Town fields controversial zoning applications

Business owners and residents square off over planning debate

 

Should they be residential? Should they be commercial?

That is the question town council will have to decide as it considers requests for controversial amendments to its zoning bylaw and Official Community Plan for four properties on Burton Avenue.

Twenty-six business and home owners crowded into the boardroom at the Princeton library Monday night to share their opinions.

“There’s a hard position on one side and a hard position on the other side,” said Rick Zerr, town CAO, who chaired the discussion. There were no members of council present at the meeting. Zerr said they chose not to attend in order to allow municipal staff to collect information and prepare a report. He characterized the meeting as “a first step…it is not the formal rezoning process.”

Business owners talked about the restrictions and financial hardships caused by the town’s 2013 zoning bylaw, which implemented the OCP adopted in 2008 and changed industrial lands to residential.

“The people who have commercial properties are paying a tremendous financial burden for the desire of the planners,” said Hoss Budde, who owns commercial property in the area but is not one of the applicants.

Budde said some investors lost up 85 per cent of the value of their properties when the zoning bylaw was passed two years ago.

“Many of us have invested a lot of money in our properties too,” said Ken Carlson, who lives on Burton Avenue. “We appreciated the certainty of the OCP. We cannot have someone flipping this. That’s not fair.

“The OCP was developed over a long process with a large percentage of people participating.”

Monday’s meeting was the first public airing of an issue that has been brewing on the letters to the editor page for months.

Twenty-two business properties were rezoned from industrial to residential in November 2013, following the dictates of the five-year-old OCP. The current applicants for rezoning purchased or modified their business properties between the adoption of the OCP and the passing of the zoning bylaw and were unaware of the pending changes.

“If we can’t continue to do our business and have assurance for whatever the course of business will be, why would I invest one more cent in being here?” asked Susan Robinson, co-owner of Ace Hardware and Fletcher Trucking, which has made two of the applications. Robinson pointed out her company supports 50 local charities, is a significant employer “and we try to be good citizens, not just in the town but in our neighborhood…it has to work both ways.”

The zoning bylaw dictates that if owners try to use their land for a different business purpose, or attempt significant renovations, the properties become residential. The applications for amendments ask for the OCP to be changed to designate the properties Highway Commercial, and for the zoning bylaw to allow for Commercial Service use. Zerr told the crowd the applications represent the least intrusive option for change in the mixed business, residential area.

The CAO fielded criticisms from business owners who felt the original OCP and zoning processes were mishandled or poorly communicating, and defended the town’s actions.

“It was handled according to the legislation.”

He said the purpose of this meeting was to bring the opposing factions together. “You

work with people and you try to develop solutions.”

The meeting was frequently sidetracked by complaints from Burton Avenue residents about dust and noise from trucks using a Burton Avenue municipally controlled parking lot.

While noting those issues were unrelated to the zoning applications, Zerr assured those residents that the town was “taking control of the issue…It’s not going to be a problem anymore.”

The solution, he said, lies in part with a pending move by Fletcher Trucking to the town’s industrial park and stricter enforcement of how the lot is used in future. The town is also considering options such as treating the parking lot surface to control dust, he said.

Zerr said council will receive a report on the zoning applications that should be discussed at a meeting in October. Before any changes to the OCP or bylaw can be made the town must hold an official public meeting, he said.