Brantford Mayor Kevin Davis noted that he has asked the province to appoint a facilitator to help settle a land rezoning dispute between SC Johnson and the Rosart Bucci Group (a residential developer based in Western Canada) during a City Council meeting on Tuesday, September 26, 2023.
In 2021, the Rosart Bucci Group 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 a 156-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 including complaints surrounding noise, odor, and traffic.
SC Johnson is now faced with the decision to possibly leave the city and close its plant if the OLT decides to rule in favour of the developer.
“Allowing residential development to take place in such close proximity to our manufacturing operations raises significant concerns about the safety and well-being of future residents, their families and children who will be forced to coexist with daily operations of a nearby industrial site,” said Christopher Pearce, Government Relations Director of SC Johnson. “It will most certainly be very limiting to what we could do to evolve or even maintain our current production footprint here.”
While council was asked to defer the application to allow both parties to discuss other solutions, when the 120-day period ended, the Rosart Bucci Group decided to go around the planning committee and city council by taking the matter to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT).
Davis said that it could take around ten months for the hearing to even get started, pushing it into 2024 and that in the meantime, he has asked Paul Calandra, the new Municipal Affairs Minister, for a facilitator to help the two parties to reach a mutual solution.
“A facilitator is kind of like a mediator, but they operate outside of the traditional planning process to try and create really innovative solutions that really can’t be arrived at through the traditional mediation of the OLT mediation process,” said Davis. “I’m very hopeful the Province will do that. I think it offers the possibility of there being a resolution long before it comes to a hearing where both the parties must go through the time and expense of retaining counsel and experts.”
He asked Pearce if that was something that SC Johnson would be willing to take part in if the Province agrees and Pearce said that this is something they would certainly be willing to consider.
The Mayor also spoke about the challenges of municipal planning when the Province has an “iron grip on the planning process.”
“I think the community realizes the importance of the OLT and how they really are the final arbiter of planning matters. It’s almost rendering councils irrelevant when it comes to the planning process,” he said. “But I think what’s not fully understood is that the Planning Act allows for provincial planning policies. The advice and reports that planning staff give to us have to follow the provincial planning policies, as does the OLT in its decision making.
He said that the provincial planning policies that have come out in the last couple of years, make it very clear that it’s housing first.
“It’s kind of almost nothing but housing, and there’s a good reason for that,” he said. “But I think we’re seeing firsthand where this housing first policy is butting up against a conflict with an industrial user and an industrial citizen of our community that’s much loved.”
Councillor Brian VanTilborg noted that while Brantford has been recognized as a team player by doing its part for building things faster and hitting its housing targets, the City also wants to build homes better.
“But we don’t build homes better by disrupting a pillar of our community, we can’t build better that way. This is why we feel a little bit handcuffed here, because a lot of the decision makings on how the homes get built and built faster, fall into the hands of the provincial guidelines,” he continued. “We really need the province to allow us the flexibility or to engage in flexibility when we critically need it at a juncture like this where we see some of the unforeseen implications of building homes faster. I know that we can build the homes we need to meet the targets and we can keep SC Johnson.”
As the discussion wrapped up, Councillor Dan McCreary moved that he would like to propose a future committee meeting where the matter is the sole item on the agenda. He said this would allow for the public to come and officially speak to the matter so that the council, the provincial government and the OLT can hear from them.
“This Council has spoken clearly and unanimously about our desire to retain SC Johnson, but what we haven’t heard from in a formalized fashion is the overwhelming desire from individuals in this community, companies in this community, business partners in this community, and neighbours in this community,” said McCreary. “I think this allows us to provide an overwhelming community viewpoint of the unanimity and solidarity that we have to preserve this company, to preserve its employment here and to preserve the contributions they make in terms of payroll and contributions to charitable donations here.”
A meeting date, time and place will soon be announced to the public.