by Deron Johnston
Last Wednesday night was the first meeting of the new Committee of Adjustment. The committee is currently made up of members of council, with Planner, Jordan Jackson, acting as Secretary/Treasurer. Having the committee filled with members of council was recommended by municipal staff.
By definition, the Committee of Adjustment is a tribunal appointed by municipal council that (according to Section 45 of the Planning Act) makes decisions on minor variances from the zoning by-law and to grant permission for altering or changing a lawful non-conforming use of land, buildings or structures.
Part of what made this first meeting interesting was the subject property: that of Peter Vichos Enterprises, or as some may call it, the Honey House, which is located on Oxford Street East. Peter was making an application for a minor variance to allow him to expand his current building to potentially house the contents of four trailers that are used for storage on the property.
The four storage trailers were deemed illegal according to municipal bylaws, which led to charges being filed against Peter. The charges are still active and part of a pending court case between the Municipality of North Grenville and Peter, which was stayed by the presiding judge in hopes that a resolution through this process would provide a positive outcome.
The meeting began with Mayor Nancy Peckford stating how important it was, to herself and the rest of council, that everyone be given ample time to speak on the matter, including Peter, with the considerable length of the meeting (two hours and fifteen minutes) confirming her point.
Following the mayor, Phil Gerrard, the Director of Planning, delivered a report on the application, including a recommendation to approve the minor variance. Phil outlined that the business operating on the property is a legal, non-conforming operation. This means that the business is legal to operate, but it is operating in the wrong type of zone. It lies in a residential, and not a commercial or agricultural, area. Due to the fact that the business has been doing the same type of work since before the area was zoned residential, it is allowed to continue, but only if it doesn’t change the type of work it does.
After the report, Peter was given an opportunity to speak to the application, which he did. He explained that he submitted the application in hopes of expanding his current building in order to empty the storage trailers and move their contents inside. He expressed his belief that this was the best possible solution that would both alleviate the concerns of local residents and the municipality, but would also allow him to continue to operate his business the way he has been since buying the business from his father.
Residents who had concerns or comments about the application were then given an opportunity to speak. In total, six residents spoke, with two of them expressing their support for Peter and his business. The other four residents expressed concerns about a range of issues, such as noise from trucking activity, fear of being stung by bees, and the new building being too close to the property lines of neighbouring properties. However, each resident also took the time to speak very supportively of the apiary, the owner and the product itself.
The process to get to this point has been a long and costly one for Peter and his business, spanning two years. His partner, Sherry Jordan, came up to the microphone and made a passionate call for some closure on the matter. She expressed her frustration over the money that the small business has already had to pay and factoring in the anticipated cost of $100,000 for the expansion of the building, plus the additional costs that will result from meeting any conditions placed on the expansion, including possibly being required to install a fence between the Honey House and the next door neighbour. Another condition will probably be that the setback from a neighbouring property may have to be greater than planned. This wasn’t a serious problem for Peter, as he said that he submitted the smallest setback possible, but it could be changed to be more than the current 1.97 metres.
In the end, council voted in favour of allowing the minor variance, but there will be a minor site plan agreement necessary in order to allow the project to proceed. Though it wasn’t exactly what Peter was hoping for, it was a decision that seemed to mostly satisfy the residents and still allow the project to move forward.