OPINION: Developer plows on with plan

George Mathewson

The residents of Sarnia don’t want it.

The Official Plan prohibits it.

About the only voices of opposition that haven’t come out swinging yet are Donald Trump and that guy who liked to wander around naked on Survivor.

But Sifton Properties definitely wants it, and the powerful London-based developer has doubled down to ensure its master plan for Modeland Road proceeds as scripted.

Sifton wants to build a commercial plaza at the northwest corner of Modeland and Michigan Avenue, along with a four-storey retirement home and a bunch of new houses to accommodate 500 people.

City councillors were set to consider the proposal March 9. But the meeting was scrubbed suddenly after Sifton – evidently smelling trouble – consulted its playbook and pulled out both a carrot and the stick.

On one hand, it sweetened the deal with 11th hour improvements, including changes to housing density, eliminating cul-de-sacs, landscaping around the retail plaza and a multi-use trail.

On the other, it said it was appealing Sarnia’s newly completed Official Plan to the Ontario Municipal Board, throwing a wrench into years of laborious planning and public consultations.

Residents have been loud and clear – they don’t want retail plazas built on Modeland. They worry about the large number of already empty commercial buildings, and they want the urban edge road to remain a travel corridor from north to south Sarnia.

If the Sifton project and a second commercial plaza proposed for Modeland and Berger Road were allowed, commercial in-fill could create rows of businesses on the west side of Modeland requiring up to nine traffic-slowing access driveways, city planners have said.

Last summer, 80 residents voiced virtually unanimous opposition during yet another meeting at St. Anne School.

“We are against it, and we will always be against it,” one neighbour told city planners. “And we don’t know when (the developers) are going to understand that.”

Never, apparently.

The reboot means another community consultation has been scheduled for March 24, 7 p.m. at city hall, when the public can view the updated plan and ask questions.

Also on the table that day is the second proposal for a 43,0000-square-foot commercial plaza proposed by Kinleigh Developments Ltd. for the southwest corner of Modeland and Berger.

Yes, there is a process in place, and Sifton is within its rights to ask the OMB to review Sarnia’s Official Plan based on planning merits.

But the company is not endearing itself to Sarnians. Instead, it is doing an end run around local wishes and forcing taxpayers to pick up the bill.

Sifton has deep pockets, however, and will probably get its way in the end. Big developers usually do.