Walkerton-area employers need housing that their workers can afford, demand for homes is growing in general and developers want to build it in Walkerton, says Brockton’s mayor.
Mayor Chris Peabody said that’s why council voted last week to seek a ministerial zoning order to expedite rezoning some business park lands for residential development in Walkerton.
The lands subject to the MZO application are zoned “employment,” meaning light industrial or office and “industrial” for heavier industrial uses, which are to become residential, while agricultural lands are to become employment land.
An MZO allows planning processes to be consolidated and expedited, not skipped. But the process has been criticized for a lack of consultation and for sacrificing environmental concerns for the benefit of developers.
Once approved by the minister of municipal affairs and housing, an MZO can’t be appealed.
Peabody and town staff said the municipality consulted widely, with the public, employers, the usual commenting agencies and with Saugeen Ojibway Nation, beyond what’s required, and has not received any opposition to the MZO.
SON is requiring archeological work on a property that’s not part of the residential rezonings, though still part of the MZO, Peabody said. There’s a hold with those stipulations on the agricultural lands that are to become employment lands.
“So this isn’t the type of controversial MZO,” Peabody said. “We’re not taking a raw piece of land that’s forest and clear-cutting it or a wetland and skirting those laws. That’s why it’s not controversial.”
In a news release, he called the MZO application “an obvious choice to advance multiple residential development projects in a timely manner.”
Peabody said the business park lands are ready for development, no sensitive lands are involved and the purpose of the MZO is to meet a need in the community for housing, a provincial priority, especially rentals, and it will help businesses as well.
“We have a number of small-scale manufacturers that can’t find housing” for their workers, Peabody said. For one, Larson and Shaw, which makes hinges, brackets and braces, can’t find housing for engineers they’re bringing in from overseas, he said.
At least 200 homes are already under construction or about to be built in Walkerton right now and there’s nowhere else to build more, community development co-ordinator Paulette Peirol said.
“The section we propose to rezone to residential is already adjacent to well-established neighborhoods and our soccer park, planned hospice, etc., so it makes sense from a planning perspective,” Peirol said by email after an interview.
“Through this MZO, we’re presenting a comprehensive growth plan to meet the need for housing and employment lands in this area. It’s streamlined, cost-effective, and fully supported by our council and community,” she said.
Going the traditional planning approvals route would add 1 1/2 to two years delay and involve a likely $80,000 study to demonstrate why converting employment land to residential is justified, Peabody said.
Peabody said three developers are ready to build residential units on business park lands, which are east of both the water tower and the main town site of Walkerton.
The projects include about 120 rental apartments in three buildings, 120 townhouse and duplex units, a 200-unit retirement home, 16 single-family homes and a hospice on business park land. The rezoning would allow for potentially about 508 housing units.
If the MZO is approved before a provincial election is called, residential construction could start next spring, Peabody said. The lands to be converted from “employment” or “residential” are to receive municipal water, sewers and roads.
That work is hoped to be completed by the fall, Peirol said. Peabody noted the vital extension of Eastridge Road into what is to become a new residential area may depend on tender prices not coming in above budget, which has been happening.
Brockton spent about $1 million to buy 25 hectares of farmland adjacent to the north end of the business park to rezone it for future employment lands, replacing lands that are to become residential, Peabody said.
That rezoning of agricultural to employment lands and expansion of the settlement boundaries would be considered as part of an official plan review process. It should satisfy concerns he said are raised by Bruce County that Walkerton doesn’t have enough employment/industrial land, Peabody said.