Council approves zoning amendment for housing units, with consideration to issues raised by public

GORE BAY – Council for the Town of Gore Bay has given its approval to amend a zoning by-law toward the development of a proposed 30-unit apartment-type structure in the town with conditions, in consideration of the many concerns raised by residents of Hall Street, at a meeting held this past Monday. 

“I have outlined my concerns in a letter to council, but briefly, about 30 years ago we moved into town in a quiet neighbourhood and (Hall) Street,” stated Mike Addison, a local resident. He pointed out he and his wife Laurie have contributed to the town in many ways over the years. “We have enjoyed our property (which backs on to the proposed development property) and the quiet surroundings,” said Mr. Addison. “The magnitude of a two-storey building being developed would obstruct our view of the bay, mean additional noise and traffic on (Hall) Street. We love our privacy, but the development would mean additional traffic flow, interfere with the water flow for Bickell’s Creek and would interfere with fish habitat, returning ducks and herons and other wildlife,” noting “this past weekend we had a bald eagle sitting in our backyard, something you don’t see every day.”

“We have seen at least twice when the creek has significantly flooded its banks and covered part of the area with water,” continued Mr. Addison. “And putting in more fill could potentially mean more flooding. And the development would affect my ability to sell off my property for what it is worth in the future.” He also noted his concerns with the bridge across Bickell’s Creek, and that there is not enough water and sewer capacity to handle a building of this size. “Who will be paying for these additional infrastructure upgrades?”

Mr. Addison stressed, “I am not opposed to development; housing is needed in Gore Bay, but I think it should be single-family residence housing.”

Fellow Hall Street resident Jim Kiviaho said his concerns basically duplicate those outlined by Mr. Addison. “We have ducks and geese in the creek by our property, and (the housing units) would mean more noise and traffic. My primary concern is that we bought our property for the privacy and the view we have; right now I can see the CYC and the Valu-Mart on the bay. This building would disrupt our view, and there comes with more people, more traffic and noise.”

Marlene Bowers told the meeting she had moved to town four years ago and had concerns with the conservation area being disrupted, and a high density of population in a small area. “And there has been approved development on the other side of the property for housing, and now another multi-dwelling unit. There would be too much congestion in one area.”

“I love how beautiful the town is. I’d rather see this type of housing development in another location in town; this is not the right piece of property for this development,” said Ms. Bowers.

While his view will not be disrupted, Dave Rogalsky relayed his concerns with the natural heritage of the area being disrupted. “I see a lot of birds, and the swamp area they and other wildlife use will have to be removed with the parking lot and the building units being constructed.”

Ms. Addison said the development, “is going to drastically change the character of the neighbourhood. Our property has been a special place for our family.” 

Years ago, the property in question had been two parcels of land, and one had been conveyed to the town, so it became one parcel. The property (Park Lots 15 and 16, north side Hall Street and Part of Park Lot 16, south side East Street) had been re-conveyed to the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board in 2018. Now the DSB has sold the property to Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services (OAHS) and with the severance application it would turn it into two lots again.

“I truly understand the concerns raised by residents here tonight,” stated Fern Dominelli, CAO of the MSDSB, who along with two OAHS representatives were in attendance at the meeting. He explained the DSB had been approached by the town in 2011 on the property when they had a group that wanted to put in 25 units. “The DSB is made up of 18 small municipalities and they can’t afford to borrow $5-10 million for a project like this.” He pointed out last spring two advertisements had been circulated for expressions of interest in the property, and while there was no interest initially, when the RFP was extended a further 30 days, the OAHS expressed interest. “They have completed similar projects in many other places in the province, and they are a good partner to create more housing.” He also noted there is a waiting list of 60 for housing in Gore Bay, with the very large majority wanting this type of development, not single-family dwellings. 

“As for the concerns people have raised, we acknowledge them; we have the same concerns,” said Mr. Dominelli. “This is the first step in a bunch before the development could take place. We have to see what the property can handle then decide the right fit for the community,” said Mr. Dominelli. “This is a prime piece of property,” he said, noting, “we have a partner that has the capital we don’t.”

“This whole issue is not something we are probably going to make a final decision on tonight. But I can’t speak for all of council. There are a lot of decisions that have to be made, and things that have to be considered throughout the process before any development takes place,” stated Gore Bay Mayor Dan Osborne.

Daneen Denomme, director of policy and programs for OAHS said, “there is a long process that has to be carried through. We know for instance the conservation area has to be protected, and we want to make sure this is the case. We can’t build without following all the laws and restrictions. There will also need to be a traffic study carried out; a lot of discussion needs to take place before anything is done. We hope this will be a partnership and that we can provide safe, affordable housing.”

The OAHS has to build within three years or the ownership goes back to the DSB. “We will work together with the town through the process,” said Mr. Dominelli. “There is an opportunity for more housing in the community. To me this is all great news.”

When asked, Mayor Osborne said, “there was a group that was proposing development two years ago, but it didn’t come to fruition. We couldn’t sell the property so it had to go back to the DSB. That proposal didn’t get to this stage.”

Mr. Addison suggested the footprint for the property has to be larger than had been originally planned in order to accommodate the proposed units. 

Mr. Kiviaho said work has been done on the property and it was found to be in a floodplain, and if that is the case “you won’t be able to build on it.” He also questioned whether taxes will increase if there needs to be upgrades to the water and sewer in the area with the development. 

Councillor Ken Blodgett told the meeting that after visiting the property earlier in the day and looking at the footprint, “I thought it is a great place for apartments. I didn’t think there would be any objections. The (Manitoulin) Planning Board has recommended council approve the application. I run a business locally and I can’t find people to work because there is a lack of places to live in Gore Bay. I really like the idea of the units being constructed.”

“I thank everyone for attending tonight because you have shed light on both sides of the issue,” said Councillor Paulie Nodecker. “I’m not part of the (Hall Street) neighbourhood but part of the community.” 

Councillor LeeAnne Woestenenk said, “this is going to be a very difficult decision for council to make. If I lived where you do (Hall Street) I would be stating exactly the same concerns.”

It was pointed out by Councillor Kevin Woestenenk that the issue of tax increases had been raised. 

“Without growth our taxes will be going up for everyone in town. As for the proposed development I would like to see a change in the design. I’d like to see family-type row housing in the community. I understand people don’t want the development in their backyard. But the development is going to have to meet all requirements. I just hope it will be more family housing than multi-unit apartment units.”

Wanda Chorney of OAHS pointed out the organization builds all kind of housing designs.

Later in the evening council considered the amendment to the zoning by-law. 

“Regarding the meeting earlier tonight we received a lot of information and input. Now I would like more input from council,” said Mayor Osborne. He proposed council could accept the zoning amendment with the provision added that all issues raised by the public would have to be addressed. “This is a big thing for the town,” he said. 

“With any building or changes, there is going to be public outcry to some extent,” said Councillor Blodgett. The concerns raised were valid, he said, “but looking at the bigger picture we need to look at how much we need more living accommodations in town. We have buildings on the main street that are empty. We can’t get people to work and live here because we don’t have enough housing. We need apartments and housing here for the town to grow.”

“I agree that affordable housing is needed but we need further information,” said Councillor Nodecker. “There are unanswered questions. I’m concerned as the residents are with habitat, conservation and flooding, for instance. We need more studies being carried out. I will support housing in our community, but I love Kevin’s suggestion—more family-type housing is needed.” 

Councillor Aaron Wright said, “I’m all for housing,” but said he sees more interest in family housing than individual housing units.

Mr. Dominelli noted the proposed housing would be, for instance, $940 per month for a one-bedroom unit for full market, and $750 for affordable housing. He pointed out DSB figures show 162 people are looking for housing on Manitoulin. “The large majority want single-unit housing. We’re here to build what the community wants.” Of those 162 people, 60 have indicated they want to live in Gore Bay. He said there is no demand for more family-type housing. 

“I see on Facebook most are families looking for housing,” said Councillor Wright.

“There are 60 people that have picked Gore Bay that are on the (DSB) waiting list who have indicated Gore Bay is the place they want to live,” said Mr. Dominelli. 

“I’m for growth as well,” said Councillor Leeanne Woestenenk. “But I would like to see more family housing than anything.”

“I would put forward the motion that we go ahead with the zoning amendment, contingent on a list of concerns that have been raised tonight,” said Councillor Blodgett.

“We will work with the town to get what the community wants,” said Mr. Dominelli.

Council passed a motion to provide for the zoning amendment application to be approved to rezone from R1 to RM, subject to several considerations: mitigation of flooding, conservation of Bickell’s Creek, an environmental study to be carried out, approval of the building design, water-sewer capacity and a traffic study. All have to be in place and council has to be satisfied with the information for the project to move forward.