Temporarily halting major development in West Montrose was Woolwich’s first step in studying the heritage of the covered bridge and its surroundings. A legal challenge may be what comes next.
In adopting an interim control bylaw for lands surrounding the bridge, council has put on hold for one year a gravel pit bid by Guelph-based Capital Paving. With time running out on the process – it has about six months left on a two-year window since filing its application – the company has indicated it may take the township to an Ontario Municipal Board hearing.
Despite some reservations, councillors approved the move Tuesday night, clearing the way for a study to determine the need for a cultural heritage landscape (CHL) designation for some of the area surrounding the historic bridge.
The bylaw was written to leave homeowners with a fair amount of flexibility, restricting only the kind of development that would require significant planning. Even granny flats, which do require a zone change, have been exempted, said director of planning and engineering Dan Kennaley.
“This strikes a balance between, on the one hand, providing protection to a potential cultural heritage landscape and its feature and, on the other hand, not unduly restricting what people can do with their properties while the study is being carried out,” he said.
The restrictions apply to an area bounded by Northfield Drive to the west, Line 86 to the north, Katherine Street to the east and an irregular line to the south corresponding somewhat with Letson Drive.
Councillors, seeing the possibility of an OMB appeal, pressed Kennaley for assurances the interim control measures would hold up to a legal challenge.
Based on provincial policies, significant cultural heritage landscapes must be conserved, and it’s incumbent on the township to undertake the study, he noted.
Mayor Bill Strauss, who has resisted the cultural heritage study, said he is not happy with the township going ahead with the bylaw nor the CHL process. He also stressed that the study should be completed by October, when the current term of council expires.
“We have to get this done faster – somehow, this has to be back here in October. That’s all that I’m going to be satisfied with,” he said.
Coun. Mark Bauman made the same call for a speedier report, but backed the need for a heritage study.
“This is Woolwich Township doing its due diligence.”
Sensitive to the possibility of legal action, Kennaley said the township is looking to make an airtight case for its decisions.
“What we finally recommend is going to have to be very defensible.”
On the subject of legal wranglings, Kennaley has noted that scenario is likely no matter what the township does in conjunction with the gravel pit application. If council sides with the developers, resident groups in both communities have built war chests in preparation for a legal battle. If the township supports its citizens, the developers will take their cases to the OMB and MNR.
At a meeting last month, a lawyer for Capital Paving suggested the passing of an interim control bylaw would prompt an OMB appeal, and likely a second appeal to force a decision on the gravel pit application prior to the two-year deadline. After the two years, the entire application process would have to start over, a prospect the company wants to avoid, Jonathan Kahn told councillors.