Some confusion over information given to councillors at Monday's council meeting led to a contentious end to the final meeting of this term of council.
With no chance to deal with routine business until regular meetings of the incoming council begin in December, council approved four requests to bypass council approval of site plan agreements, delegating the approval to Town planning director Craig Larmour.
One was for a distillery on Lakeshore Road, and one was the site plan approval for the new medical centre, once the rezoning was approved.
Two came at the request of Maurizio Rogato, representing Solmar, for two developments – 135 Queen St., a commercial building that has been in the works for about five years, the other at the corner of Four Mile Creek Road and Line 9 for a five-unit commercial building that includes a restaurant and patio.
Councillors had no problem with Rogato's request for the St. Davids site plan approval after a zoning change had been okayed by council to allow the commercial use.
But after some discussion about the Queen Street development – the one that has the hoarding around it for years, with a mural on it to improve the look of the wooden boards – councillors decided the property was too important to rush and the site plan should come back to the new council for approval.
The development, which includes a large building that would incorporate a restaurant, office and retail space, has been back and forth with the Municipal Heritage Committee several times while details were ironed out, and then when the developer wanted to change the design of the building to make it more financially viable – it has been an expensive waiting game for the developer while an archealogical study held up construction.
“I wouldn't want to see delays, especially on Queen Street. I'm sure nobody wants to see it delayed,” Rogato told councillors.
Coun. Jim Collard agreed. “The proponent has done everything the MHC has asked them to do.” The hoarding has been there for a long time, he said, adding he hoped council would agree to delegating site plan approval to the planning director.
But Coun. Betty Disero disagreed, saying the delay would be a matter of a couple of months, and because of the location and some changes to be made, including a water fountain design and some trees planted at the request of the MHC, she thought it should come back to council.
Coun. Martin Mazza initially agreed with Disero, saying he was not a fan of delegating “bigger items like this. I think it should come back to the next council. It gives residents the opportuniy to speak on the record. By delegating this step, it makes it harder for residents to do that.”
Mazza said he didn't like delegating approval on either property – one on Queen Street and the other at the entrance to St. Davids.
When planning director Craig Larmour stepped in to say to say the Queen Street application would still have to go back to the MCH, with a report to come back to the new council, Collard withdrew a motion he planned to make to delegate site plan authority and the matter was dropped, although the motion to delegate authority on the Four Mile Creek property passed.
But more than two hours later, as the last council meeting was wrapping up, Coun. Maria Bau-Coote stood up and said she had been asked to do a favour, to put 135 Queen St back on the table, with some new information councillors should hear about – some “misinformation” they'd been given. She didn't say who had asked for the favour.
Disero questioned the process of allowing the discussion back on the table when it had already been dealt with, and where the request had originated, but was told it was at the chair's discretion. Lord Mayor Pat Darte put it to a vote, with everyone else supporting re-opening the discussion.
Larmour explained the MHC had made recommendations to council iand council had approved them, so it wasn't clear after all that the matter would be coming back to council. He said he would clarify that information before approving the site plan, should council delegate approval to him.
Disero argued it was just a 60-day delay, MHC would be meeting in that time span, and after waiting years, a little longer would not affect the outcome of the development.
“We agreed it was an important location. We don't need to rush it through,” she said, asking what had changed in the two and a half hours since they decided not to delegate site plan approval.
Disero and Coun. Jamie King said no to delegating authority but it was approved by everyone else, including Mazza, who had been adamant the decision should not be rushed.
Following the meeting, he said once he understood MHC had made its recommendations and they'd been approved, he felt there was no need for council to see the site plan.
“MHC supported it. They gave their approval. They found it fits their criteria.”
When he opposed it, he thought MHC members hadn't yet signed off on the development, but once it appeared they had, he had no problem delegating site plan approval, he said.
But Disero is still concerned that residents won't have an opportunity to comment on the project, which is very different from what was originally proposed, and that public input would only be possible if the issue comes back to council. “There were substantial changes to the building,” she said. “I think it should have gone to a public forum.”
Council also learned that an earlier decision of theirs on property owned by the same developer has been appealed. A decision to have the Town initiate heritage designation on three John Street properties, including the Randwood Estate, and one on Charlotte Street, has been appealed.
But councillors were told Monday that until the appeal is heard, no work can go forward on those properties – they must be treated as if they are already designated until the appeal is heard and a decision made.
The developer wants to put up a six-storey hotel on the Randwood property, and although designation doesn't stop that, it would put some controls on the site and limit what can be done.