Sudbury's Kingsway Entertainment District passes rezoning vote at city council
Anti-casino, faith groups have promised to appeal the city's decision
Sudbury has approved two controversial rezoning applications that could transform east-end industrial lands into a multi-million dollar entertainment district.
City council voted last night to approve rezoning applications from developer Dario Zulich, which would make way for a publicly-funded arena and a casino.
Zulich is calling it a "major step forward" for his organization, which originally pitched the idea of an entertainment district to council in 2017.
"I'm proud of council's leadership," he said. "They did something that councils haven't done in 20 years."
The journey to get to this stage wasn't without its challenges. Councillor Mark Signoretti had opposed the development from the beginning, citing what he believed to be a public misconception of who is paying for the new arena, as well as the impact that development would have on the nearby Ramsey Lake watershed.
Signoretti has also questioned why city staff didn't provide council with an economic impact study on the effects this development could have on the downtown core before the decision was made.
"I think what we're doing is creating two districts," Signoretti said. "I question us trying to create this new district, when we currently have an arts and culture district, we have open space, festival space."
"We have an arena that's downtown so we can see immediate impact."
'Not about the moral fabric of the community,' Kirwan says
But councillor Robert Kirwan argued that debating the merits of downtown versus New Sudbury for a new arena is a lost cause, since council approved a Kingsway location in June 2017.
"We're not here to discuss the economic impact on the city, we're not here to discuss whether it's going to have an effect on the moral fabric of the community, or the health of the community," Kirwan said.
"I think tonight we just have to look at the land use. And if we feel the application does meet the regulations and condition necessary, we should approve it and let whatever happens, happen."
Kirwan was alluding to statements from groups who oppose the Kingsway development, including local business owner Tom Fortin, who told CBC News his group Casino Free Sudbury will file an appeal on the rezoning decision to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT,) a tribunal that hears cases in relation to a range of municipal planning, financial and land matters.
University of Sudbury theologian Chris Duncanson-Hales, who represents a group of 36 local faith leaders opposing the casino, said his group would "absolutely" appeal the decision, but gave no further comment.
Representatives from Gateway Casinos said that an appeal could set back construction of the facility by up to 8 months.
The threat of appeal through the LPAT is so certain, Signoretti suggested that the city hold off on any infrastructure development in the proposed district until a final decision between the tribunal and the city can be reached.
"Councillor Kirwan is making a plea to move this forward for the citizens of Sudbury, but I want to protect the taxpayers' money," Signoretti said. "I don't want to spend any more money until we know for sure there's going to be a casino development and a hotel, and I still don't see any proof there's going to be a hotel."
Coun. Fern Cormier said the rezoning of the land intended for the casino should be handled differently than plans for the arena.
"When it's private companies dealing with private properties using private money, frankly, I'm not too concerned what they do. That's Costco's business, Walmart's business, and Gateway's business."
"The largest differential here, is [the arena] is not private sector money coming to the table, it's not private enterprise. It's a municipal investment of up to $100 million that we will be responsible for," Cormier said.
In the end, Signoretti and Coun. Gerry Montpellier were the two lone voices opposing the rezoning application for the casino, which passed by a total of 11-2. The rezoning application for the arena also passed by a vote of 9-4.