Rezoning Barrhaven gravel pit for homes 'possibly premature', says expert

City staff to have jumped the gun by recommending Brazeau Pit be rezoned to make way for a housing subdivision before the provincial excavation licence was relinquished, according to one lawyer who specializes in that industry.

City staff agree Barrhaven property still licensed under Ontario laws

The parcel on Borrisokane Road that Caivan wants to develop, depicted here by a blue rectangle, is located to the east of Highway 416. The southern part of Barrhaven can be seen to the right. (J.F. Sabourin and Associates Inc.)

City planning staff appear to have jumped the gun by recommending a Barrhaven gravel pit be rezoned to make way for a housing subdivision before the provincial excavation licence was relinquished, according to one lawyer who specializes in that industry.

Local developer Caivan's request to rezone the longtime Brazeau Pit on Borrisokane Road from a "mineral extraction" zone to a "residential" zone, in order to build 500 homes, was originally set to go to planning committee for a decision next week.

It's now been postponed to Feb. 13 because Caivan asked to change details, staff say. 

City of Ottawa staff had recommended councillors approve the zoning, advising that the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) had deemed the site to be exhausted of its valuable resources. Provincial policies prohibit development on pits and quarries that still have useful materials in the ground that could be used in construction.

After the ministry told CBC News it hadn't made that pronouncement, staff sent city council a memo confirming Brazeau Pit was indeed still a licensed gravel pit under Ontario laws.

The ministry is "fully aware" of the proposed subdivision, and had laid out steps for how the licence could be retired, wrote Lee Ann Snedden, the city's director of planning services.

Industry highly regulated

Caivan bought Brazeau Pit in late 2018 for $17 million from Marcel Brazeau Ltd., which still holds the provincial licence for extracting sand and gravel. 

The industry is highly regulated, and according to the ministry, city staff had to show it had given draft approval for the subdivision before Brazeau could retire its licence — something that happened in October.

But another necessary step has not yet been taken: the changes to how the gravel pit will be rehabilitated must be posted on the MNR's environmental registry for a 30-day consultation.  

David White, a Barrie-based lawyer who specializes in aggregates and permits, said typically the province's role is entirely finished before a municipality takes over and changes land use.

"It would sound to me that the municipality is possibly premature in rezoning it for development use, for a residential use, while the licence is still in place," said White.

Were the city to approve residential zoning while the licence is still valid, the zoning would have no force, White explained, as Ontario's Aggregates Resources Act overrides municipal bylaws.

'Anxious to move forward'

The Brazeau Pit property falls in Coun. Scott Moffatt's Rideau-Goulbourn ward, and he says even if zoning is approved, the city will only give the subdivision the go-ahead when the aggregates licence is surrendered.

He's not surprised Caivan made the application, though.

"You likely have a property owner that is anxious to move forward with that property. They're looking at all the various processes they have to undertake and they're saying, 'Can we do these concurrently?'"

Moffatt has a vote on planning committee. Now that the file has been pulled back, he expects staff to rewrite their report without the sentence about the MNR's stance, and to fully explain the process involved in winding down a gravel pit.

"Something as small as a one-sentence inaccuracy can be very impactful in terms of evaluating an application," he said.

Scott Moffatt says reports from city staff need to be clear for councillors to make decisions, but at the end of the day he supports using end-of-life gravel pits for other uses like housing. (Kate Porter/CBC)

At the end of the day, Moffatt said it makes sense to build housing on a spent gravel pit. 

"To be perfectly honest, I'd much rather development [in Barrhaven] go in that direction than south of Barnsdale Road. South of Barnsdale happens to be very good agricultural lands," he said.

Roughly one-third of the Brazeau Pit property cannot be turned into homes, however, as it falls outside the line where urban development is permitted — and also within a 500-metre buffer zone of the Trail Road landfill.

CBC's requests for comment from Caivan and Marcel Brazeau Ltd. were not returned.


About the Author

Kate Porter


Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past 15 years, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.


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