A scrappy showing by Central Elgin’s new Ward 1 Councillor Michelle Graham failed to turn the tide in favor of her efforts to derail contentious plans to build 27 two-storey townhouses in Port Stanley.

“I do believe that there are a lot of different parts of the Official Plan and the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) that this development does not comply with,” Graham said at Council’s first meeting of the new term of office on December 12, 2022. “I don’t want to be making a decision based on fear (of an Ontario Land Tribunal challenge).” The OLT is a Provincial tribunal – descendant of the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) and the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) – that adjudicates municipal land use disputes

Ward 1 Councillor Michelle Graham

“I would like to ask that we defer this decision and this vote so that we have a chance to have people come in – in person, rather than at a Zoom (online) meeting – and talk about this and give their opinion on it,” added Graham. “I think … there’s a lot more information that we need to look at to make … a very informed decision on this development.”

Graham’s position was ultimately rejected in 5-1 vote by Council, supporting redevelopment of the woodlands site, on the edge of a ravine, at the west end of Hill Street. Graham was the lone opponent.

More than two dozen residents had voiced objections to the development during an online public meeting conducted by the previous members of Council on November 14, 2022. There was a clean sweep of CE Council members in the October 25, 2022 municipal election, ousting the incumbent mayor, deputy mayor, and five councilors. The ‘new Council’ was officially sworn into office on December 5, 2022.

Opponents to the application by Morgan, John and Ada Pavia, at 279 Hill Street, presented a long list of concerns about the proposal, including traffic management issues, environmental impacts, drainage, sight lines, aesthetics and Provincial guidelines for housing.

Rob Flack, the Progressive Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament for Elgin – Middlesex – London, still has not responded to inquiries about Premier Doug Ford’s plans to speed up development and intensification across Ontario to build 1.5 million homes in the next 10 years.

On Monday, Paul Shipway, Central Elgin’s Chief Administrative Officer and Clerk, cautioned Council about supporting deferral of the development because it not only satisfies PPS requirements, but also the policies of Kettle Creek Conservation Authority. Additionally, the development complies with the CE and Elgin County official plans. “At this point in time, I think you would be in a position where an applicant would be able to appeal a non-decision,” said Shipway.

Deputy Mayor Todd Noble said a deferral would “just delay the inevitable.”

The Pavia’s existing single-family dwelling is on a rectangular two-acre parcel of land on the north side of Hill Street, just west of Beamish Street. The site is already zoned for residential purposes in the CE Official Plan, however, changes were required to facilitate intensification of development. The west boundary of the site runs along property that is designated as Natural Heritage land. The nearby ravine is zoned Natural Hazard land.

“I did go to see the property with some of the residents nearby and it is very beautiful, and I understand why they’re frustrated,” said Ward Two Councillor Morgaine Halpin, “but I am inclined to think that Deputy Mayor Noble is probably correct.

“We would be costing the municipality money in litigation by refusing to put something through that ultimately does seem to fit all the criteria,” said Halpin.

Ward Five Councillor Dave Baughman added: “Based on the professionals that we’ve employed to make these decisions … I don’t feel we’re in a position to negate their study and their professionalism. The facts are right in front of us.”

In a statement to the neighborhood’s online community of opponents to the development, Rich Gruener said, “Sorry friends and neighbors.” Gruener’s Beamish Street home backs onto the development site. “We had good, solid reasonings and rational arguments against this development, but unfortunately our voices were not heard. I am disappointed in the process and ultimately the outcome.”