Currently, the City of Kenora’s plans to redevelop half of Central Park into housing have come to a halt after a ruling by the Ontario Land Tribunal.
The court makes decisions on issues related to land use planning and the protection of the environment and heritage. They recently ruled in favor of Kenora resident Dawn Mitchell, who claims the City of Kenora violated proper procedures when rezoning Central Park last year.
“Essentially they tried to violate the official plan that was written in 2015 by passing this [motion] during the pandemic with very little consultation and community engagement,” says Mitchell. “The Tribunal found that they had in fact violated their own official plan.”
Kenora city councilors voted unanimously to rezon Central Park from open space to residential space in March 2021, as the city intended to develop the western half of Central into housing units with the ball field, community club, ice rink and green space in the eastern half.
Mitchell says she appealed the city’s decision to the Ontario Land Tribunal on March 29, 2021, alleging the city violated park requirements, comparability with nearby rail yards and could endanger the wetlands of the Lake Laurenson region.
Mitchell’s team, which included a former land use planner, argued that Central was an important green space in the community that facilitates a number of recreational activities, while urban planner Kevan Sumner said argue that the city had a greater need for more affordable housing.
The Tribunal found that the city needs more open space to provide active and healthy communities, and that’s only growing as the community grows, which Kenora plans to do by 2031, according to estimates. from the Institute for Smart Prosperity.
“According to the evidence presented to the Tribunal, with the development of the western half of the park and the redevelopment of its eastern side, there would be considerably less greenery rhythm remaining in the area. There are no other green spaces in the immediate vicinity of Central Park, except for small parkettes,” the court report states.
The Court notes that the City of Kenora’s Official Plan for Established Areas emphasizes that existing uses are to be preserved and encourages development that respects the character of the community, which, as the Court contends, parks and open spaces are important elements.
“The need for additional housing is a real and urgent priority; however, parks and open spaces are needed to help provide the amenities and utilities needed to support these dwellings,” the Tribunal adds.
Additionally, Mitchell’s team noted that the proposed development is located within 100 yards of a Canadian Pacific Railway, but the city’s official plan does not allow residential developments within 300 yards. meters from a rail yard and that the city has not conducted a proper noise study beforehand.
The city, meanwhile, argued that the neighborhood has coexisted with the rail yard for more than 100 years without incident, and noted that a noise study would have been completed at a later date before any development took place. be approved.
Ultimately, the Tribunal ruled in favor of Mitchell’s argument about parks and rail yards, but did not support the appeal due to his concerns about wetlands. But despite everything, his overall appeal was successful with the Tribunal and the city is now forced to go back to the drawing board.
Essentially, the city’s March 2021 rezoning decision was overturned, but Mitchell notes that the city is able to appeal the Tribunal’s decision if it chooses to do so.
She says she celebrated the decision on Canada Day with a victory march around Central with her bagpipes.
“It’s still a public space. It’s wonderful to me that it remains for families, children and future generations to celebrate the community center and rink that are under construction. Hopefully the necessary improvements will be made by the City of Kenora and it will remain a park for another 100 years,” adds Mitchell.
City planner Kevan Sumner explained that if the city were to hypothetically proceed with rezoning the center, it would have to undertake studies related to noise and park concerns before proceeding with any rezoning approvals, per the court’s decision.
“At this time, the city will review the decision with our team to better understand the court’s decision,” city manager Kyle Attanasio said.
A developer for the potential housing project was never found by the city.
Mitchell has long struggled with the potential development of Central Park. As well as appealing the council’s rezoning decision, she also held a rally in Central Park last September, which included a 1,000-signature petition against the project.
Mitchell says while she agrees the Kenora community needs new housing immediately, she doesn’t believe it should come at the expense of Central Park.
She adds that she currently has an active GoFundMe to help recover costs related to legal fees, approximately $6,000 which she paid out of her own pocket. You will find the link to make a donation HERE.
It should be noted that Mitchell’s successful appeal against the rezoning of the western half of Central does not affect plans for the eastern half of Central, which is still the future location of a new community club.
In April 2021, the community received funding from the provincial and federal governments, as well as a $100,000 donation from the city itself, to complete fundraising efforts to rebuild the Central Community Club.
The plans included two new rink areas, new boards along the rink with a repaved surface, a new bench area and more. During the summer, residents can enjoy street hockey and basketball on the new concrete surface, playground equipment, beach volleyball areas and a pétanque area.
The original clubhouse was demolished in 2018 as it was beyond repair. Volunteers from the Light Up Central Committee worked to raise over $100,000 afterwards, before governments stepped in to help.
The new clubhouse and rinks were scheduled to be completed for the 2021–22 winter season, but teams fell behind schedule, pushing the project back to the 2022–23 winter.