February 26, 2014

Angelstone seeks zoning change

As published in The Erin Advocate

Sometimes, if you want to get things done, you are better off begging forgiveness later than asking permission in advance.

That may turn out to be the case for Angelstone Farms, on Wellington Road 50 in Erin, as they ask the Town for a zoning change that would permit them to do what they are already doing.

The operation of a world-class show jumping venue on prime agricultural land, including commercial activity and loud music at various events, drew legitimate complaints from area residents at a public meeting last week. Council made no decision on the application.

After a promotional presentation by Angelstone Vice President Ryan Clermont, Erin residents spoke both for and against activities at the equestrian centre.

Nancy Gilbert, the neighbour most affected, said she has lost the enjoyment of her property on “event” weekends due to heavy traffic, and music that vibrates her house. 

“I shouldn’t have to put up with it,” said Gilbert, who has hired Planning Consultant James Webb to review the situation. In a letter, Webb said “agriculture-related uses” are intended in the Official Plan to be “small-scale and directly related  to the farm operation”. He questioned how the proposed use could be justified as “supportive to the primary use of the property as a horse farm”.

Neighbours don’t mind Angelstone’s main business, which is training riders and horses, or even the competitions. It’s the evening nightclub atmosphere that they feel is out of place in a quiet farm area. “I don’t want to live down the road from a circus,” said Craig Porterfield.

Clermont said entertainment is essential to their business model, enabling them to create a full day of fun that attracts out-of town visitors and high-paying sponsors.

He admitted Angelstone had made mistakes in conducting events and dealing with neighbours. He expressed disappointment that Gilbert had not acknowledged measures being taken to improve the situation, but renewed his offer to “work together”.

Angelstone will hold only five event weekends this year (there were 10 last year) with music to 11 pm on Thursdays and midnight on Saturdays. They will stop playing radio stations on their sound system, convert to a series of small speakers in individual tents and buildings, instead of big ones on a pole and use a mobile app to notify competitors about their schedule.

They have promised to erect a fence to deter trespassing on private property, hire police to manage Saturday traffic, remove manure promptly and ensure that special lighting will not affect other properties. Clermont said Angelstone will not get any larger.

Their revised zoning application now includes 27 days of competition, 8-10 equestrian vendors, the sale of food and LLBO events with 200-400 competitors, 350-700 horses, 1,000-3,000 spectators and peak parking of 1,200 vehicles. It has been endorsed by County Planning, as long as events are only occasional, with no permanent non-farm buildings.

Councillor Barb Tocher said she would like to see an independent traffic study and an emergency evacuation plan. Residents had complained there is only one road access point, but there is a second driveway kept clear for emergency use.

The most basic economic development capacity could have engaged Angelstone when they approached the Town at their outset in 2010, helping with zoning and neighbour issues. Instead they were virtually ignored.

On one hand you have Mayor Lou Maieron attending Angelstone events and talking up a business that has invested $5 million here over four years. On the other you have Planner Sally Stull saying last week that until the neighbours’ complaints were received in late 2013, “planning staff are unaware of any activities at the property.”

Angelstone has built itself into what it says is Canada’s second most significant show jumping venue, providing free admission and projecting to spend $1.55 million on local employment, service providers, equipment, supplies and facility improvements this year.

Is Town Council going to suppress a business that generates an estimated $3 million in spending by competitors and spectators within a 30 km radius, on things like lodging, food, retail shopping and fuel? Erin may never have a hotel sector, but activity like this could foster growth in Bed & Breakfast and other small facilities.

Mary Venneman, who co-chaired the Equine Task Force that recently got council to recognize the equine sector as a major economic driver, said Erin has a crisis of identity: “We don’t know what we want to be when we grow up.”

She said if the Town can set a vision and strategic plan of how it wants to develop, it will guide decisions on issues like sewers and business growth.

Anthea Larke, who is building a smaller equestrian facility, urged council to “look at the big picture”, and asked, “What about the people who will lose if Erin becomes a no-go zone for business.” She said while efforts must be made to appease local concerns, “the benefits must outweigh the inconvenience to neighbours.”

Chapman resigns from Centre 2000 Board

As published in The Erin Advocate

County Councillor Ken Chapman has resigned from the Centre 2000 Management Board, where he was serving as the chairperson.

Contacted by The Advocate, Councillor Chapman declined to offer any explanation for the decision or to discuss events leading up to it.

The draft minutes of the January meeting of County Council show that councillors went into a closed session. Upon returning to the public session, Warden Chris White announced that Councillor Chapman had tendered his resignation from the Board.

With Town Councillor Barb Tocher running for the county seat in this October’s election, Councillor Chapman said he has not made a decision on whether he will seek re-election.

The Centre 2000 board administers a shared use agreement for certain areas of the facility, with representatives of the School Board and the Town, plus one representative from the county since it shares the library with the school.

Gas bar approved for Erin village

As published in The Erin Advocate

A Petrogold Gas Bar at the north end of Erin village, with a convenience store and restaurant, has been given the green light by Town Council.

Existing buildings at the site of Brylyn’s Garden Market and Saucy Soup Restaurant at 280 Main Street will be retained for the project, which is expected to cost about $2 million.

Council gave conditional approval of the site plan at their February 18 meeting, rescinding a 1992 approval for a gas station that was never built and a more recent greenhouse plan.
A gas pump canopy cover is part of the project, along with curbed islands to control traffic flow, 25 parking spaces and a new septic system.

Developers Alexandr and Eugene Shcolyar said they plan to proceed with construction, with completion this year. No major changes are planned for the restaurant building.

A security deposit of $131,600 is required by the Town, to ensure all paving, landscaping, curbing, storm sewers and other site work is completed.

They will also have to make a contribution of $600 per metre of frontage, amounting to almost $75,000, for future construction of sidewalks. The Town already has $90,000 in the Sidewalk Reserve from the Shane Baghai development (Tim Horton’s, etc.) on the other side of the street.

“It will be some time before sidewalks are constructed,” said Planner Sally Stull, noting that there are drainage issues to be resolved in the area, and that the county road could be torn up at some point for sewers.

Mayor Lou Maieron reminded council that there is heavy pedestrian traffic in the area, and got support to have staff write a report explaining issues related to sidewalks.

Building activity down 22% last year

As published in The Erin Advocate

The value of new construction declined by 22% last year in the Town of Erin, according to a report to Council from the Chief Building Official, with only 3% of permits for industrial or commercial projects.

“Overall, 2013 building permits were down compared to 2012,” said Andrew Hartholt. Total construction value was about $22 million, down from $28.3 million in 2012.

 A total of 1,174 inspections were done, with 204 permits processed, compared to 267 in 2012. There were 24 permits for new houses (43 were issued in 2012), and 51 permits were for work on septic systems.

Residential construction represented 61% of permits in 2013, septic systems 28%, farm projects 5%, government buildings 3% and industrial/commercial 3%.

Annual spending on housing starts had been gradually increasing since 2009, to a high point of $22 million in 2012, before declining to $13.5 million in 2013.

The spending on farm projects last year was $3.4 million, while industrial/commercial was $1.25 million and institutional/government was $4 million.

Citizens appointed to Fill Committee

As published in The Erin Advocate

Representatives from different sides of the debate over placement of fill on Erin lands have been appointed to a committee to help the Town draft a new bylaw.

Revisions to the Site Alteration By-Law will attempt to deal with issues including the conditions on fill permits, the amount that can be placed without a permit, reducing the risk of contaminated fill, compensation for damage to roads by fill haulers, and enforcement to control illegal dumping.

Serving on the committee will be Councillor Deb Callaghan, who has experience in municipal bylaw enforcement, Mayor Lou Maieron (with Councillor John Brennan as alternate), Anthea Larke of Meadowlarke Stables, who has been placing fill on her land as part of a business development, and two members of the Citizens Against Fill Dumping group, Anna Spiteri (with Joe Spiteri as alternate) and Dave Dautovich.

The issues are also being reviewed at the provincial and county levels, and by conservation authorities, which regulate about half of Erin’s territory. Council recently declined to declare a temporary moratorium on placement of fill in the Town, saying it would be ineffective.

Instead, the intent is to create a stricter bylaw, with landowners bearing the cost of increased enforcement and testing.

The committee is to report to council by May 20. They will be assisted by the CAO, Planner, Road Superintendent and By-Law Officer.

Water Department won’t have to pay rent

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron has failed to get council support for his plan to have the Erin Water Department pay rent for use of the Town building on Shamrock Road.

The issue has been the subject of several council discussions and staff reports in the last year. Recently, council decided against simply donating the building to the Water Department, which is supported mainly by urban users of the water system and has a separate financial accounting system.

Maieron came back with a request for a staff report on what a reasonable rent would be for the building, taking all offsetting factors into account. Councillor John Brennan seconded the motion, but it was defeated in a recorded vote by Councillors Barb Tocher, Deb Callaghan and Josie Wintersinger.

The mayor said that it is common in other towns for a water department to pay rent or own their own facilities.

“We can’t expect people who are on septic tanks to subsidize people who are on Town water,” he said.

Councillor Tocher pointed out that the Town already owns the department, with council controlling all its finances, and that council was already considering giving use of part of the building to an outside party for free.

Water Superintendent Frank Smedley said that having a good water system in the villages is a benefit to the whole town.

“We didn’t pay rent before we amalgamated, so I don’t see why we should pay rent after,” he said.

Town wants school to pay for sewer backup

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town of Erin will seek compensation from the school board for a sewage backup that flooded Station Road Nursery School (SRNS) on February 4.

Students were evacuated when foul water came up through the floor drains of the nursery school, which rents space from the Town at Centre 2000. Sewage the from the complex drains through the school to a treatment plant operated by the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB), with financial support from the Town of Erin.

Facility Manager Graham Smith told council that UGDSB plumbers worked until 1:30 am, and while they found diapers and other items in the drains, filling several garbage bags, they could not restore the flow. The next day the sewage plant and water system were shut down and portable toilets were brought in for the high school.

Eventually, an eight-inch rubber plug was found in the school section of the drains, which  Smith said may have been left in there at some time when there was service to the system or work on sewage metres.

The nursery school lost revenues, toys, carpets, food and some cabinets. It was shut down by the Health Board until the problem was resolved and the area sanitized, including removal of base moulding and application of an anti-microbial agent. 

February 19, 2014

SSMP completion could take at least until August

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) process has been delayed once again, pushing the possible completion date into August, less than two months before the municipal election.

Consultants for the Town of Erin have had extensive discussions with Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) regarding measurements of water flow in the Credit River. 

There were questions about CVC’s methods, after early indications that the capacity of the river to handle sewage plant effluent was lower than expected, which could limit housing development.

Matt Pearson of BM Ross, in a memo to the Town, said the discussions were “to achieve a comfort level with the calculations and modeling undertaken and to ensure that the capacity of the stream for receiving effluent was not under-calculated.”

That process is complete, but no new information has been made public. BM Ross will now use updated data to calculate various “assimilative capacity scenarios” that will then be discussed during February with CVC and the Ministry of the Environment. The goal is to determine a maximum number of new residents that the urban areas of Erin village and Hillsburgh could accept in the next 20-30 years.

The SSMP had been scheduled to wrap up in late spring. Here is the new plan for August completion, with what Pearson calls “critical decision points for Council that will dictate whether this is achieved”. All meetings, except those of the Core Management Team, are open to the public.

March 5 – Core Management Team to meet.March 20 – Council workshop to review growth options.April 1 – Council meeting, needing direction towards specific alternatives.April 9 – Liaison Committee to meet.May 14 or 15 – Council workshop to review costs.May 20 – Council to give direction on key elements of SSMP report.June 11 – Core Management Team and Liaison Committee meetings.July 16 – Council reviews draft SSMP report.July 23 – Draft SSMP report presented at a public meeting.August 5 – Council accepts Final SSMP Report.

From election nomination day on September 12, until the election on October 27, Council may be in a legal “lame duck” status, depending on how many current members are running for re-election to Town Council. If this is the case, Council will not be allowed to make major financial decisions during this period unless the spending is already in the budget or decisions have been delegated to staff. 

Depending on how many existing members are re-elected, the “lame duck” status may apply for several weeks after the election until any new members are sworn in.

Water Brothers make a splash at Erin schools

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Water Brothers don’t have time for the doom and gloom that often surrounds discussion of climate change and water problems. They’re too busy having fun, trying to do something positive about the situation.

Director / videographer Tyler Mifflin, 28, has teamed up with his little brother, writer / researcher Alex Mifflin, 26 to create a TV Ontario eco-adventure series, travelling the world to tackle water issues.

“There are some big, daunting challenges out there, and it can get a little overwhelming, but were are trying to have fun and find solutions,” said Tyler. “Water is the defining issue of our lifetimes – it is the foundation of life on earth.”

“If we demand the changes we need, we will see the changes we need for a healthier planet,” said Alex. “Water is what connects us all, so we have to think about water globally.”

As part of an effort to reach out to young people and build up their fan base, they were in at Erin Public and Brisbane schools last week, with other students brought in from St. John Brebeuf and Ross R. Mackay. They were welcomed by Andrea Cuthbert of Transition Erin and Liz Armstrong of the Climate Change Action Group of Erin. The Brothers visit was made possible with proceeds from their Fast Forward Eco Film Festival.

Erin is fertile ground for the Water Brothers’ messages, with many environmental initiatives in local schools. Teacher Cathryn Dykstra and her grade six class at Erin Public proudly wore their Water Rockers T-shirts (the logo says, “Erin: Our local water rocks”). They got a State Farm grant last year that also paid for special water bottles, backing their campaign to get downtown businesses involved in the Blue W program, providing free water refills for customers.

The Water Brothers have been to 25 countries to research and film episodes for their TV series, with their third season now in production. They remind us that hundreds of millions of people throughout the world lack decent water and sanitation systems, and that many Ontario communities also lack access to clean water.

“We take water for granted. We are big water wasters in Canada,” said Tyler.

“We are setting a bad example, and pollution is a huge issue,” said Alex. “Canada has so much water that we think we can do whatever we want, and that leads to a lot of waste.”

Only about 3% of the world’s water is fresh water, and 70% of that is frozen in the polar regions and glaciers. The Brothers are working on an episode that includes Israel’s research on desalination, the state of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, and the role of water in international relations.

More information is available at thewaterbrothers.ca, with streaming episodes of their first season, including catchy titles like Carpageddon (about the Asian Carp invasion), Reefer Madness (about threats to coral reefs) and Bottlegate, which has an Erin connection due to the Nestlé well in Hillsburgh, including an interview with Mike Nagy of Wellington Water Watchers.

The Water Brothers are also promoting their free mobile app called Quench, which enables users to easily locate the nearest water bottle refill location. The study of water has enabled the pair to educate themselves and their viewers about a wide range of energy, food and social issues.

They point out that it takes 17 million barrels of oil annually to produce the world supply of bottled water. They show how some of the plastic we discard makes its way into oceans, breaking down into tiny pieces that attract contaminants, and then are eaten by fish that humans want to catch and sell in the grocery store.

“We want to inspire kids to keep learning,” said Alex. “They don’t have the biases. They are inheriting all these problems, and they are going to have to solve them.”

Tyler studied film production in university, while Alex was in environmental studies. Before creating their own series, they were involved in projects with their parents at SK Films, a major company in the giant screen (Imax) industry which has produced films like Flight of the Butterflies, Journey to Mecca and Bugs! A Rainforest Adventure.

The Water Brothers series has become one of SK’s high-profile products, with the brothers appearing on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet, Breakfast Television, CBC Metro Morning and Global TV’s morning show. They also have a blog with Huffington Post Canada and are hoping to soon be able to distribute their episodes in DVD format.

February 12, 2014

Town Crier has talent for community service

As published in The Erin Advocate

Andrew Welch is a man of many green hats, not just the large ceremonial one he wears when playing the part of Erin’s Town Crier.

His interest in environmental issues has led to involvement with Transition Erin (even though he lives in Alton), using his experience as a corporate facilitator to help bring together a collection of working groups. They are focused on Sustainable Development, Wastewater Solutions, Local Food, Hands-on Skills and the Fast Forward Eco-Film Festival.

He does software maintenance too, but his main project for the past few years has been the writing of a book. It is in the late stages of the publishing process and is expected to be released in the next few months.

 It’s called The Value Crisis, An Exploration of the Un-Human Power of Numbers. He calls it “ecological economics”, an analysis of how our society has come to rely so heavily on numbers to measure its values and make crucial decisions.

“Numbers are inherently linear and limitless, whereas human values are not,” he says on the project website (www.thevaluecrisis.com).

“Number-based value systems therefore have no concept of ‘enough’ - more is always better. As numerical / monetary systems are adopted as increasingly exclusive measures of value, natural values (such as culture, health, social justice, well-being, biodiversity, etc.) are displaced. 

“This creates a conflict which has ultimately led to a Value Crisis. This is at the root of both our Environmental Crisis and our Financial Crisis.”

He looks at the role of money in the pursuit of happiness, and the compromises we make in trying to maintain a constantly growing economy – compromises that threaten our long-term survival.

Resilience is a key theme in the Transition Town movement, looking for ways to adapt intelligently to trends such as climate change and population growth. Welch has taken that interest to heart as a Dufferin volunteer with the Red Cross. 

They provide help in local emergencies such as house fires, but also mobilize during larger disasters such as the Christmas ice storm.

Welch was deployed to Toronto from December 23 to January 6, with many other volunteers from small-town Ontario. He worked at eight different emergency shelters, some accommodating up to 250 people per night.

“It was an amazing learning experience,” he said, noting that quite a few city dwellers either had no idea what to do in the face of a prolonged power outage, or lacked the means to take action.

“It seems that people in Erin were largely able to take care of themselves.”

He’s hoping that emergency officials and building owners will learn and share lessons from this ice storm, as part of preparing for the increase in severe weather events expected with climate change.

Welch has combined his community spirit with his experience as an actor to develop his skill as a Town Crier, filling that position for Caledon and Erin and helping out in Orangeville. He recently submitted his 2012-2013 report to Erin councillors.

Most of his appearances on behalf of the Town, such as making proclamations for service clubs and charities, are done at no charge. He does charge a fee for business events, such as store openings, but says that “covering my costs is increasingly challenging”.

He has performed at events like the Santa Claus Parade, the Green Legacy Tree Give-Away, the CVC Tree Planting, the Rhythm and Ribs Festival, the Celebrate Erin event and the Erin Spring Home and Lifestyle Show.

He placed 1st in the Marshville Heritage Festival Competition, and was awarded “Best Ambassador” for his community at the World Invitational Town Crier Competition last year.

“It has been an honour and a pleasure represent Erin, both within the community and throughout the province, and I look forward to more appearances in 2014 to laud the praises and promote the prosperity of our great community.”

February 05, 2014

Watershed Report Card has few A grades

As published in The Erin Advocate

While sorting through the mountain of environmental information that I collect from Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), I came across the Watershed Report Card from earlier last year. 

It got lost among the press releases, other reports and more urgent news. It is still of interest though, a snapshot of data collected from 2007 to 2011. The river changes slowly, even with climate change. 

It’s not exactly news that the Erin environment is superior to that in Brampton and Mississauga, but there are concerns that put us at less than top grade.

Both climate change and increased urbanization are a threat to water quality, forests and wildlife says the Report Card, available at www.creditvalleyca.ca.

“Between 1996 and 2006 the population in the Credit River Watershed grew from 573,000 to 758,000 and this growth continues,” it says. “Responsible development practices, such as minimizing the amount of impervious cover and implementing innovative water technologies, are needed to limit the impact of land use change on Credit River ecosystems.”

The western part of the Town of Erin is in the Grand River watershed, while Hillsburgh and Erin village are part of the Upper Watershed of the Credit River, with the water flowing east towards Caledon. The area south of 10 Sideroad is part of the Credit’s Middle Watershed, where water flows towards Georgetown.

Much of the Upper area had a C grade for Surface Water Quality, based on measurements   of phosphorus (from fertilizer and septic systems), E. coli bacteria and populations of invertebrates in the river. A large part of the Middle area had a B grade on the Report Card.

CVC advocates further improvement in farming methods and urban stormwater management to preserve and improve surface water quality.

When CVC studied the river for the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP), they reported in 2010 that the surface water was relatively good, with only slight increases in pollution levels since the mid-1970s, and still below limits considered acceptable by the federal and provincial governments.

For Forest Conditions, the Erin portion of the Upper Watershed had good riparian (riverside) coverage, but ended up with a C grade. That is based on the overall percentage of forest cover, and the amount of “interior” forest (excluding a 100-metre outer perimeter) which is required or desirable habitat for some plants and animals.

Much of Brampton and Mississauga got a D or F grade for Surface Water and Forest Cover.

“Restoration and protection of natural habitats, particularly the few existing large forest patches, should continue to be encouraged to ensure ecosystem integrity is maintained and over time improved,” the Report Card says.

Ratings for Groundwater (aquifer / well water) were based on measurements from test sites – one bedrock well near Erin village and a pair of overburden (shallower) wells near Hillsburgh. They measured nitrogen and chloride, which are naturally occurring, but can be elevated due to human activity. High nitrogen can come from fertilizers and septic systems, while chloride can be elevated by road salt and water softeners.

The Hillsburgh test wells got an A grade for chloride, but a C grade for nitrogen. The Erin test well got a B grade for chloride, and an A grade for nitrogen.

This is not an issue for municipal water. The Hillsburgh drinking water system, for example, just got a 100% inspection rating in December from the Ministry of the Environment for water quality monitoring and other procedures.

Various testing, including the CVC report for the SSMP, has indicated that the deep groundwater that supplies the Erin village and Hillsburgh municipal wells has no impact from septic systems, no organic contaminants and no trace of other chemicals such as pesticides.

The Report Card has this disclaimer: “CVC monitors groundwater quality as part of the Ministry of Environment Provincial Groundwater Monitoring Network. The results presented here do not necessarily represent the quality of municipal drinking water sources.”

Water quality in private wells can vary depending on local conditions, with shallower wells at greater risk of contamination. Owners of private wells should ensure that the nearby ground surface drains properly, and take advantage of free bacteria testing offered by the Health Unit. Many also use ultraviolet and filter systems for added safety.