By Joanne McDonald
An application for a zoning bylaw amendment to allow the expansion of a gun club in St. Anns is back with West Lincoln planning staff for further review.
Members of the WL planning/building/environmental committee heard details Monday presented by IBI Group for Silverdale Sports Centre Ltd to rezone a 2.8 hectare portion of agricultural land to allow for expansion onto property abutting the current location of the Silverdale Gun Club on Concession 4 Road.
The rezoning would legalize four existing gun ranges that were built without zoning or site plan approval and add four new ranges.
One range was constructed within provincially significant wetlands, the St. Anns Slough Forest, and the gun club has worked with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) to restore the area.
“The Region and the NPCA have identified several areas of concern and have indicated that they cannot support this application at this time,” WL planner Gerrit Boerema said in his report.
WL planning staff received notice from a neighbour regarding noise and stray bullets.
Planning staff in 2018 met with staff from the Ontario Chief Firearms Office who confirmed that Silverdale Gun Club was meeting their regulatory standards and was considered a safe gun club.
From the WL planning report: “They have conducted investigations in the past into stray bullets and concluded that they could not have come from Silverdale Gun Club.”
Silverdale is an outdoor training and competition facility operating for the past 50 years.
It is one of the few ranges across Canada to provide training and recertification for police and specialized forces.
IBI Group associate director John Ariens said Silverdale accommodates many championship and competitive events that attract hundreds of tourists. He said the gun range expansion will increase opportunity for tourism and employment which will contribute to the local economy.
The land is owned and operated by Joan Miller in the corporate name of Silverdale Sports Centre Ltd. Miller also owns the property with the main gun club establishment, the Silverdale Gun Club.
While the applicant considers it an expansion to a legal existing use, the Township planning staff see it as an establishment of a new use as it is on a separate parcel of land.
Township staff say the proposed development can only be considered an expansion if the properties are to merge. Without merger, an Official Plan (OP) amendment would be required.
IBI Group says that merger is not warranted, that the development is not a new use and therefore permitted in the OP.
Ariens told the committee that merging of title is not necessary and said that split or dual zoning to include different zones on the same parcel isn’t unusual.
Committee members raised concerns around land use, environmental impacts, safety and benefits to the municipality.
Coun. Mike Rehner said agricultural land was for agriculture asking how “bullets flying” supported those uses.
Ariens said berms are more than 25 feet high “and no bullet can stray above the berms.” Rehner said the NPCA had concerns regarding impact on the wetlands.
“We have worked closely with the NPCA and environmental agencies to remove the illegal extension into the wetlands and a remediation permit has been awarded to restore the wetland feature,” said Ariens. As for other environmental concerns, “we are confident we can work with the Township and Conservation Authority.”
Ariens said expansion is important to allow the gun club to host world class competitions as well as the ongoing regular training services.
IBI Group planner and project manager Brianne Comley said the expansion will create tourism and contribute to economic development for West Lincoln.
Committee chair Coun. Cheryl Gannan questioned the economic benefits of the gun club to the municipality. She said there was conflicting information whether it was a new company coming with the name change from Silverdale Gun Club to Silverdale Sports Centre.
The Township is looking for additional details and a second public meeting will be held.
Comley said the applicant wants to work with all agencies to find solutions.