By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
The controversial Reservoir Hill development has been given a vote of support, but before the full council gets its say, members of the committee that supported it are hoping for a last minute change of direction.
On Tuesday (April 24), members of the Planning Environment Committee held a public participation meeting around the decade-plus battle to build a 12-storey, 165-unit tower (at one time it was two towers totaling 322 units) across from Storybook Gardens in Byron. The committee was meeting to discuss final approval of the project’s site plan, which was the only item on the committee’s agenda.
Ward 3 Councillor Joe Swan summed up the opinion of several on the committee that approval was the only course of action to take based on the staff report that supports the compromises made by the developer, Ayerswood Development Corp.
“For 15 years I haven’t supported the development, from ’88 to 2003, my first term on council. I have always believed we don’t want development on that hill,” Swan said. “But you (in reference to the developer) have won the legal right to build. There is going to be a building there; that is unstoppable.”
By the end of the evening, the committee voted 4-1 in favour of the site plan recommendation with only Ward 13 Councillor Judy Bryant opposing the report. Supporting the site plan were councillors Bud Polhill, Dale Henderson, Sandy White and Swan.
That endorsement essentially advocates for council support of the project, located at 940 Springbank Rd., when the issue goes to the full council on May 1.
Following the vote, Polhill, the Ward 1 councillor and the committee chair, was asked to clarify what had just been voted on. His answer that the committee had given its support to the site plan brought gasps of surprise from the jam packed public gallery.
“We approved the site plan. We voted on the plan brought forward by our staff,” Polhill said. “ But we have added a clause to it that says between now and the next council meeting that staff and the developer discuss the possibility of a land swap and possibly the relocation of the project. That would give people (councillors) the opportunity to turn it down at that time.”
The possibility of referring the issue back to staff for the purpose of discussing a land swap that would move the project out of the Springbank area, commonly described as Reservoir Hill due to its connections to a battle during the War of 1812, garnered a good deal of attention.
Bryant was first to suggest the report be referred back to staff to look at not only the land swap, but also wildlife preservation assurances and others issues, failed to garner any support. A motion put forward by Henderson, the Ward 9 councillor, also called for referral back to staff, but with extensive conversations around changing the scope of the project. That motion was also defeated.
The vote to receive the report for final approval came with an amendment put forward by Swan, the Ward 3 councillor. That amendment also calls on city staff to approach the developer with possibility of doing a land swap, but requires the conversation to take place without referral and prior to final approval by council seven days from now.
“I still think the conversation should be had, I just don’t think referral is the way to do it. I am supporting the recommendation that is in front of us now,” Swan said. “But I am asking civic administration to meet with the applicant and give consideration around any opportunities for purchase or an exchange of lands.”
Ward 5 Councillor Joni Baechler, who is not a member of the planning committee and therefore cannot vote on its motions, spoke up to say approving the site plan first provides “absolutely no incentive for the developer to land swap. He’s got exactly what he wants.” Baechler said she was also concerned it gives the public the impression “there is something that can be done.”
Considering the controversy around the issue, the way the meeting began could be considered quite appropriate. The meeting had to be restarted 50 minutes after councillors were faced with an angry public gallery that couldn’t fit into the limited committee room space.
With a seating room capacity of 60, and over 30 people waiting in the adjacent hallway and city hall lobby, the committee members finally moved the meeting to the council chamber. Originally, Polhill was informed the council chamber was unavailable because of construction that was going on. Prior to the public participation portion of the meeting, the chamber was opened up to allow for the assembled crowed to have adequate seating.
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