Province approves zoning order for battery plant

Taylor Campbell/The Windsor Star

The Government of Ontario has agreed to expedite land rezoning for a $5-billion electric vehicle battery plant in Windsor.

At the request of city council, the province has granted a Minister’s Zoning Order to fast-track rezoning for some 15 parcels — 230 acres total — not yet designated for manufacturing use at the corner of Banwell Road and E.C. Row Avenue.

A report before council earlier this summer explained following normal procedure to rezone the land would take too long to meet the “aggressive schedule” for site work and construction laid out by Stellantis and LG Energy Solutions, partners in the NextStar battery plant hailed as the largest private-sector investment in Ontario history. Under the order, the rezoning will not be appealable to the Ontario Land Tribunal, which could also have resulted in delays for the investment.

“Since Day 1, we have taken a whole of government approach to support the NextStar team through the municipal planning, building permit and approvals process,” Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens told the Star.

Several city staff have been assigned to work directly with engineers and design teams from the joint venture “to make sure that all processes move forward as quickly as possible,” he said.

“Significant” site preparation work continues to “gear up” for “major construction activity” this fall. An open drain that crossed the middle of the property has been moved to the southern boundary, parallel to train tracks, and work to clear and grade the property is ongoing.

“The City of Windsor is committed to working in partnership with Stellantis and LG Energy Solutions as we build out the EV battery plant that will hire more than 2,500 workers and transform our regional automotive sector,” Dilkens said.

This is the second-ever ministerial zoning order issued in Windsor. The first was in 1998 when the province issued an order to allow slot machines at the former Windsor Raceway.

Until recent years, zoning orders from the province have been used sporadically. However, the Doug Ford conservatives have faced criticism for using ministerial zoning orders to authorize dozens of developments and bypass local planning rules in recent years.

Although several First Nations communities expressed concern this summer about the province expediting zoning approvals for battery plant land, fearing the project would go ahead without Indigenous consultation, Caldwell First Nation Chief Mary Duckworth told the Star on Wednesday they had “reached an understanding with the province.” More information about that “understanding” is expected to be shared next week.

The city has granted the joint venture site plan control and will likely issue a series of building permits over the next few months. The warehouse on Twin Oaks Drive where the battery plant was publicly announced in March has been nominally leased to the joint venture for use as a construction office workspace.

The city has also come to an agreement with a couple whose secluded 5,000-square-foot Windsor property was to be expropriated for the giga-factory. In an in-camera meeting, council agreed on a dollar figure to cover land acquisition, legal, and relocation costs. The amount was decided through negotiations between the lawyers for the city and the family. The family will be allowed to remain at the home until Sept. 15, when they will be able to move into their new residence.