A controversial plan to raze the Old Mill in Caledonia and replace it with a four storey facsimile to house commercial tenants, triggering an appeal to the OMB, has been settled by lawyers for all parties.


Caledonia resident Winford Smith filed the appeal. The group effort he was a part of had their appeal prepared and ready to go before they went to the open house, according to Caledonia resident Lennie Taylor, but somehow Smith filed it on his own and much of what was happening between the lawyers never made it back to the rest of the group.


Basically the only change to the original proposal is the addition of a piece of land, transferred from the GRCA to Haldimand county to be leased to the proponent for 12 added parking spots.


The hearing held on November before OMB chairperson Susan Schiller was difficult to hear on the county’s lousy sound system, and much of the materials referred to was not available to the   public. Details of what was to be considered at the hearing are on the OMB site, but many of the questions were never considered here because of the settlement.


We are now awaiting a written disposition from the OMB.


The Old Mill Corporation spent many years trying to raise money to save the iconic mill, to no avail. There is no doubt the crumbling and dangerous structure is now unsalvageable. The point of contention for residents was whether a four storey commercial office building and contiguous parking lot is suitable or desirable right on the riverfront in a residential area.


The subject lots are designated “Floodway’ within the Haldimand County Official Plan. That designation permits limited uses provided that they can be protected by flood proofing measures. Nowhere does it permit new commercial buildings unless marine related.


According to a county staff report, the intent of the subject (Riverside Properties) application is to maintain the existing designation but create a special provision that specifically permits professional offices and a parking lot …. a use that is appropriate in staff’s opinion.


Residents of the area disagreed, and registered their concerns at the December 6, 2016 County in Committee meeting.


Adjacent resident, Peter Gorman agreed the mill is unsafe and should come down, but noted a commercial development of this size is too large for the neighbourhood. He also noted concerns related to insufficient parking and public safety.


Sherri Telenko disagreed with staff opinion regarding the parking lot. She felt this development will change the character of the area and expressed alarm at the proposed change in zoning. Laurie Smith and George Naylor were both concerned at the loss of green space. Naylor questioned the historical significance of a new building and suggested that a plaque be put in its place instead. He also expressed concern over the zoning precedent.


Susan Whittaker voiced concern regarding the height of the new building and inadequate parking. She suggested a smaller museum on the site would be more appropriate for the space and that the loss of the Old Mill is not a concern for Caledonia residents. Winford Smith also felt the new building will be too tall and not fit into the community. He suggested the property be reverted to natural parkland. He later wrote to the county clerk to suggest the 10 minute time restriction allowed to each person to make their case did not allow speakers to flesh out their entire rationale in detail.


A petition signed by 200 residents was tabled.


Two members of the Old Mill Corporation, Ron Hewitt and David Ferguson spoke in favour of the redevelopment. Hewitt had hoped to keep the old structure standing but restoration would have cost $10 million. He noted both Riverside Properties and the Old Mill Corporation had a passion for the Old Mill and would like to replicate it. David Ferguson concurred, adding that the proposed new bridge on Argyle Street will have lookouts facing the new structure. He felt this proposal is the least intensive use of the space.


At the council meeting the following week, Dec. 12. Sheldon A. Taylor addressed council with regards to the main arguments in favour of the proposal. Many statements, made of highly subjective opinion unsubstantiated by any empirical data or studies, needs to be examined, he wrote.  “I am troubled by what I see as a very undemocratic approach to the whole process. I and my neighbours have spoken with a large majority of residents in this area and know of the resistance to your development.”


Laurie Smith wanted to know whether Haldimand council had any written and signed record of residents and others interested in support of the proposed zoning amendment “or are decisions being made on behalf of the residents of Haldimand county by the Haldimand county council based on hearsay only or at the request of the proponents/developers of the project.


As is their wont, with breathtaking disregard for the taxpayers, council received all residents’ concerns, petitions, postcards and opposition as “information”. Then that same night approved 5-0 (coun. Fred Morison recused himself on pecuniary grounds) a whole raft of recommendations including closure of part of Forfar street to be conveyed to the proponent for $1.00, zoning amendment, demolition of the mill and construction of the new office building. Staff noted the GRCA technical approvals were yet to occur but the plan has been approved in principle.


Council did mandate that prior to demolition Riverside Properties fully document the structure  (in writing and digital imagery), as well as the documentation of any heritage resources on the property that may be affected and provide that material to the county.


Meanwhile the ducks and geese continue to strut their stuff on the riverside and the adjacent Forfar Street West, unknowing of the extra traffic coming their way.