Owners of Nigh Road property get development extension, but not MZO support

It appears an undeveloped patch of land on Nigh Road will remain undeveloped for a while yet, as the owners and the Town work to make viable a new vision for the area.

Councillors approved a staff report calling for a one-year extension to the draft plan of subdivision for 1589 Nigh Road at the April 9 council in committee meeting. It was one of two reports on the property discussed at the meeting.

The second report recommended turning down a request to support a minister’s zoning order (MZO) to bring the property into the urban boundary. Councillors agreed with staff and opted not to support the MZO request, though they appeared supportive of the owner’s overall plan to have a denser build on the land.

“I think the problem is the timing,” said Mayor Wayne Redekop, regarding the MZO request. “I think we’re way premature at this point.”

While the extension for the plan to build 10 single-detached homes on the property was granted, the actual intention is to eventually build upwards of 150 single-detached homes that include more affordable options than the plan on record.

“It would be a shame to put 10 $3 million homes on here and have them there forever,” said PLW Planning and Environmental Consulting’s P. Leigh Whyte, representing property owner Bryce Ivanchuk.

Development plans for the property go back as far as 2008 when the first draft plan of subdivision was submitted to the Town.

Issues with hydrogeological studies resulted with the owner of the day opting for a plan of 10 lots on the property. Despite receiving approval for the draft plan of subdivision in 2012, the development never took the next step.

Ivanchuk acquired the property in 2016, the third such owner of the land since 2008. In that time, extensions have continued to be sought. Monday’s was the seventh extension.

However, Whyte said the owner has been hard at work.

“He has not been sitting on his hands doing nothing,” Whyte said.

It took three years alone to redesign the plan, for instance.

In the denser version, Whyte said there would be more unique housing options, with narrower structures that would make purchase prices lower and more attainable, while still providing the dream of a traditional house and yard.

The Nigh Road property is currently outside the urban boundary, which restricts the type of development that can occur there. Normally, lands are brought into the urban boundary during the comprehensive municipal review process that towns and cities regularly conduct.

During the most recent review in Fort Erie, 1589 Nigh Road wasn’t considered for inclusion in the urban boundary. However, the property directly to the east ended up moving into the urban boundary, which Whyte said changed things.

“There’s a better use for it. And now that it’s adjacent to the urban area, it shouldn’t be developed in the rural area,” Whyte said.

According to a staff report, beyond the regular comprehensive municipal review process, there are two other ways to get land into the urban boundary: an MZO and the community infrastructure and housing accelerator.

MZOs have received much attention in other parts of the province, though they’re a new mechanism for Fort Erie. Essentially, it allows the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to override existing municipal zoning.

They’ve generated some controversy, leading the ministry to pump the brakes on using them. On Wednesday, a provincial omnibus bill included changes to the MZO process, the Toronto Star reported.

“It’s uncommon for the Town of Fort Erie and it’s an unusual circumstance we’re in,” Whyte said, as he attempted to justify to councillors the need for an MZO.

He said they would still go through a full and open planning process, but that this was a way to speed things up instead of waiting for the next municipal review.

However, Redekop said the problem with going that route is that the land isn’t shovel ready. 

“We can’t say to the minister that we have a piece of property that’s ready to go,” he said, adding if they sought an MZO and got turned down, a second chance would be unlikely.

Despite turning down the request to support an MZO, Redekop and council seemed supportive and appreciative of what the owners of both 1589 Nigh Road and the property to the east of it were trying to accomplish. Whyte said the two property owners were working collaboratively.

“I think both owners are sincere in their desire to build the type of housing we need,” Redekop said. 

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