Community; Climate; Change

Opening Council to the Public

The Township is slowly reopening from pandemic restrictions.  The state of emergency has been lifted.  Council passed a bylaw continuing the option for Councilors and the public to attend meetings virtually, including the live streaming of meetings. Allowing virtual attendance has dramatically increased the number of residents who listen to at least part of the Council meetings.  It also allows Councilors and staff to attend if they are away or if they are feeling unwell.  A good ongoing public health measure.

Public attendance at Council meetings will continue to be restricted until June.  At that time, the matter will be reconsidered. Due to the size of the Council chambers, we are looking at other options that have the technology, like the new Storrington Centre, to have larger in person meetings with simultaneous virtual capability.

One of the strengths of municipal government is that it is close to residents. People attending meetings in person, both to give deputations and listen to debate, is vital for local democracy: and its openness has been one of the strengths of South Frontenac Council.

Restrict the Ontario Land Tribunal

A few years ago, the Provincial Government gave the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) power over zoning and panning decisions made by local Councils. 

The OLT is an unelected, appointed body that is not accountable to the residents of South Frontenac. The province gave the OLT the power to make a final decision on planning matters based on a “best planning outcome” and not whether the proposed development is in compliance with approved official plans or consistent with provincial plans and policy.  Essentially, it can, and does, override municipal government decisions that were in compliance with locally approved bylaws and provincial legislation.

Ontario is the only province in Canada that gives a separate tribunal this power. The province’s use of the OLT has forced municipalities to spend millions of dollars defending Official Plans in expensive, time consuming and ultimately futile hearings.

South Frontenac Council passed a motion asking the province to remove Planning Act decisions from the OLT and increase the ability of local governments to represent their community.  If this comes to pass it would increase our communities’ control over development: a positive step in these times of rising political alienation.

A Climate Lens

Council passed the following motion:

“Moved that staff reports include a climate lens assessment: that is an assessment on how the subject matter of the report moves the Township towards zero greenhouse gas emissions; and comments on how the policy impacts the Township’s resilience to climate change”.

Staff and Council have been including climate considerations in many of their discussions.  This resolution will formalize the process and broaden it to apply to all policy. 

Sometime in the next few months Council should have staff recommendations for our first climate change action plan. Regardless of the specific initiatives proposed we still need to evaluate all polices on how they affect the overarching environmental challenge of our time.

Time to Move On

After much thought over the last couple of years I have decided to not seek reelection. One of the real joys of the last 8 years has been writing these reports and reading, and engaging with, your comments, both positive and negative.  Thank you all for being interested.  I will have more to say as we get to the end of this term.

If someone is thinking about running for Council, I would be happy to talk with them about my experiences.  Council could really use some younger women representatives.  At this point the “old boys club” is more than a metaphor for Council.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Community Building no Book Burning

Community Controlled Development

January was focused on the 2022 budget. The final debate and vote on the budget will take place mid-February.

One issue has become contentious: the hiring of a planning policy and compliance officer.

For years there have been many complaints about subdivision agreements not being followed, and smaller developments ignoring their conditions of approval.  Monumental amounts of staff time have been to fix problems from poor subdivision oversight, like on Morgan Drive.  Going forward significant resources will be needed to oversee detailed site plans for developments on Johnson’s Point and in Hartington. To meet current demands the Township has had to hire short-term contract planning staff to meet resident’s exceptions.

The is also significant pressure for new bylaws on a variety of issues, including an update to our sign bylaws to clean up our roadsides, control of Short-Term Rentals (STRs), and protection of our shorelines from clear cutting. The list could go on. Each bylaw, if it is to work for the community, will require significant staff time for research and community engagement.

And it will likely only get worse.  All projections, even if there is a downturn in the economy, are that South Frontenac will feel increased development pressure for many years. One of the strategic objectives Council adopted four years ago, and reaffirmed last spring, was greater enforcement and control on development so that the needs of the community and new residents are protected.

Staff’s response to this priority for Council and residents was to recommend a new position to work on planning policy development and compliance. Until the January all-day budget meeting it seemed like all of Council supported this proposal and it could be implemented within the 2% budget increase Council supported.

At the last minute, the Mayor and a few Councillor’s, expressed opposition to this position despite the fact that is affordable, addresses residents’ concerns, meets our strategic objectives and will help improve South Frontenac. Let’s see how the final vote goes.

Library and Fire Hall Safe

The Township needs more administrative office space.  The initial proposal was for consultants to look at five different options, three of which involved moving the existing library.

I did not support moving the library as an option, even for study.  It is a well-designed and well used library that is within walking distance for many people. There is no reason to pay money for comment on possibilities that shouldn’t happen.  The community overwhelmingly agreed, thank you to all who spoke up, and Council limited the consultant’s report to two options, expanding the current building or buying/building a smaller space nearby in Sydenham.

The fire halls’ locations were evaluated in a facility location study.  The study’s main finding was that South Frontenac’s fire hall’s locations are as good as they can be, often near perfect (Sydenham’s location).

There is some room for improvement on the exact location of the Latimer and the Hartington stations.  There would be a small improvement of service if the Hartington Hall, when it is redeveloped, is rebuilt closer to Harrowsmith: a fact that will likely become increase in importance as more building takes place closer to Harrowsmith.

No Building Fee Increases

In the annual review of building fees, it was discovered that the building department has built up a large, close to a million dollars, reserve.  This increase is due in large part to the shortage of staff over the past few years: it was money saved by not paying salaries, but also by providing poorer service to the community.

The cost of the building department is mandated to pay for itself through fees: there is no tax revenue supporting building services.

Council has placed a cap on the building department reserve, basically enough money to run its operation for a year.  The result is that there should be no increase in building permit fees for a few years, until the reserve falls below the new cap.

Sub-Division Approval Coming Home

A long-standing goal of Council has been to bring final approval of sub-divisions back into South Frontenac.  It is currently done by the County.

One of the steps needed to make this possible was improving our planning department, which has been very successfully done. During the budget discussion it was confirmed that Township staff have been talking with the County’s planning staff about this goal and that there is general support.  The next necessary step is to finalize our new Official Plan, which should be done this year.

Bringing final approval of sub-divisions into South Frontenac Council will improve community control and accountability on development decisions.

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January 2022: Plant Flowers

There is a social media cartoon meme that has two characters talking about 2022.

One with a worried look says, “What do you think is going to happen in 2022?”

The other says, “Flowers”.

“What? Why?” The first responds in startled confusion.

“Because I am planting flowers,” reply’s the one working the ground.

For many reasons, pandemics, climate change, uncontrolled development, invasive species, inequality, intolerance…(the list is long) we are entering a year, and probably a decade, of significant, and not always welcome, change. Nonetheless, we can plant seeds that help others, make our communities inclusive, strengthen our democracies, and create a more peaceful, sustainable and just world.  

Onward into 2022.

Johnson Point Update

A few weeks back I sent around a notice about a possible violation of the environmental protection plans for the Johnson’s Point condominium development.

Dozens of people responded.  Within a couple of days an agreement was reached with the developer to ensure that the septic location conditions were met for all the lots on Johnson’s Point.

Over the holidays I was telling a friend, who is very active in provincial environmental issues, about the protections covering the Johnson’s Point development. He was very pleasantly surprised.  It is worth repeating that even though many in the community were upset that any development is taking place on the Point, me included, gains were made.

Hats off to the many who spent hours and their own money fighting for better environmental protections.  

Councillor and Community Oversight

While the discussion last month was on ensuring that the Johnson’ Point development met its environmental obligations it was also broader.

Most the comments I received were primarily concerned that conditions of approval, bylaws and regulations, especially for larger developments, are followed.  We on Council have known for a long time that non-compliance is an issue and hopefully we will be able to make further headway in solving it.   

Some of the comments suggested that Council should proceed quickly because of agreements made by the developer and hardship to lot owners.

Many councilors and community members may be more familiar with the Committee of Adjustment than site plan approvals. Regularly, someone applying for a variance or a consent will demand quicker action became of their personal circumstances. Staff have made good headway in setting up timelines and streamlining the process for all developments, big and small, which have reduced delays for everyone.

Nonetheless, as much as some applicants, or developers, may have legitimate hardships, this is also, unfortunately, not a good reason to rush a decision. 

The Committee of Adjustment decisions, as the Council decisions on sub-division and condominium site plans, affect these properties, the broader community and the environment for decades.  Township Council, and the Committee of Adjustment, have the final legal say on these kinds of approvals, not because our staff are incompetent, they are not.  South Frontenac has some of the best planning staff. But because these decisions are a mix of technical, legal and political considerations. 

Site plans are, literally, the nuts and bolts of how development happens on the ground.  It is what we see in our communities, and impacts our environment, on a daily basis for years. The more complex the development the longer it is going to take to review the plans, to diligently fulfill our legally independent role, and to not just rubber stamp what staff and developers, big and small, recommend. This is part of our democratic responsibility to represent the broader community interest.

Final say on developments is made in democratic public bodies, like Council, because it is a more accountable forum which gives the community some control over development. To rush these decisions would be to undercut that control.

Township Office Redevelopment

The Township offices are unable to provide a safe and efficient working space for current Township staff let alone the expected expansion to meet population growth and new needs. 

Council has approved 2.5 million dollars to improve our administrative offices over the next two years.  Consultants are being hired to present options which include expanding the current site, repurposing the library and building a new one, and adding a secondary site in Sydenham.  The report can be found in the December 14 Committee of the Whole agenda item 7.c.

 

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Last Minute Proposals Weaken Johnson Point Development Environmental Protections

Site Plans presented to South Frontenac Council for a 15-lot development on Johnson’ Point will weaken environmental protections ordered by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) as a condition of approval for this estate-lot condominium.

The Johnson’s Point proposal on Loughborough Lake has been the focus of many community concerns about its negative effect on the surrounding provincially significant wetland and the already crowded lake.  After years of public debate, in 2016 the OMB approved the development, subject to conditions that offer some protection for the surrounding environment.

One of the conditions, 13(ii), states that as well as a septic system, each lot will have “A location for the alternative septic disposal system…”  identified on a site plan before applying for building permits. In the site plans presented to Council, two of the lots did not have an alternative septic system location.

The rationale for a second location is that if the first fails there is a safe way to treat sewage with minimal environmental damage. This requirement is even more important for a development in an environmentally sensitive area.

Leaving the alternate septic site off the site plans raises two concerns:

  1. The Township and citizens’ groups spent many months and significant resources on lawyers and consultants to negotiate plans at the Ontario Municipal Board that permitted the lots in exchange for specific environmental protections.Site plans that violate one of these conditions may be illegal. Regardless they certainly undercut public trust in the process.Approving the lots without a secondary site will say that even limited protections can be simply overturned in favour of the developer’s profit while the environmental and the community needs are ignored.
  2. This omission increases the risk to the environment.It may be small increase, but wetlands are not only one of the most important of our natural features for preserving water quality and species diversity; they are also one of the fastest disappearing. We need to be increasing protection of wetlands not incrementally increasing the threats.

This chipping away at gains made by the community has contributed to a lack of faith in the Township’s ability both to control development and to make developers live within the rules.

Until site plans meeting the conditions of approval can be developed neither the Master Site Plan nor the site plans for lots 2 and 14 should be approved.

The Ontario Municipal Board Conditions of Approval were clear, and the result of much work by many residents, lawyers, Councilor’s, and professionals. There is a significant obligation to respect this decision and improve our local environment.

Consideration of the site plans will be coming to South Frontenac Council on December 21.  If there are concerns about approving site plans that are at odds with the OMB Conditions of Approval now is the time to raise them with your representatives and your neighbours.

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Development Fires Developing

New Official Plan (OP) proposals from staff, based on the public consultations, were presented to Council last month. The initial Council discussion identified two contentious issues. Not surprisingly, both focused on growth: where it should go and how we should control it.

Residential Growth.

The public consultations showed a strong preference for most new residential development taking place in hamlets: specifically, Verona, Harrowsmith, Sydenham, Inverary, Battersea, Sunbury and Hartington.

Some on Council suggested that there were many non-productive rural areas that could be developed.  They also argued no one wants development in their own area, and since everyone on Council does not live in a hamlet, that is why some want development in hamlets.  There was also the contention that there is not enough room in hamlets to accommodate all the new development, nor is it safe to have that many private wells and septic systems so close together. 

The result of their arguments is that we should continue more or less as we have and develop a township of two acre lots from the Rideau Canal to Stone Mills.  

Some of these concerns are real.  Finding good ground water is a limiting factor on development in Harrowsmith, Sydenham and Inverary. The crowding of septics is a ground water pollution problem, even if they are all functioning properly.  For these reasons Council and the County have been actively developing, as part of the new OP process, policies for small scale municipal water and sewer systems.

There is sufficient space within current hamlet boundaries to accommodate the projected growth over the next 20 years, to state otherwise is not accurate.

Yes, there are non-productive rural lands, from a farming point-of-view, that could be built on.  These properties are also very likely productive wild spaces, add to the aesthetics of the Township, and, if developed, could add to the Township’s operational costs and contribute to global warming.

In the past the Township has favoured creating large lots anywhere.  Because land was cheaper and water easier to find is rural areas, that meant most development spread out across rural South Frontenac.

An alternative is to have an OP that makes it easier for good development in hamlets and difficult to develop on agricultural lands, in wild green areas, and near lakes and wetlands.

More people living in our hamlets makes them more viable for the services and small business most people want as part of their daily life. 

Commercial and Industrial Growth

The staff’s OP proposals recommended dedicated lands for commercial and light industrial growth. This is partially in response to a provincial requirement that we need to accommodate 1,100 more jobs in South Frontenac.

Some councilors argued that we need “to remove roadblocks” to development so that when developers, both residential and commercial, come with a plan they can proceed quickly.  The argument is essentially opposed to community-controlled development.

The planning process, at its best, is a democratic community coming together and saying this is the kind of community we want in 20 years.  We want vibrant hamlets, viable wild spaces, good community services, a range of housing options, safe communities and in our case strong farms and good lakes.  The Official Plan, at the end of the process, should take into account as many views as possible, but, in the end a vote will determine what development can go where.   

The Official Plan and related Zoning Bylaws can be amended over the next 20 years, but it should be difficult.  The plans should be a brake on anyone coming along and saying “I have an idea that works for me and I want to do it here”.  A good process should make it easy for development that fits with what the democratically decided plan and makes it much harder for random individual plans.

Wetlands and Non-Prime Agriculture

In these preliminary discussions Council seemed in general agreed that non-prime agricultural lands, lands that are often useful for grazing and hay, both needed for a strong local food production system, should be protected as well as prime agricultural land.  

Similarly, there was little objection to stronger shoreline protection and moving development farther back from significant wetlands. Both of which have been contentious issues in the past.

Setting the current plan is a once in a generation opportunity to structure our Township to be the best that it can be. Please take a few moments to look at the initial proposals from staff.

 Send along your comments to the consultation page and watch for a draft Official Plan.

The schedule is still for a vote on a new Official Plan in the fall of 2022.  

Open Air Burning Permits?

The Township is also gathering community comments on a permit system for open air burning.  Please read the information and send along your comments through the survey.

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Long-Term Frustrations – Short-Term Rentals

One frustration shared by many councilors and constituents is problems that are easily identifiable, that are raised over and over again, often with promises to do something about them, with solutions that seem reasonable, and yet no action is taken.  Some easily come to mind: septic system monitoring, climate change action, shoreline protection bylaws, and improving gravel roads. And, I am sure there are many more.

As frustrating as action on these issues can be, I want to thank the people who keep bringing them up.  If nothing else, consistently pushing to the surface over years is one way to tell that they are real issues. Over time, it also creates the cracks where the light gets in, thank you Leonard.   

One on my lingering problems list is the corporatization of the short-term rental (STR) business and its impact on our communities and the environment. Here too, thank you to members of the community for once again bringing STRs to the attention of Council and asking that action be taken.

At the November 2 Council meeting there will be a presentation by residents on corporate short-term rentals.  Their presentation is backed up by an online petition, which as I write it has 126 signatures, and numerous letters from other concerned residents.

Their presentation discusses the STR business, Air B+B, VBRO, Booking.com, etc. Air B+B alone had 240 listings in South Frontenac in August 2021. It is part of a nearly one-billion-dollar business in Ontario where 83% of the rentals in rural areas are whole homes: that is, they are not owner occupied, like a standard B+B. These facts significantly explain the lack of supervision of renter’s potential bad behaviour, the complex complaint systems, risks to renter and community safety, and the lack of municipal oversight. 

STRs in South Frontenac are part of a worldwide phenomenon that has seen chains purchase, or contract, many properties, often driving up local housing prices and limiting local resident opportunities, and running an accommodation business outside the community regulation systems that govern hotels, B+Bs and campgrounds. The problem has become so bad in many tourists cities, like Paris and Barcelona, that major street demonstrations have taken place with residents trying to reclaim their communities from STRs.

I regularly receive complaints from permanent residents and cottage owners about noisy renters engaged in dangerous activities that disrupt our communities and increase the threat to the environment.   The bottom line is that we have very weak bylaws that can help. Even those we have, like the noise bylaw and regulations around fireworks, require a bylaw officer to be present to have enforcement, and at most times in the Township that is not possible in a timely manner.

Many rural communities in Ontario are currently looking at bylaws to control the STR problem. There are numerous approaches that will help while maintaining the possibility for people to either rent a room in their homes or rent their place for short periods when they are away.  Both of which are important to help pay bills and increase affordable access to rural areas.

The presentation coming to Council asks for some form of licensing system, that will help control noise, the number of guests, maximum rental days and concentration of STRs.  I hope that a request for a bylaw will return to Council in November.  

This is an important discussion.  If you are interested, please consider the petition and read the presentation that is coming to Council. 

Follow-up

Council voted 8-1 in favour of appointing a replacement for Councillor Barr instead of holding an election.  If you know of someone who could be a good Councillor for Bedford District, they can apply on the Township website and they will be considered through a pubic vetting process which will end in Council appointing a Bedford Councillor.  

Council held a long and inconclusive discussion on the request from Southern Frontenac Community Services for help with their building fund.  A staff recommendation, based on the discussion, will be coming back to Council this month.

Official Plan

The consultants helping draft the new official plan will be presenting policy options to a special Committee of the Whole meeting on November 23.  While this is not a meeting that is open for public comment, you are welcome to listen-in and keep up-to date on our new official plan. Register for a link here.

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Short-Term Rental Presentation

November 2, 2021, residents will be presenting to Township Council on their concerns about the corporate short-term rental business in South Frontenac. This is their presentation.

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Electric Transportation Leadership Needed

Time for South Frontenac Township to show leadership on electric transportation: set up the infrastructure to electrify the fleet and facilitate residents using electric vehicles. It will help mitigate the worse effects of global warning and reduce costs to the Township.

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Money Season: Country Roads, Buildings and Budgets

Budget 2022

Budget season for next year is about to begin.  Our budget is a central document that determines what services the Township thinks are needed and who pays.  Municipalities are limited in both respects; property taxes are our main option to raise money and there are many mandated services we must provide. Nonetheless, there is significant ability to budget for what we think will make a better community.  

Budgets become better when politicians and staff hear from the residents on what the community’s priorities should be. Council is setting aside two times within the budget making process for formal community input.

There will be a pubic engagement survey on budget priorities in October with delegations to Council on November 16: the beginning of the budget preparation. Please use these opportunities to say what your 2022 budget priorities are.

The second input session will be in early January 2022 after a detailed full draft budget has been prepared. This is the hard work of budgets: where the “rubber hits the road”.  It will help to know what you think of the proposed spending and taxation for next year.  Many sets of eyes need to go over the details to give us the best possible outcome.  

Gravel Roads

Last year, Council agreed to make gravels roads part of the Township’s asset management plan: something that should have been done a long time ago.  Being part of the asset management system means that gravel roads, like all other roads and facilities, will have long-term financing for their maintenance and improvement.

Council has now taken the next step.  We agreed to use provincial modernization funding for a gravel-roads needs study. The goal is a better system to evaluate our gravel roads and a comprehensive current evaluation of all roads. The information obtained will help identify critical deficiencies, recommend improvements and establish a short- and long-term capital plan for improvements.

The proposed evaluation criteria included the tax base along the road. This criterion would have meant that roads with more valuable properties would receive a higher priority.  Council unanimously supported my motion to remove tax base as a criterion.  Council also voted to include, if it is possible to determine, the mix of seasonal and full-time residents, as one of the considerations.

If all goes well the gravel roads needs study should be done in the spring of 2022.

Unused COVID Assistance

In the 2021 budget Council allocated $250,000 to help community organizations, businesses and individuals who had been hurt by the pandemic.  On September 21 approximately $100,000 was unspent and returned to our reserves.

Two application periods resulted in 14 community groups receiving approximately $85,000 in grants. A further $57,500 was distrusted through Frontenac Business Services to support 31 small business and 98 jobs in the community.  And, $5,000 was used to buy equipment needed to expand the Meals on Wheels program to meet the needs of the increased number of seniors staying at home. 

Southern Frontenac Community Services (SFCS) Building Assistance

SFCS is a local agency providing a wide range of community health related services.  If you are not familiar with the programs, please visit their website. https://www.sfcsc.ca/. Their home base is on Stagecoach Road and it includes the Grace Center, a beautifully repurposed United Church.

SFCS has reached a crisis point. To provide an expanded number of services, they now operate out of three portables and are crowded in the more formal space. 

They need more space to move the food bank and key administrative services out of the portables.  The renovations will also provide confidential meeting space, accessible washrooms, improved efficiencies and expanded capacity in food handling and preparation for Meals on Wheels and a variety of other improvements to meet the needs of the 8,000, and growing number of seniors who live in our area.   

Southern Frontenac Community Services Building Support Request

The Township has been asked to provide $750,000, about half the cost of the addition.  Township staff are preparing a report for Council on the benefits and risk of investing in the building and to outline proposals on how we could do it.  This report will be coming to the Committee of the Whole on October 12.

Municipalities have a legal mandate and moral obligation to provide community support services: they make for stronger, healthier communities.  SFCS does much of this work for us.

One concern is that the province is currently reorganizing community support services.  If the Council makes a sizable donation to the building fund, which it should, it is important that the investment is used to provide local services under local control and that there is some mechanism to make this happen.

 

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Southern Frontenac Community Services Building Support Request

Attached is the request from Southern Frontenac Community Services to support their building expansion.  Consideration of the proposal will be coming to Council’s Committee of the Whole on October 12.

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