. It is the main connecting link, along with Great Lakes Waterfront Trail System, to the Port Elgin Beach. I find this application (parking Lot) very unfortunate.”
Myatt continued saying that Shipley Avenue is one way in and out and that the residents are “… adamantly opposed to this application. I remember in the 1980s residents talked about this parking issue and it was decided then that parking would be on the upper level, which has also be recently expanded. I am disappointed to get to this point and I think our Planner (Bruce County) this recommendation is incorrect and I will not support it.”
Menage asked Kingsbury if the use as stated by the Unifor planner (Davidson) “… is indeed an illegal use of the property?”
Kingsbury said the ‘legal non-conforming’ use as a parking lot had been in effect since 2001 and that the former Director’s residence was as an Institutional usage and that based on the length of time and previous use that he “… felt it a ‘legal non-conforming’ usage.
Menage asked that, if Council denied the application and there was no appeal, it had been stated that the property would “… be returned to a pre-altered state. Would that then be returned to a residence?” Kingsbury explained that it would be up to the Town.
Councilor Don Matheson asked if there could be further development at the Cove Residence for parking. “The residents in the area have had some strong points but Unifor has refuted them and our own planner has said that this is good land use.”
As a final point, Deputy Mayor Luke Charbonneau who chaired the meeting in the Mayor’s absence, pointed out that the land does, in fact, belong to the applicant (Unifor). “We are charged with deciding on this application. I do not bring any resentment to Unifor in any way. Our objective in the Official Plan is to require that ten percent of land go toward intensification in the settlement area. This proposal is not intensification and is not planned usage. Development of a parking lot in the place where there was a home and could be again, is in direct contravention of the Official Plan. A parking lot is not supported under the current zoning provision and zoned R1 (residential) is the intended use of the land. From a pure planning standpoint and from our intent for shoreline properties, the applicant’s proposal is not appropriate.”
“That Local Official Plan Amendment SSOPA30-18.44 for the properties described as
Part Lots 1 and 2, Plan 442, Town of Saugeen Shores (geographic Township of
Saugeen), be approved and the necessary by-law be forwarded to Council for
consideration of adoption and the County of Bruce for approval; and
That Zoning By-law Amendment Z-24-18.44 for the same properties as described
above, be approved and the necessary by-law be forwarded to Council for adoption.”
The recommendation was defeated.