SUDBURY -- After a lengthy appeals process, Ontario's planning appeals body has dismissed all objections to the Kingsway Entertainment District.

The decision from the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal comes more than two years after city council in Greater Sudbury approved the project.

The Kingsway Entertainment District, approved in April 2018, includes a $100 million, 5,800-seat OHL arena and events centre, built alongside a new Gateway casino and a hotel. Sudbury Community Arena would be moved from downtown Sudbury to a site near Moonlight Beach on The Kingsway. The land is owned by developer and Sudbury Wolves owner Dario Zulich, who transferred ownership of land for the arena to the city for a nominal sum.

The decision was quickly appealed by a number of groups, and after some of the issues were dismissed, the remaining appeals were from Sudbury businessman Tom Fortin, the Downtown Sudbury BIA, Sudburian Steve May, and a group of religious leaders headed by Christopher Duncanson-Hales.

After several delays caused by new planning legislation brought in by the province, as well as the COVID pandemic, a hearing was held to hear the arguments in September of this year. In a 61-page decision released Wednesday, the LPAT said in order to make their case, groups appealing a municipal council decision must demonstrate the decision goes against provincial and local planning rules.

The appeals made several arguments, including that the city failed to complete an economic impact study, that city council failed to consider socio-economic issues relating to gambling as legitimate land use issues, and whether the KED would harm water quality in Ramsey Lake.

Concerns were 'conjecture'

On that issue, the tribunal ruled that concerns about water quality were "conjecture" and weren't back up by supporting evidence.

The appeal also argued there wasn't proper consultation with the community about whether residents wanted a casino. The LPAT said that is not something they can rule on. They are limited to deciding whether the planning decisions conform to planning rules.

As far as considering the socio-economic impacts of a casino, the tribunal said it is not their role to evaluate the morality of gambling.

"It is the finding of the tribunal that the (Provincial Policy Statement), and the provincial growth plans, do not address, as planning matters, matters of personal, recreational or social preferences and pastimes, or societal tolerance or encouragement of gaming any more than they address societal tolerance of such personal preferences as the consumption of alcohol, the use of cannabis products, or tobacco habits," the decision said.

"Gaming, alcohol, cannabis and tobacco uses are clearly provincially and federally regulated, and the legislation is obviously permissive of such activities in our society."

In any event, the LPAT said there is an existing casino in Sudbury, located at Sudbury Downs.

Regarding the location of the arena – downtown or The Kingsway – the tribunal said that would only be a planning matter if the city's Official Plan – the main planning document – "expressly addresses the matter of the location of the arena and provides policy direction in regards to the choosing of one site, over another, for an arena."

All appeals dismissed

"The tribunal has determined that the in-force city (Official Plan) provided no such direction at the time that the decisions of council were made," the decision said. "The Tribunal orders that all of the appeals under s. 17(24) and 34(19) of the Planning Act are dismissed."

In an email Wednesday, the city said it welcomed the decision.

"We are very pleased with the decision and look forward to proceeding with the KED project," the statement said. "City staff will be reporting on results and recommended next steps in January."

Mayor Brian Bigger told CTV News the decision was good news.

"It's been a long process and I think that, you know, council will be relieved that we have a clear path now towards an investment in our community," Bigger said. "We have the funding in place and so I believe there are a large number of people the community that will be pleased to see investment in our community."

And in a statement, Zulich said the decision was an early Christmas present.

"Whether they know it or not, Christmas came a few days early for all Sudburians today," the statement said. "We are excited to be part of this spectacular sports and of entertainment complex for the North, which will attract people from everywhere to our community.

"But right now we still have to look out for our physical health and the health of our small- and medium-sized businesses. We are looking forward to working with everyone to make 2021 the best year Greater Sudbury has ever had."

Fortin said he was still examining the decision and would issue a statement at a later time.

Gateway Casinos welcomed the decision in their statement.

"Gateway Casinos and Entertainment Limited welcomes today's decision from vice-chair David L. Lanthier of the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal. While Gateway will need an opportunity to review the decision in its entirety, it is encouraging news that Mr. Lanthier chose to dismiss all the appellant's appeals citing none of the objections raised in the appeal were valid."