Official Plan: Missed Opportunities
The official plan review is wrapping up and we have missed an opportunity. We have spent our time responding to changes proposed by the province rather than seriously reviewing how we want to plan and develop our Township.
Our current official plan was passed in 2003 after the formation of the new South Frontenac Township. It was developed through an extensive consultation process with residents and the four old townships. In the last 12 years South Frontenac has become a more united Township. We face new development, environmental and social pressures, yet we did not engage the community in a systematic way. We did not ask the big questions.
Do we want development mostly in the hamlets, or in our rural areas? We have more residents along roads with rural vistas so development on rural land next to their back yards is often a source of tension.
Do we think encouraging many new homes in our smaller hamlets, for instance, Hartington, Wilmer, and Spafford’s Corners is a good idea. Should we instead focus our development on five or six larger hamlets which could be commercial hubs, recreation centers and promote viable small town living? Are we content to be bedroom community for Kingston?
Do we need to expand our protection of lakes, waterways and wetlands? How do we ensure that the broader community has access to the lakes yet maintain their quality and the quality of lakeside living? What are the implications of replacing our old seasonal recreational communities with full-time resident populations? These are just a few of our pressing concerns.
While many aspects of development and planning are dictated by the Province, the municipality still has significant power. To maximize our influence and adapt to changing conditions we need a more in-depth, engaged community discussion on the kind of development we want. Please send along your thoughts on how this should happen.
Our failure to confront these broader planning issues can be seen in the conflicts on the proposed subdivisions in Hartington and on Johnson’s Point in Loughborough Lake.
Both of these developments are in areas less than ideal. One is in the middle of an environmentally important area and the other in a farming rural community with significant water issues.
There will be more intense scrutiny of these and future developments. Local residents with access to new technologies and skills are better able to organize and respond to the developers. Also, Council has taken the correct position of encouraging more community involvement. More involvement often means more heartfelt objection which legitimately has to be considered. Council then needs time to decide what concerns are reasonable and what is in the best long-term interests of the Township. Developers will need to adapt to the new level of accountability demanded: it has happened in most other communities and can happen here.
In both the Hartington and Johnson’s Point proposals, technical studies, which had gone through our traditional peer review process, have been challenged by further technical studies: one commissioned by the Township and the other paid for by local residents.
Traditionally, for subdivisions we have considered what the Official Plan and Provincial Policy statements say, what the developer’s expert studies show, comments from residents at a public meeting, the developer’s responses to the community’s concerns, and then the development proceeds. But it is clearly not that simple anymore.
Three types of an environmental assessments have been done on the Johnson Point development with differing results. One recent study found that the Point is part of a candidate provincial Area of Natural and Scientific Interest, with at least one, or not two, identified species at risk.
Similarly, at least, three hydrogeological studies in the proposed Hartington subdivision have produced differing results. These results are also being weighed against the lived experience of many multi-generational families in the area.
As well as the technical studies, which contain inherent biases, there may be differing interests between land owners of the development site, developers, neighbours and the long-term health of South Frontenac. If nothing else there can be varying opinions on whether a subdivision is “compatible with adjacent areas”, an important criteria in the Office Plan.
A motion is currently being considered by Council on how to properly assess the developer’s expert studies so that the community’s interests are protected.