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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

County Official Plan Amendment requested to match MNRF designation of LaSalle property

by Sylene Argent, Local Journalism Initiative

Essex County Council received a report regarding an application for Official Plan amendments.

  The first sought to remove the “Provincially Significant Wetland” layer for the property located at 2362 Front Road in LaSalle.

  The application, from Beattie Sunset Marina, also sought to amend the “Natural Environment” designation to “Settlement Area.”

  The amendment has been requested in order to support a future plan of condominium application.

  At this time, there is no application for a future development on the land, and there is no site plan, information to County Council noted.

  The matter was discussed during a special meeting last Wednesday evening.

  Any comments received during the meeting will be summarized in a future report to County Council in addition to the associated By-Law.

  Rebecca Belanger, Manager of Planning Services for the County of Essex, noted the subject land is around three-acres, which has a current land-use, including boat storage for the Marina.

  Belanger noted the consulting biologist confirmed there are no other significant natural heritage features within this area that warrant the continued natural environment designation.

  Back in 2018, Belanger noted, the property owner commissioned a Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) review of the property to determine if the property could be reconsidered from wetland status.

  Based on the result of the evaluation, a formal request was submitted to the Ministry of Natural Resources to remove the PSW status from the property and shift the boundary. The MNRF approved the revision of the mapping.

  Now, the County and Town of LaSalle Official Plans contain outdated PSW mapping.

  ERCA had no objection to the OPA request.

  Concerns from a neighbour were shared with County Council, which included flooding, environmental impact, traffic, and water runoff.

  The developers, Belanger relayed, noted they are willing to work with neighbours regarding concerns, and ensure they are addressed as part of future planning processes required to achieve a condominium development.

  These processes will include a future OPA, a draft plan of condominium, a zoning by-law amendment, and site plan control.  

  Prior to advancing the development applications, the County will require a traffic impact study, a stormwater management report, and an environmental impact assessment, which will be undertaken under the guidelines of provincial manuals.

  On behalf of Beattie Sunset Marina, Jackie Lassaline, of Lassaline Planning Consultants, and Barry Myler, of Myler Consulting Services, addressed County Council.

  Lassaline noted the subject lands are vacant and are adjacent to 2362 Front Road.   

  The reviews, which took nearly seven-years, showed no PSW, were found on the site, she noted. The idea was to correct the mapping, she added.

  Myler added there were some lingering doubts from those who were reviewing the matter that maybe at some point wetland occurred where the MNR had previously mapped it and that wetland was lost.

  He added that the subject property was farm field back in 1947, and was dry at that point. By 1988, the marina infrastructure had been added. The MNR used an aerial photo taken in 2006 and removed some previously mapped areas of wetlands. It also interpreted an area of the site as wetland, and added it to the PSW.

  The entire extension mapped in 2008 was up on fill that was elevated a meter or more above the Detroit River.

  Later, the consultant noted there was no wetland there and reported it to the MNR, and the MNR revised the designation.

  In Lassaline’s opinion, the OPA is consistent with the PPS.

  John DeMarco, a resident of Kingsville, spoke on the matter. He grew up near the subject land, and still has strong ties to LaSalle.

  He said this is a great opportunity in a number of ways. He said he supports higher-density housing, near – but not too close – to the Detroit River waterfront, if it is used as an opportunity to improve and restore – not further degrade – the natural environment.

  The Detroit River waterfront, DeMarco added, represents a key opportunity for LaSalle to create desirable and denser housing options, with a far smaller footprint compared to ongoing suburban sprawl.

  Though the applicant’s request for the OPA appears to be justified, amending the OP to remove the PSW designation in the most degraded part of the site does not mean writing off the environmental value of the site and potential for restoration.

  He suggested restoring the best part of the site to natural habitat to halt degradation. This, he said, can be easily done in a way he believes would be complementary to a future housing development.

  He said there was a lack of mention of two areas of restoration opportunities.

  “This project represents a wonderful opportunity for the developer, the Town, and the County to all be part of the solution, as regards to protecting and restoring the natural environment and thereby making this an exemplary housing project.”

  For example, DeMarco said the artificially created inlet on the site has the potential to be remodelled and restored to create both aquatic and terrestrial habitat that would have a positive impact on the Detroit River ecosystem, such as a private nature reserve.

  He further suggested that the southern part of the lot should still be recognized as a restoration opportunity. The middle, the water surface, he suggested be designated as a locally significant wetland.

  Belanger said she has spoken with the owner, developer, and its reps who are willing to work with neighbours and DeMarco. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) would be the next step in the process, of which part of it would look at restoration opportunities that would have the greatest ecological benefit.

  One of the main opportunities is to study the canal’s aquatic environment and how the EIA can have the greatest benefit to the aquatic environment.

  Coming out of the Environmental Impact Assessment, there would be a re-designation and rezoning of some of the lands that are proposed as buffers and restoration areas. Typically, that is a condition of the site-plan approval process.

  More study needs to be done through the EIA.

   Amherstburg Mayor Michael Prue said what DeMarco is saying makes sense and it is nice to hear the proponents are in agreement to work with neighbours and interested parties.

  Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy said she found this file kind of shocking in an era when natural designations are needed to be kept. At the very least, she believes a restoration plan and EIA should be done before the OPA is changed.

  Belanger said what is wanted to be done is update the mapping, so it is in accordance with what the MNRF approved in 2018. When there is a development proposal, an EIA would have to be done, and opportunities for restoration that would have the greatest ecological benefit will be explored.

  LaSalle Mayor Crystal Meloche said this opportunity will provide needed housing and restore some natural areas.

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