JOHN ROBBINS/Bullet News
FORT ERIE – A ground-breaking ceremony for the proposed $400-million Canadian Motor Speedway in Fort Erie is being pushed back indefinitely after the project hit a bump in the road this week.
A Niagara-based environmental group is appealing a decision by the Ontario Municipal Board earlier this month in favour of the speedway development, project proponents learned Tuesday.
The Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) is seeking to appeal the OMB decision, which was handed down Nov. 2.
“This will definitely push back some critical activities we were expecting to accomplish before year’s end,” Azhar Mohammad, executive director of the Canadian Motor Speedway, tells Bullet News.
“Given the recent appeal, I do not believe it would be realistic to assume a groundbreaking before year’s end. However, we like to flip this negative into a positive by saying it gives us more time to prepare for this very special and historic event.”
PALS was one of several groups and individuals who appealed town council’s decision to grant zoning and official plan changes paving the way for the speedway project.
The hearing into the matter was heard by the OMB this past summer.
There is a 30-day window for appeals of the OMB decision to be launched.
Fort Erie town planner Rick Brady said his office was notified Tuesday of the appeal by John Bacher on behalf of PALS.
Brady said the group is asking for the chairman of the OMB to review the decision of the hearing officer.
“It’s not an appeal to the courts,” said Brady, noting an appeal of an OMB decision must be confined to arguments based on issues of fact and/or law.
“It’s extremely rare that these appeals are successful,” Brady said.
Mohammad said his group’s legal counsel is reviewing the appeal notice to determine what next steps have to be taken and what impact it could have on project timelines.
“As with any development delays there is a cost impact,” said Mohammad
“Our lawyers are currently evaluating this and we will then decide whether or not we will recover damages as a result of the PALS delay.”
He continued: “We are not sure what type of delay the appeal will create. If PALS has requested to review the decision it is a much shorter process. If they are appealing the OMB hearing process… they will need to register a case in a divisional court and then it is up to the court system in Ontario to dictate how quickly (the) PALS challenge is heard and decided upon.”
The proposed Canadian Motor Speedway project complex includes:
- 1.0 mile paved motor speedway oval and spectator grandstand (65,000 seating capacity) with support facilities in the infield such as truck and RV parking, garages, first aid stations, fuel handling area, media centre, fan walk, maintenance and emergency command centre;
- 2.5 mile paved motor speedway road course with support facilities;
- a motocross/BMX /snow mobile/rental kart centre speedway course located within the road course area;
- 75,000 square feet ancillary commercial component supporting the Speedway;
- 185 acres for a parking and camping area along the southwest corner of Gilmore and Laur Road and along the lands south of Bowen Road, west of Laur Road;
- 31.1 acre “Innovation and Centre of Excellence”- post secondary educational and professional facilities related to the research and development of automotive technology and manufacturing and assembly of prototype products associated with the Centre;
- 170 acres of natural features;
- 51.3 acres for storm water management facilities.
“The decision emphasizes the importance of the Speedway in supporting economic diversity and promoting increased opportunities for economic development,” Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin said after the OMB decision was handed down earlier this month.
“The town prides itself on its ‘open for business’ attitude and is more than ready to roll up its sleeves and get those shovels in the ground.”
The OMB decision was generally greeted as welcome news by many in a town looking for some good news after a seemingly endless streak of bad news.
Earlier this year, Ontario Lottery Gaming Corporation permanently shuttered the Slots at Fort Erie Race Track, a move that cost more than 200 people their jobs. At the same time, the province announced its decision to end its slots-at-racetracks program, which, since the late 1990s, had provided a source of funding for horse race tracks across Ontario. That decision put the future of the Fort Erie Race Track in jeopardy.
This summer, DMI Industrial announced the permanent closure of its wind-turbine tower manufacturing plant in Stevensville. At its peak, the plant employed some 300 people.
Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor says the Canadian Motor Speedway project shows major investors are willing to build in Fort Erie, which “sends a strong message that the town is open for business.”
“I’m ecstatic,” Craitor said at the time of the decision. “This is going to be a great catalyst for Fort Erie.”
Craitor said the project proponents have not sought any direct financial aid for the project to date, however, he said he expects CMS may come looking for the province to support off-site infrastructure upgrades, such as improvements to roads and highway ramps.
Craitor also suggested the company might consider applying to the recently approved Southwestern Ontario Economic Development Fund, if the proponents feel there are some project costs that fit the program criteria.
Originally, the fund was not going to be open to Niagara businesses, but Craitor and a group of Niagara Mayors successfully lobbied Queen’s Park to extend the territory the fund encompasses to include this region.
“That shows the government wants to invest down here in the Niagara region.”