The summer holidays have not dulled the fight against a series of new gravel pits proposed for Woolwich Township. With councillors returning from a month-long hiatus Tuesday night, opponents wasted no time, using the first meeting back to bolster their position.
Residents of Conestogo, West Montrose and Winterbourne worry that plans for three gravel pits in close proximity to their homes will destroy their quality of life and bring financial hardship to homeowners while depleting township coffers.
Woolwich is currently dealing with five gravel pit applications. Two are extensions to existing small pits, but the others would be much larger undertakings, especially the Capital Paving application for a site near the historic covered bridge in West Montrose and a sprawling pit proposed immediately east of Conestogo. Another, smaller operation is planned for a location north of the village.
In a series of public meetings to discuss the developments, residents have called on councillors to axe the applications, citing the potential cumulative nightmare for those living in that part of the township.
Tuesday night’s meeting, where three delegates spoke, was no exception.
The presentations stressed the potential financial losses that would come from the approval of one or more of the applications.
Using figures derived from a study in Caledon – the site of many battles over gravel pits – Conestogo resident Gordon Haywood predicted each of the three new operations would be a net loss to the local economy.
The Caledon study found property values within two kilometres of a quarry decreased by an average of 19 per cent. Between two and five km, the decrease was eight per cent. Looking at the West Montrose pit, for instance, he calculated those numbers would lead to a net loss of $34.5 million in property values and a $7.6-million loss in taxes over the 20-year lifespan of the pit. Even with $2.6 million in extra taxes from the site and $200,000 in aggregate fees, Woolwich would still be down $4.8 million in revenue.
Haywood’s figures for the Jigs Hollow pit (minus-$4.9 million) and the Hunder Developments pit east of Conestogo (minus-$12.4 million) painted an even bleaker picture.
“Overall, they destroy more value than they create,” he told councillors. “What sense does it make to have a business destroy six to eight times the revenue it creates?”
Woolwich will be forced to raise taxes across the board or find ways to cut in order to make up for the lost assessment value in the areas around the pits, he argued.
Coun. Ruby Weber, however, rejected that premise, saying falling property values would have no impact on taxes, as the township would simply adjust the rate to maintain its revenues.
While a debate on that issue was sidestepped, Haywood added that even without extracting a single piece of gravel, the proposed operations have already had a negative impact on property values, noting that nine homes are up for sale in his neighbourhood, none of them moving quickly.
That argument was bolstered by Conestogo resident Brian Lipskie, who said the one home in the neighbourhood that did sell recently went for $100,000 less than the listing price.
Pondering an expansion or a move in response to a growing family, he’s been advised by real estate agents not to list the property unless he’s prepared to take well below market value.
“We’re literally stuck here,” he said. “Who’ll buy here on Golf Course Road? We’ll literally be surrounded by gravel pits.”
The township should give priority to the existing residents given that the neighbourhood is already in place – “we were here first,” said Lipskie, adding that approving the gravel pits would amount to stomping all over the rights of residents for the financial benefit of a few.
Residents called on the township to conduct a study such as the one in Caledon, freezing all development within a kilometre of residential areas until a full study of the financial implications is completed.
Councillors made no reply to the presentations. Coun. Mark Bauman, chairing the committee-of-the-whole meeting, noted the evening’s comments would be part of the detailed review of the gravel pit applications now under consideration.