Residents call on city to raise a stink over Polyethics odour issue

‘We should be protected from the obnoxious use of lands, buildings or structures, by our city’s zoning bylaw,’ argued residents in a letter to the city

With a pervasive ‘perfume’ smell raising a stink among neighbourhoods in Orillia, a group of residents are calling on the city to use a zoning bylaw to stop the ongoing issue caused by lavender-scented bag production at Polyethics Industries.

The Forest Avenue manufacturer began producing the lavender-scented garbage bags over the past year, resulting in residents frequently reporting a noxious odour that has raised health concerns and, they say, impacted their ability to enjoy their properties and neighbourhood.

A series of public meetings between residents, the city, Polyethics, and the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks has led to the development of a province-led abatement plan, which aims to mitigate the scent over the coming months, but three residents recently penned a letter to Mayor Don McIsaac and council asking the city to step in.

Written by Robert Weedon and Nancy and John Bowers, the letter points to zoning bylaw 2014-44 as a potential enforcement tool, which governs certain aspects of land use within the city and prohibits “obnoxious uses” such as the creation of noise or vibration, or gas, fumes, dust, or “objectionable odours.”

The letter notes violations of the bylaw can result in penalties or fines, and points out the production of lavender-scented bags began well after the bylaw was introduced in 2014, which would place Polyethics in violation.

“The Concerned Residents of East Orillia have already made it known to the City of Orillia (and the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks) that Polyethics, from its operation, creates a nuisance by reason of the emission of an objectionable odour. This should not be,” the letter states. 

“We should be protected from the obnoxious use of lands, buildings or structures, by our city’s zoning bylaw. Why not?”

In response, Mayor McIsaac wrote that Polyethics is already working with the ministry on an abatement plan to eliminate the odour, noting the ministry also has enforcement tools at its disposal, as well.

“In certain circumstances, the city’s zoning bylaw is a tool that can be used to challenge non-compliant land uses,” the mayor wrote. “However, the zoning bylaw does not have the authority to trump due process.”

McIsaac said launching a city-led investigation could “complicate” the process, and argued against utilizing the zoning bylaw for enforcement at this time.

“As Polyethics is currently working to comply with the ministry’s enforcement requirements, starting a new city-led enforcement procedure would undoubtedly complicate and lengthen the process,” he wrote.

“As such, I believe initiating city-led due process at this time would not assist in the ongoing efforts to remedy the situation which appears to be progressing within the required provincial framework,” the mayor wrote.

However, in an interview with OrilliaMatters, Weedon questioned how the situation has reached this point, given the existence of the zoning bylaw.

“How is it possible that we’re in this situation when all of the tools to prevent it from ever occurring are in place, but haven’t been adhered to or followed or administered?” he asked.

“There’s got to have been some sort of system failure or human failure at some time in the past that has allowed this situation to occur,” said Weedon.

He questioned what exactly constitutes “due process”, and why municipal enforcement can’t work in tandem with the province.

“First of all, what is due process? Show me the legislation that allows the city not to do anything,” he said. “It might be a courtesy thing. It might be (that) there’s a senior level of government that can push around the municipality …  but there’s no reason why things couldn’t go in parallel or with agreement.”

Weedon expressed concern that Polyethics was either permitted to produce the lavender-scented bags, or began producing them in violation of existing regulations, and argued the city owes “it to its citizens to find out where the failure was.”

“It just doesn’t make sense – either someone has given them permission or said, ‘don’t worry about it,’” he said. “There’s got to be a document, because if you read the bylaw, there has to be overt permission given.”

When asked by OrilliaMatters, however, city staff said the zoning bylaw does not “specifically identify individual manufactured products,” and the introduction of a new product does not constitute a change of land use, as laid out in the zoning bylaw.

“The introduction of a new product type would not constitute a change of land use under either the zoning bylaw or the building code.  As such, there is no requirement for city approval for the introduction of a new product type,” said Melissa Gowanlock, the city’s manager of communications. 

As the city does not approve or reject the introduction of new products, the matter falls under provincial authority, Gowanlock said.

“The city was not required under any legislation to approve the manufacture of scented products,” she said. “As an industrial use, compliance with provincial regulations and standards fall under the authority of the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.”

Another meeting between the city, residents, and provincial officials was set to take place last week, but was postponed until an undetermined date.

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