City of Brantford Council unanimously voted in favour of a resolution to support SC Johnson during their Committee of the Whole – Planning and Administration meeting on Tuesday, September 5, 2023.
Mayor Kevin Davis prepared the resolution in order to encourage the city and council to express its support and appreciation for SC Johnson’s long-standing presence in Brantford.
SC Johnson is a family-owned business with roots in Brantford going back to 1920, and has been a part of the Brantford community for over a century.
Over the last 20 years, SC Johnson has contributed over $34 million to various community projects, including the Brant Community Health Care System, the SC Johnson Trail, and the SC Johnson Community Centre.
Coun. Mandy Samwell also added that the company’s contributions have gone further than its money. After the ice jam that occurred in 2018, SC Johnson took time to send staff to go door to door alongside the neighborhood association to provide residents with products to clean their homes.
SC Johnson is now faced with the decision to possibly leave the city and close its plant due to a potential land rezoning issue.
In 2021, the Rosart Bucci Group (based in Western Canada) purchased a plot of land on 58 Morrell St. which is located adjacent to SC Johnson’s manufacturing plant and currently zoned as industrial.
The property has never been owned by the City and after being up for sale for nine months, it was sold through a private transaction.
Since then, the group has put in an application to rezone the land as residential, and plans to build a156-unit development on the property.
SC Johnson has expressed concerns about the proposed housing development stating it has already experienced challenges with having residents living in proximity of their factories.
“There is a proposal to rezone the land adjacent to our factory for a residential development that fundamentally puts at risk our ability to practically and safely operate our manufacturing plant here,” said Fisk Johnson, Chairman and CEO of SC Johnson. “There are very important reasons why land is zoned industrial. Having residents living in proximity to factories creates concerns about the safety and wellbeing of the residents, their families, and children who will be forced to coexist with the daily activities of an industrial site – including issues related to noise, truck traffic and odor.”
In March of 2023, SC Johnson asked council to defer the application to give the two companies more time to speak about an alternative solution.
However, despite SC Johnson offering to buy the land for above market price and offering the developer other potential sites alongside the City, both solutions were rejected by the Rosart Bucci Group.
“We’ve tried to broker deals as a city to get the two sides together and there’s been many attempts made, some of them almost outlandish at the rate that we were bending over backwards, to try and get this developer to commit to a deal that would solve this dilemma and then we could move on,” said Coun. John Sless.
The matter came to Council again in June, where the rezoning application was once more deferred in good faith that the two companies could continue to work it out.
After the 120-day application period ended in early August, Rosart Bucci Group exercised its right to bypass the City’s planning committee and council by bringing the issue forward to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) who now have the final say in the matter.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Davis said that while council may no longer have a say in the outcome, the resolution (which will likely receive final approval later this month) will give them a chance to publicly express their opinions and say their peace about the situation.
“I thought it would be important for a message to be sent to the OLT about what our – the political element of our community, our city council – position is in respect to this rezoning application and ask them to consider our input,” said Davis.
Ward 2 councillor Gino Caputo who represents the ward SC Johnson is located in, said that losing SC Johnson would be devastating.
“SC Johnson is a world-class corporation. …This is a company that has a lifelong success and certainly have been instrumental in the growth development and what has happened in the city of Brantford. To lose SC Johnson would be devastating,” said Caputo. “…Although we are building homes quicker and faster, we cannot build enough homes when we take away organizations such as SC Johnson who is so vital to our city. Developments come and go, but manufacturing and businesses such as this are far and few between.”
Coun. Sless, the other ward 2 representative, noted that it doesn’t make sense to provide housing in an area if there are no job opportunities for the residents.
“I find it ironic that we would have houses built in an area and people there not have a job,” he said. “We’re exporting jobs and bringing in houses for people who don’t have jobs because the company has left. That just doesn’t seem to make sense to me.”
Throughout the meeting, several councillors, including Sless, also mentioned getting upper levels of government involved such as Will Bouma, MPP for Brantford-Brant and Larry Brock, MP for Brantford-Brant
“I don’t have a lot of faith in the tribunal,” said Sless. “I think it’s worthwhile to go and present our case in large numbers and with as much information as we can, but to me, we need a political intervention here and we need a political solution and that involves upper levels of government.”
Sless said as far as what the council can do, they will continue to do “everything we can that is legally and humanly possible to do as city councillors.”
While the Mayor’s resolution also included asking City staff to prepare a report with suggestions on how council can better support SC Johnson, Coun. Dan McCreary moved to make an amendment that would see Staff requesting data-based evidence from SC Johnson to include in their package to the OLT.
“In addition to what this clause speaks to, I move that Staff prepare a summary of SC Johnson employment statistics including the number of full-time or contract employees, their estimated annual payroll. A summary of their staff volunteer participation in community activities and lastly the taxes paid by SC Johnson to City of Brantford.”
Coun. Carpenter suggested including three other industries who have also raised similar concerns and that the data-based evidence should include them as well.
Sless noted that SC Johnson may not be comfortable divulging all of that information to council, and perhaps they may consider providing the data to the OLT on their own, but would be supportive of the amendment nonetheless.
The amendment was unanimously approved.
During the meeting, council members also took the opportunity to clear up any other misinformation that has been passed around the community, including Mayor Davis’ “Strong Mayor” powers.
“One of the misconceptions out there in the community is that our ‘Strong Mayor’ can just wave his hand and say ‘no, this development can’t go forward. If my understanding is correct, it’s the exact opposite,’” said Coun. Greg Martin. “If this [proposal] was turned down, he could say ‘no, as Strong Mayor, I say this proposal goes forward.’ But he has absolutely no power to deny it. So, to suggest that the Mayor is not doing something that he is able to, is totally false. The ’Strong Mayor’ powers does not give him the power to turn down housing, it only gives him power to ram it through, which is the opposite of what we’re trying to do.”
Mayor Davis later confirmed Martin’s statement saying that the “Strong Mayor” powers are quite limited.
“Even if the “Strong Mayor” makes a decision like that, there’s still a right of appeal to the OLT and so Strong Mayor’s don’t have the power to overrule or prohibit a matter going to the OLT,” said Davis.
Coun. Sless noted that unless they had accepted the rezoning application, whether they deferred the matter or had said no to the original request, the matter would likely have gone to the OLT either way.
He said that while Staff will be putting together a report to go to the OLT, it doesn’t prevent any member of council or any member of the public who has an idea for a solution to come forward.
“I think we should all be seeking options individually as well as collectively, to find a solution to keep Johnson’s in our city,” said Sless. “So I would encourage everybody to put on your thinking cap, talk to people, continually talk to our members of the upper level of government, and do what we have to do to get the correct outcomes for this.”