Woodlot fight continues: two Petrolia developments stalled by appeals

File Photo Enniskillen farmer Greg Racher has filed appeals after Petrolia changed the zoning on two woodlots to allow housing to be built in the area.

Heather Wright/The Independent

Two major housing developments are on hold after an Enniskillen farmer appealed Petrolia’s decision to allow homes to be built on land zoned significant woodlots.

Racher Farms has filed an appeal to the Local Planning Authority Tribunal for the zoning changes for the Spectra Development on Valentina and Edward Street – a 24 home development – and one in Countryview Estates to make way for 74 new homes. Developers Bob Leaper and Louis Bratanek would be removing about 17 acres of bush for the development which was in the plan of subdivision in 2007.

One of Racher’s lawyers, Anthony Petrucci, says Racher’s farm abuts both developments and people living within the bounds of Petrolia often creep out onto his farmland. Petrucci says Racher finds people on the lots near the field using his property for things like fire pits or dumping garbage and it can cause damage to his equipment.

It is a refrain heard by council during two public meetings.

Since February 2020, neighbours in the Countryview Estates have voiced concerns about the plans to create 74 housing lots in the trees. For about three hours over the course of two meetings, neighbours spoke against the woodlot being removed with some saying significant trees, like the butternut, are in the area and should be preserved.

Racher also spoke at those meetings, worrying more homes near his cattle operation would mean more problems, including encroachment onto his land and complaints about ordinary farm smells.

Petrucci says while Racher is alone in his appeal of the Spectra development, residents in Countryview Estates have also appealed the removal of the significant woodlot status there.

“There’s a lot of people who are upset,” says Petrucci.

The issue gets confusing, Petrucci says, because sometime between 2007 and now, the zoning on the area changed to significant woodlot and there doesn’t seem to be an explanation for that.

And he can’t figure out how council could have changed the zoning the area which was declared a significant woodlot.

“Why would the town put that designation on it, especially when they knew that there was already an outstanding draft plan approval there? So it doesn’t really make any sense that one, even planners we’ve talked to are kind of befuddled by the process there.

“You can’t you can’t rezone significant woodlots or at least there’s good support and the Official Plan that says you should not be rezoning them. The town arguing that not significant. We are basically arguing that it is significant.”

Leading up to council’s decision to allow the houses to move ahead officials have worked with the developers in Countryview to try to come up with a solution, a buffer of trees which is 60 feet wide, to try to reduce interaction between residents and the Racher’s farm.

But Petrucci says it is not enough.

“It’s still private properties and … residential lot owners could just do the exact same thing they’re doing with their lots now, but be at the edge of the woodlot not at the edge of their yard,” he says.

The lawyer says Racher “just wants mitigation measures to be put in place, significant buffering to be put in place, so he doesn’t have to deal with the issues of urban sprawl.”

For the Spectra development, Petrucci believes there is a solution – a fence separating the farm field from the town. That would cost an estimated $40,000 which he says should be borne by the developer.

Petrucci says Racher believes the Countryview development in the trees simply should not move ahead.

There are talks scheduled between the town and Racher by the planning authority tribunal for Sept. 14 on Spectra’s development.

Planner Rob Nesbitt is hopeful some of the issues on the Spectra development can be resolved since there is “quite a backlog of cases” at the tribunal.

“I think the hope is that some of these cases, maybe even the ones in Petrolia, can be resolved without a full blown hearing – through mediation.”
Council members expressed concern that the appeals are holding up developers.

“I certainly hope they (the tribunal) get their act together as quickly as possible because it does hold things up,” says Mayor Brad Loosley adding the developers and Racher may want to start trying to work out the issues on their own.

“I would hope the best solution for both parties, time-wise, would be to try to resolve it amongst themselves.”

Councillor Grant Purdy was also concerned about the appeal, asking if there was merit to the appeal against the town’s zoning changes for the Spectra project. “Is there some vetting process they will have in case there isn’t (merit) so that things could get sped up?”

Nesbitt says the board does try to narrow down the issues which are still outstanding so the actual hearings take as little time as possible.
But he says it could be sometime before an actual hearing on either of the appeals will take place.

“I think we’re looking at probably quite a few months after that (mediation planned on Sept. 14) before hearing about a date for the hearing,” says Nesbitt.

“But, I think the hope is always that we can mediate some of this before getting to the hearing stage.”