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Flip, flop and ratify: Council reverses decision that blocked St. Davids project
This land at the corner of Tanbark and Warner roads in St. Davids is subject to a planning application that will bring 86 more homes to the small community. EVAN LOREE
Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa says council's reversal of its original decision on the Tawny Ridge Estates proposal was done to correct a procedural error. EVAN LOREE

Town councillors admit they messed up.

In the process of trying to approve part of a controversial development application in St. Davids, they say they inadvertently made an error and rejected something that actually had already been approved.

That led them to get legal advice and then reverse a decision they made just two weeks ago.

It’s all very complicated, but the result is the entire Tawny Ridge development – which residents campaigned vehemently against – now has the green light.

Two weeks ago, only 12 homes in the first phase were approved and 74 units were rejected – but councillors say they made a procedural error and now they have corrected it.

Council emerged from a closed session on Tuesday, Feb. 6 and reversed a decision to deny planning applications for the controversial subdivision project put forward by developer St. Davids Riverview Estates Inc.

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa said there was nothing nefarious about the reversal and the town was just ensuring all decisions on the project were consistent with each other.

As things stood before the meeting on Feb. 6, the application had two stamps to approve it and one stamp to deny it.

Though council had the option to refuse the application at that point, Zalepa said councillors decided to approve it. 

After emerging from the private session, they gave a third stamp of approval, effectively green-lighting the whole project – all 86 units.

The decision was made with little public discussion and left residents questioning what happened.

The developer submitted its project application in two parts consisting of 32 single-family homes, 24 townhouses and 30 units in the form of stacked townhouses.

The proposal needed two zoning changes and two official plan amendments to move forward.

At the end of a meeting on Jan. 30, council approved bylaw changes for the first phase of the project, 12 single-family homes, and rejected those for the second phase.

This, however, was out of step with previous decisions.

By the time the bylaws were on the floor, council had already supported the application – twice, according to Zalepa.

A majority of council endorsed staff recommendations to approve the entire project at a committee of the whole meeting Jan. 16.

“Council members could have spoken against it then,” Zalepa said.

The recommendation to approve, with council’s first stamp of approval, was brought to council Jan. 30, attached to the agenda with the minutes of previous meetings.

Council gave the recommendations a second stamp of approval when it voted to approve the minutes.

The bylaw changes were put on the floor later that same meeting to receive the third stamp from council.

Town spokesperson Marah Minor said when council signed off on the minutes attached to the council agenda, it “indicated a direction to approve the bylaws.”

Zalepa noted, “When the council got to the bylaws, they, for some reason, voted for accepting the bylaw for phase one approval. But they didn’t approve the bylaw for phase two.” 

“If council agrees to do something, it must do it,” he told The Lake Report.

And Coun. Erwin Wiens said it all puts the town in a bit of a legal bind.

“You wouldn’t vote against the bylaw after you’ve approved the report, because they’re contradictory,” he said.

Wiens and Zalepa were both on vacation on Jan. 30 and attended the meeting virtually.

Wiens was present to vote on the minutes, but Zalepa was not.

Zalepa said he was having connection problems that night.

Both were absent for the vote on the bylaws.

Wiens said he was surprised to learn the next day that the bylaws were not approved, because, in his words, they are a “housekeeping” item.

Coun. Tim Balasiuk initially voted not to approve bylaws for the second phase of the project, but reversed his decision after the closed meeting.

He said council was told passing the bylaws was just “protocol” and they had already passed the point of approving the project.

Had he known that, Balasiuk said he would have voted to pass the bylaws at the previous meeting.

“The way that it happened – the process happened – I think there was just some confusion,” he said.

He also said the layout of the subdivision, with townhouses instead of an apartment, was “a little bit more appropriate.”

In its closed session meeting, council decided to approve the bylaw amendments the developer requested, Zalepa said.

One additional condition of the approval was that the owner complete a stormwater management plan to the satisfaction of the town, said town clerk Grant Bivol, who read from a motion to approve the project.

The town decided to use a zoning tool called a “Holding symbol” to prevent development on the site until the town’s conditions are met. 

The holding provision would not be removed until the town was satisfied with the developer’s stormwater management plan for the site, Bivol read from the motion.

Coun. Sandra O’Connor, who has consistently voted against the project due to concerns with the developer’s plans for flooding infrastructure, told The Lake Report the holding provision addressed her remaining concerns and was the reason she voted to approve the bylaws after the closed meeting.

Residents, meanwhile, think there’s something rotten in Denmark.

Gienek Ksiazkiewicz said the proceedings were a case of either “gross incompetence” or a “deliberate strategy.”

He maintains that residents have not been properly consulted on the project’s proposed official plan changes throughout the approval process.

In an email to residents obtained by The Lake Report, Zalepa attempted to explain the proceedings to a resident, who accused Zalepa and Wiens of sitting out the bylaw vote to avoid the optics of voting in favour of an unpopular development.

Zalepa stated council voted on the planning report for the application on Jan. 9, but it actually was on Jan. 16.

Resident Bill Krahn remains unconvinced that the stormwater management infrastructure along Tanbark Road will be able to accommodate more homes.

In an interview, he told The Lake Report the road is “already over capacity.”

The town trusted the consultants and engineers over his and others’ eyewitness and photographic accounts of the road’s conditions during past storms, Krahn said.

evanloree@niagaranow.com

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