Intervenor: Vol 25. No 3 & 4 July-December 2000

CELA succeeds in having Escarpment permit refused

On April 27, 2000, the Niagara Escarpment Commission approved a development permit application to construct a building for public mini-storage units in Sydenham Township, Grey County. The land in question is located at the base of the Niagara Escarpment. Development on the Niagara Escarpment and land in its vicinity is governed by the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act (NEPDA). This legislation was enacted in recognition of the natural significance of the Escarpment with the goal of maintaining the area as a continuous natural environment. The Act is implemented through the Niagara Escarpment Plan. Included among the Plan's objectives is the maintenance and enhancement of the open landscape character of the Niagara Escarpment.

The subject lot is designated Escarpment Rural Area in the Niagara Escarpment Plan (this designation is less restrictive than the Escarpment Natural and Escarpment Protection Area designations). Under the Plan, certain restrictions are placed on the development within each land use designation in the Plan. Commercial and industrial development is permitted in the Escarpment Rural Area if it serves the agricultural and rural community and if it is small-scale. Development may also be permitted if it is an expansion of an existing use.

Concerned that the proposed development failed to satisfy these requirements, and that the granting of the permit by the Niagara Escarpment Commission would set a damaging precedent, the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment (CONE), represented by CELA, appealed the Niagara Escarpment Commission's decision. CONE is an umbrella group of twenty-four environmental and community organizations focussed on protecting the Niagara Escarpment.

At the hearing, CONE argued that further development of the subject property would be inconsistent with the goals of the NEPDA and the Niagara Escarpment Plan. In particular, higher density development, with its attendant traffic, parking and signs, would detract from the open landscape and natural environment character of the area. Such developments are intended to locate within urban areas of the Plan, not in the countryside.

In addition, CONE argued that the proposed land use failed to satisfy the requirements set out in the Niagara Escarpment Plan. This analysis was supported by the Niagara Escarpment Commission planning staff's report regarding the application. That report recommended the refusal of the permit, stating that in order to permit the proposed development, the area would need to be re-designated as a Minor Urban Centre through amendments to the Niagara Escarpment Plan and the local Official Plan.

CONE further suggested that given that the Niagara Escarpment Commission had considered the same issue regarding this property on several prior occasions, and had refused those applications, the continued use of the Commission's time and resources on the subject constituted an abuse of process.

Several local residents attended the hearing and three spoke against the proposed development. Citizens were concerned about the density of development in the area as well as negative effects on the Escarpment Rural Area as a buffer zone.

In his recommendation to the Minister of Natural Resources, Hearing Officer David Hutcheon confirmed that the proposed development does not meet the test for permitted uses under the Niagara Escarpment Plan, and fails to meet the objectives of the NEPDA. It should therefore be refused. On October 10, 2000, the Honourable John Snobelen, Minister of Natural Resources, adopted Mr. Hutcheon's recommendation and directed that the Niagara Escarpment Commission not issue a development permit.

Karyn Keenan is an articling student at CELA